Since its creation by National Bohemian in 1963, Colt 45 has forged itself as a successful brand in the price sensitive (and strangely amusing) malt liquor market in the United States.
Colt 45 was designed to help the struggling National Bohemian compete against Anheuser-Busch. Surprisingly, while the product was marketed on its strong alcohol content, it was priced as a premium product to compete with the major US beer brands. The original label for the product was filled with gold, blue and red, very little had changed to this day.
National Bohemian has always been careful to never use a gun in their advertising materials; to do so would risk litigation from Colt Firearms. While many explanations where given for the choice of name, it is widely believed that the 45 is in reference to the 45oz bottle the product is sold in - which is larger than normal.
The brand became an immediate success, and it was soon National Bohemian's first national brand. Emboldened by the success, National Bohemian went on to release a number of varieties of malt liquor, many that would be dismal failures. Due to these money wasting ventures, Colt 45's success did little to help National Bohemian and in 1979 it was acquired by G. Heileman Brewing Company.
Colt 45 would go on to become famous (or depending on who you talk to, infamous) for its use of Billy Dee Williams in its advertising in the 1980s. Williams would receive severe criticism for his role in advertising the product, which by this stage had become a budget item, designed to get people drunk as quickly as possible.
Williams was large unaffected by these complaints, famously being quoted in the late 1980s: "I drink, you drink. Hell, if marijuana was legal, I'd appear in a commercial for it."
Despite these criticisms the advertisements caught the consumers' attention, with "Nothing is Smoother Than an Ice Cold Bottle of Colt 45" and "It Works Every Time" becoming well known within the community - even by people that wouldn't consider drinking a malt liquor.
Throughout the 1990s the brand succeeded in capturing significant market share and by 1996 had become the 2nd largest malt liquor brand in the United States. While not displayed on the bottle, during the 1990s strength of the brew stabilized at 6.1% ABV in the US and 7% ABV in Canada.
The brand has faced criticism along with other malt liquors regarding advertising directly to poor African Americans. This seems to have been confirmed by the disproportionate market share malt liquor has with the African American market, with over 28% of production being consumed by the group.
Today, Colt 45 (which is now owned by the Pabst Brewing Company) continues to be well known from its advertising in the 1980s and its iconic labeling which has allowed it to become a leading brand in the malt liquor market.
Past & Present Varieties
- Colt 45
- Colt Ice
- Colt 45 Double Malt
- Cool Colt
- Colt 45 Light Beer
- Colt 45 Powermaster