Conversations around beer often focus on what to drink: I had this great beer the other day. Here's something you might like, or a brewery worth supporting. Fewer conversations focus on what not to drink.
But that’s exactly what happened on a spring day in 1974, between a Teamsters union leader named Allen Baird and a gay leftist activist named Howard Wallace. Wallace ran into Baird outside a supermarket in the Castro, San Francisco's queer neighborhood, and they started talking about Coors beer, which at the time was one of the most sought-after brands in the Western United States. But they weren’t talking about drinking it—on the contrary, Baird was there to protest it.
The two were taking part in one of American history's longest conversations about what not to buy. More than that, the unlikely alliance they formed would rejuvenate an iconic consumer movement that joined organized labor with civil rights groups of all stripes.
These were the Coors boycotts of the late 20th century, and they were a big deal. Confined neither to Coors' hometown of Golden, Colorado nor San Francisco, the boycotts were a nationwide phenomenon that swept from the brewery’s gates through California, Montana, Utah, Kansas, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Connecticut, and many more places in between. Officially, the boycotts lasted over 30 years, from 1957 through 1987.
And for some, they never ended. Reverberations and reminders of the boycott's legacy endure even to the present day. That’s because the boycott merged the motivations of underrepresented community groups, labor unions, and leftist organizations, transcending single issues to become a shared cause. For everyone involved, it was about much more than just beer.
Note: During this episode, we inaccurately refer to LGBTQIA+ rights activist Harvey Milk as the first openly gay person elected to Congress. Instead, Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California's history, when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in early 1978. He was assassinated later that year while serving in that role. We apologize for the error.