In 2022, Molson Coors announced the launch of Golden Wing, a plant-based milk made from barley. While the product offers a new alternative to dairy milk, the innovation was a century in the making. One hundred years earlier, the brewery sold a very similar product to help survive Prohibition: malted milk.
Prohibition thrust American breweries into quite a pickle. Since they couldn’t legally produce beer, many of them began pumping out “near beer,” beer with an ABV under 0.5 percent that was still technically allowed under Prohibition guidelines. However, “near beer” wasn’t enough to keep some businesses afloat, so many of them got creative and explored other ventures. As breweries had sufficient equipment for refrigeration, freezing, and pasteurization, many tapped into dairy production.
Pabst Blue Ribbon bought up a dairy farm and began churning out Pabst-ett, a processed cheese product, eventually selling the operation to Kraft at the end of Prohibition. Anheuser-Busch began producing 30-pound canisters of “Bud” frozen egg products. And Yuengling began making ice cream, carrying on in the frozen dessert industry long after Prohibition had ended.
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But Coors — taking into account its abundance of malted barley — truly embraced the “when life gives you lemons” approach and began cranking out malted milk, a mix of malted barley, wheat flour, and evaporated whole milk powder.
This endeavor played a massive role in Coors’ grapple with Prohibition. At a time when household refrigeration units were not common, many consumers resorted to shelf-stable milk powder, of which malted milk, a.k.a. malted milk powder, became the favored iteration due to its natural sweetness imparted by barley.
Throughout the 1920s, soda shops, bakeries, candy companies, and grocery store patrons were buying up malted milk in droves. This created a perfect storm for Coors to secure a deal as the Mars Candy Company’s main supplier of malted milk. Like other breweries that found success in non-beer products during the great American dry spell, Coors continued producing malted milk for years, eventually ceasing production in 1957.
They say history repeats itself, and sure enough, Coors is back in the “milk” game — minus the dairy this time.