Keystone Light, a major economy brand for Canadian-American brewing giant Molson Coors, is a popular light beer throughout the United States. Keystone Light’s smooth, clean taste and lack of bitterness has earned it a strong foothold in the American beer-drinking market. Many Keystone drinkers might wonder, however, when this beer came out and why. Here’s our abridged version:

Keystone Light first hit American shelves in 1989 to compete with Anheuser-Busch’s various light beer brands. It was launched in conjunction with a flagship Keystone line but quickly outsold ordinary Keystone, which was rebranded as Keystone Premium. 

That’s the brief answer to when Keystone Light came out and why, but there is plenty more to consider. In this article, we’ll take a close look at how and why Keystone Light came out and why it is so popular. 

five keystone light in coolbox

Why Did Keystone Light Come Out?

American drinkers were very accustomed to light lagers by 1989, when Keystone Light was launched. Miller Lite had been a huge success since its introduction to the American market in 1975, and other major brewers quickly followed suit. The 1980s saw a huge boom in the American appetite for light beer as increasingly health-conscious drinkers sought to enjoy a beer with lower calories and alcohol content. 

In addition to this, some of Coors’ major rivals were enjoying serious commercial success with economy-brand light lagers. Anheuser-Busch, for example, had a bestselling light beer with Natural Light. Keystone Light came along in 1989 to meet the American demand for light beer, competing with other domestic economy brands.

Although Keystone Light’s low-calorie count and alcohol level is one major selling point, another is its flavor. While some beer drinkers prefer a strong, full-bodied brew, in the 1980s, many Americans preferred their beer to go down like water. American light beer drinkers demanded a refreshing beer where you could as easily consume ten as one.

Keystone Light’s launch in 1989 was accompanied by an advertising campaign that heavily emphasized the beer’s flavor, or, more accurately, the lack thereof. While other beers were vulnerable to skunking that could turn them bitter, Keystone Light was sold in specially lined cans that allowed the beer’s flavor to remain unchanged from the brewery to the drinker’s mouth. Keystone’s ad slogans prioritized that Keystone Light would not give you “bitter beer face” with “bottled beer taste in a can”. This proved effective, as Keystone Light became a nationwide staple of college parties and camping trips.

Is Keystone the Same as Coors?

An urban legend has surrounded Keystone Light almost since its inception. The myth claims that Keystone Light is the same beer as Coors Light. Specifically, that dented Coors Light cans are sold at a lower price point, as Keystone Light. 

Although Molson Coors has never officially addressed this rumor, most of the evidence suggests that it is probably not true. It is worth noting that Coors Light and Keystone Light are similar beers produced by the same company in the same breweries, but it is not likely that they are identical.

First and foremost, beer cans are inked before they are filled with beer. Inking cans is a relatively expensive endeavor, and it would make little to no financial sense for Molson Coors to re-ink their Coors Light cans.

The simple fact of the matter is that Coors is the flagship brand of the Molson Coors conglomerate. Diluting this brand by reselling it at a lower price point would not be in the best interests of the company. 

History of Keystone Light

Although Keystone Light was a relatively late addition to the Coors brewing family, the origins of the brewery go all the way back to the 19th century.

The Coors brewery was established by two German immigrants, Adolph Coors and Jacob Schueler, in Colorado in 1873. Seven years later, Coors bought out his partner, becoming the brewery’s sole owner. The Coors Brewery was originally famous for its production of a popular Czech-style pilsner and, originally, was sold only in the American West. Coors’ limited availability lent it a sense of mystique and intrigue for visiting beer drinkers from the more densely populated East Coast, who would often return home with Coors samples for their friends and families.

Although many other American breweries closed their doors during the Prohibition era, Coors managed to stay open by producing near beer and malted milk. In addition to this, prior to Prohibition, Adolph Coors and his sons established a manufacturing company that produced porcelain and other goods. This diversification of revenue streams, and the Coors brewery’s ability to sell malted milk to the candy manufacturers like Mars, allowed the Coors Brewing Company to survive Prohibition while many of its competitors went out of business. 

Coors pushed for innovation for many years before the launch of Keystone Light. In fact, it was one of these innovations that came to be a major selling point for Keystone Light. In 1959, Coors pioneered a sterile filtration process for stabilizing their beer and became the first American brewer to use the two-piece all-aluminum can. This can, which lacked the distinct metallic flavor of some steel cans, allowed the Coors company to use the lack of metallic tang in their Keystone Light as a major selling point. Coors’ specially lined cans used to sell Keystone further helped to preserve the integrity of their beer. 

The American Light Lager Boom

Keystone Light was introduced over three decades ago, but at the time, it felt like a late addition to the American light lager party. Coors Light was the flagship light beer for the company and was actually introduced in the 1940s. This lighter-bodied beer was thoroughly unpopular at the time and was discontinued until its reintroduction in 1978. The American appetite for light beer was stimulated at first by Miller Lite in 1975, and light beer remains a bestseller in the United States to this day.

Simply put, low-alcohol drinking is a huge part of American drinking culture. The Temperance movement, influenced by the religious values of the dominant Protestant, Methodist, and Baptist churches, still influences American drinking culture to this day. Temperance led to Prohibition, and even after Prohibition was repealed, Americans preferred drinks with minimal flavor and alcohol content. 

The other reason might be the American climate. Heavy, British-style ales don’t go well with the warmer weather that occupies most of the United States in the summer months. However, the light, pale lagers that Germans brought with them in the mid-nineteenth century go down great in the summer. Keystone Light is a perfect example of a classic easy-drinking American light lager, as introduced to the new world by the wave of German Americans.