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 In Boulder—home to the University of Colorado—city officials repealed the town’s liquor ban in 1967.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.

Drinking culture in Fort Collins may seem pedestrian today, what with nineteen breweries dotting the city’s landscape, but the barbarous beer and bar culture of contemporary Ft. Collins was born of far more conservative roots. How did After the repeal of the Volstead act and the resulting end of prohibition in 1933, Fort Collins maintained prohibition far longer than the majority of the country.…
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A long-brewing issue, the Fort Collins, Colorado City Council voted to permit the sale of beer, wine, and liquors on April 8, 1969 and passed Ordinance No. 14. The voices of the community, including local businessmen, politicians, and the Colorado State University student population, were integral in influencing this decision.
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Though prohibition in Fort Collins ended in 1969, the breweries that would become a staple in Western college town culture did not arrive for another twenty years. It was Fort Collins’ status as a college town and location near the pristine waters of the Poudre River that drew brewers to the area.
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Related Sources:

Bustard, Bruce. Spirited Republic: Alcohol’s Evolving Role in U.S. History. National Archive Museum. 2014. Available at

Hall-Patton, Mark, from Nevada Public Radio, “Hide the jackass brandy, the feds are here!”, available at

The National Constitution Center. American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Available at

Powell, Allen Kent. The Book-Utah History Encyclopedia. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1994. Available

Reeve, W. Paul, from Utah History on the Go “Prohibition Failed to Stop the Liquor Flow in Utah,” available at

The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, Las Vegas, Nevada. Prohibition: An Interactive History.