BREWING: The Beer That Won the West

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Self-Sufficient. Coors has been owned by a single family since 1873, when Adolph Coors, a German draft dodger, set up a brewery on the banks of Clear Creek. His grandson, William, has been president since 1970, and the firm contains six other Coorses. As befits a company owned by rugged individualists, the firm is almost totally self-sufficient. Plant expansion is handled by Coors' full-time 1,000-man construction crew. The firm meets its energy requirements by picking combustible material out of its waste products and burning it, and by tapping its own natural gas fields. Coors manufactured all of the 2.46 billion beer cans that it used last year, and in 1970 became the first brewer to buy back used cans from consumers (at 10¢ per lb.) for recycling. When Bill Coors designed a two-piece aluminum beer can, the company sold the patent to major packaging firms rather than go big in the can-making business. Reason: that would have meant borrowing money, and in all its 100 years Coors has never borrowed a penny.

Bill Coors, 57, goes to work every day in old pants and a work shirt, and shares a cramped office with his brother Joseph, Coors' chairman. No executive has a secretary of his own. There are no bonuses or stock options. On the job, workers can—and do—help themselves to beer from strategically placed kegs, and they are requested to call their president just plain "Bill."

All is not beer and skittles at Coors. Mexican-American groups in the Southwest have mounted a boycott of the company's products because of alleged discriminatory hiring practices. The company denies the charge, and has not suffered noticeably from the boycott. The Federal Trade Commission has accused Coors of fixing prices and forbidding its distributors to carry any other brand of draft-style beer.

There are enough young Coorses to ensure a steady succession, but Bill Coors is not optimistic about the future for many U.S. brewers. Though Americans last year drank 20.3 gal. of beer per capita, up from 15.1 gal. in 1960, rising distribution costs and periodic price cutting by the big national brewers have forced some 660 breweries out of business since 1934, leaving a total of only 60. "Our long-term strategy is to survive," says Bill Coors. "By 1990 there will be only three major companies left, and we intend to be one of them."

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