CSU marks 50th anniversary of student ‘Beer-In’ protest

On Oct. 18, Colorado State University celebrated the 50th anniversary of the “Beer-In,” the 1968 student protest that prompted CSU to begin serving beer in the Ramskeller Pub & Grub on campus.

Several of those who participated in the protest by drinking cans of Coors in defiance of the campus ban on alcohol attended and shared their stories about the experience.

Student asking question
An audience member asks a question at the Beer-In.

The “Beer-In,” or “Drink-In,” occurred on Oct. 18, 1968, when ASCSU President Doug Phelps and other student protesters committed civil disobedience by drinking beer in the Student Center, at a time when alcohol was prohibited by campus policies.

According to coverage in the Rocky Mountain Collegian at the time, students were lobbying to allow 3.2 percent beer to be served in a student center coffee shop that had been renamed the “Ramskeller” in a student contest that year. Two months after the “Beer-In,” on Dec. 11, 1968, the State Board of Agriculture voted 4-3 to allow the sale of 3.2 beer in the student center. And the following year, the Fort Collins City Council approved the beer sales license that permitted the Ramskeller to begin serving beer on May 2, 1969. The developments also contributed to ending prohibition in Fort Collins, where only 3.2 beer could be served at the time.

Sparking change

“Fifty years later, the ‘Beer-In’ is honored for sparking change on a conservative campus which today, paradoxically, enthusiastically embraces Fort Collins’ exploding beer culture,” said CSU Department of History Professor Thomas Cauvin, who helped organize the anniversary event and teaches a course on the history of brewing in Colorado. “That historic ‘Beer-In’ was part of a ‘student center liberation’ in which students physically occupied the student center 24/7 with teach-in activities.”

To view archival video of the Beer-In from the CSU Library, visit https://mountainscholar.org/handle/10217/187810

There were 50th anniversary celebrations of both the Ramskeller and the student protest.

Thomas Cauvin
Thomas Cauvin

The Ramskeller offered CSU’s new Homecoming “Ale-umni” Golden Ale, the first beer brewed in the university’s new teaching brewery, as well as two special 50th anniversary brews from New Belgium Brewing and Odell Brewing. There were prize drawings as well as free cake.

Beer-In panel

Then the Department of History, History Club and Associated Students of Colorado State University welcomed back to campus members of the group that led the 1968 protest.

Doug Phelps at podium with beer
Doug Phelps at the 1968 Beer-In.

Speakers at the program, which was also held at the Ramskeller, included alumni Robert Evans, Bear Gebhardt, Bruce Russell, Dean Schachterle, Lola West and John Gascoyne. Former history faculty member Henry Weisser also sat on the panel.

The panelists agreed that the protest was about more than just beer, it was about strengthening student rights on an array of issues. In response to a question from an audience member, Russell said he and his fellow organizers knew beer would attract a sizable crowd.

“To organize students, sometimes you had to pick the lowest common denominator,” he said. “We used beer as a symbol; we knew we’d get students. This was our student center, so we said, ‘Let’s have some more control over our own lives.’”