Fort Collins (un)Tapped: Local Stories of Prohibition, Bootlegging, and Brew Culture

Prohibition existed on the federal level from 1920 to 1933 with the 18th Amendment prohibiting the manufacturing, selling, and transporting alcohol. Prohibition movements had existed since the early 1800s as a response to the high levels of alcohol consumption in the United States. In 1830, Americans over the age of 15 were consuming seven gallons of alcohol on average each year. To compare present day Americans, consume on average 2.3 gallons of alcohol per year. After 1870, the number of saloons rose dramatically with the increase in working-class immigrants who used saloons as post-work gathering places and political centers. Temperance supporters blamed alcohol for damaging American culture through immorality, violence, domestic issues, and death. The National Prohibition Party, The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League, and many other organizations used local and federal political pressure to argue for laws limiting alcohol manufacturing, distribution, and consumption.

The prohibition movement began in the mid 1800s with towns, counties, and states choosing to become “dry” spaces. However, even in dry cities beer and liquor did not disappear; instead alcohol moved into illegal speakeasies or existed in bars outside city limits.

The lengthy period of prohibition in Fort Collins is similar to other western college towns in Colorado. In Boulder—home to the University of Colorado—city officials repealed the town’s liquor ban in 1967. In Greeley—home to the University of Northern Colorado—prohibition ended in 1969. The end of federal prohibition in 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment placed continued prohibition in the hands of state and local governments. Some small towns, like Fort Collins, Colorado, only altered local laws to allow 3.2 beer in a handful of businesses. Other cities simply moved the speakeasies back into the open.

The intermountain west is now mostly “wet”; however, some areas remained “dry” well into the mid-1900s. The following tour tells the stories of the lengthy prohibition in Fort Collins, Colorado, from the beginning of the town’s prohibition in 1896 to the emergence of large-scale and microbrew beer manufacturing in 1990.

CSU Students Protest and Hold a "Beer-in" in 1968

After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Fort Collins remained somewhat dry. On March 22, 1933, the town passed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which allowed lawful distribution and consumption of beer that was 3.2% alcohol by weight - a fairly light brew.…

A Thirst for Freedom in a Dry Town

The repeal of prohibition in Fort Collins was not easily completed. In 1969 a petition was circulated for the third time to end prohibition. First in 1961 and again in 1965, the petition had been defeated due to strong moral opposition from religious…

Brewing a Brew Culture

As one of Fort Collins’ oldest breweries, Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewing is a cultural mainstay of the college town. It opened in 1989 along with several other breweries that followed the opening of the Anheuser-Busch brewery in 1988, after a…
Related Sources:

Bustard, Bruce. Spirited Republic: Alcohol’s Evolving Role in U.S. History. National Archive Museum. 2014. Available at https://www.archives.gov/files/publications/prologue/2014/winter/spirited.pdf

Hall-Patton, Mark, from Nevada Public Radio, “Hide the jackass brandy, the feds are here!”, available at https://knpr.org/desert-companion/hide-jackass-brandy-feds-are-here

The National Constitution Center. American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Available at https://prohibition.constitutioncenter.org/exhibition.html

Powell, Allen Kent. The Book-Utah History Encyclopedia. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1994. Available http://www.uen.org/utah_history_encyclopedia/p/PROHIBITION.shtml

Reeve, W. Paul, from Utah History on the Go “Prohibition Failed to Stop the Liquor Flow in Utah,” available at http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/from_war_to_war/prohibitionfailedtostoptheliquorflowinutah.html

The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, Las Vegas, Nevada. Prohibition: An Interactive History. http://prohibition.themobmuseum.org/