After two years of careful negotiations, the battle of the "cool" brew is over in Montgomery County.
Coors beer, a product that has long eluded county beer drinkers because of difficulties in arranging the necessary refrigerated storage in county warehouses, has made its way to Montgomery.
Coors is marketed as the only beer in the country that is constantly refrigerated, and Coors officials insist that their beer must be stored differently than other beers to meet the company's standards. That storage presented a problem for the company because of the Montgomery County government's unusual system in which it controls all distribution, sales and warehousing of alcoholic products.
Coors, keenly interested in attracting a share of the affluent county's $37 million beer market, had been feuding for two years with the county's Department of Liquor Control, which handles all liquor sales. But county and Coors officials are finally toasting each other after signing a pact designed to ensure that the company's strict refrigeration requirements will be met without major expense to the county. Draught beer went on sale March 1 and packaged beer March 31, said liquor control agency Director Thomas Schmidt.
Thursday night, at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza in Rockville, the company celebrated with a reception for county officials and more than 700 retailers it hopes to make Coors customers.
Two years ago, Coors attempted to begin sales in Montgomery County as part of a multimillion-dollar expansion campaign. But the talks between the county and Coors collapsed after the two sides failed to reach agreement on a plan to store the beer because the county did not have sufficient refrigeration facilities, said Coors area sales manager Bill Westberry.
Westberry said Coors could not build its own warehouse in the county, because of the county's strict controls on handling all liquor in the county. Schmidt said the county even considered the possibility of bringing the beer in a refrigerated railroad car to the county warehouse. Like other proposals, that idea died.
He said that as the company moved into the Maryland market, Montgomery County "became the hole in our doughnut. It was the gap we needed to fill . . . . We wanted this area badly."
Westberry said Coors dropped the negotiations for a year, while the company kept a cool head and considered alternatives to present to the county. "We knew the county didn't really have anything to gain with our coming. It was up to us," he said.
The county agreed early this year to the Coors plan to ship cases of the product daily from a refrigerated warehouse at Central Distributors in Capitol Heights on Coors refrigerated trucks. Those trucks will take the beer to the Montgomery County warehouse, where the cases will be loaded immediately onto refrigerated county-owned trucks.
Westberry said it is "costly," but that Coors expects to do well enough in the county to offset the cost of the "unusual" operation.