Bill Coors, iconic American brewer, dies at 102


American brewing lost an icon this weekend.

William “Bill” K. Coors, grandson of Coors founder Adolph Coors and former chairman of the company’s board, died Saturday at his home, the company announced. He was 102.

During more than 65 years with the company, Coors helped transform a regional brewery, distributing in only a few Western states, into one of the world’s largest breweries. Under his watch, Coors revolutionized the beer industry with the introduction of the recyclable aluminum beer can in 1959.

Bill Coors is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He was married three times — first to Geraldine Jackson, with whom he had four children. His second marriage was with Phyllis Mahaffey, with whom he had one son. Later in life he married Rita Bass, who died in 2015.

“Today our father, grandfather and uncle passed away,” the Coors family said in a statement. “Bill was a consistent and steady mentor and leader of our family both professionally and personally. He shared with us his passion for brewing, his dedication to wellness and his commitment to sharing our family legacy with upcoming generations. He was dedicated to our family, our family businesses and having a positive impact on our community. We will miss Bill’s leadership, his stories and his smile.”

Bill Coors continued to taste test Coors beer until his 100th birthday — and, according to company spokesman Colin Wheeler, “He was so good at his job he could tell where the beer had been brewed!”

In 2003, at age 87, Coors retired from the boards of the Adolph Coors Company and the Coors Brewing Company, although he remained with the company as chief technical adviser.

He maintained a positive outlook on life, learning to ride the highs and lows of a demanding business.

“I’ve taken my kicks,” Coors would say, according to a release from the company. “But I have had a fascinating life and I’ve been richly rewarded.”

President and CEO of Molson Coors, Mark Hunter, mourned Bill Coors’ passing in a statement, writing the company “stands on the shoulders of giants like Bill Coors.”

“His dedication, hard work and ingenuity helped shape not only our company but the entire beer industry,” Hunter said.

Bill Coors was born on Aug. 11, 1916, the second son of Adolph Coors Jr. and May Coors. He grew up in the shadows of the Coors brewery with his three siblings, Adolph III, Joseph and May. The brewery was their playground, where they would shoot home movies, row canoes along the creek and make model airplanes out of wood in the company machine shop.

Coors especially loved the piano, playing it from age 6 through his elder years.

At 13, Coors left the state to attend Phillips Exeter Academy, a famed boarding school in New Hampshire. It was there he learned to row crew, which he continued to enjoy in college. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 1938.

After earning a master’s degree from Princeton in 1939, Coors returned to Golden to work for his father.

The development of the recyclable beer can in 1959 is perhaps one of his proudest and most-known accomplishments, the company said. At the time, beer came in tin-lined steel containers that affected the quality and taste. Bill Coors realized that beer chills quicker in aluminum, it’s lighter and cheaper to transport, and it doesn’t alter the taste. The release of the can led to one of the most successful recycling programs in the country — Cash for Cans.

In 2017, Bill Coors received the Jeff Becker Beer Industry Service Award for a lifetime of dedication to the beer industry. He was involved with numerous civic, educational and business organizations over the years, including Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado School of Mines Foundation.

The Coors family will not hold formal memorial ceremonies, as directed by Bill Coors. In lieu of flowers or other sentiments, the family welcomes people to contribute to the William K. Coors Memorial Fund, hosted by the Denver Foundation.

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