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" Nobody Makes Us Make Beer This Good, Falls City, When You Live Life Like You Should! "
Updated: 01/01/12 - new photo added
Falls City was probably the beer I drank the most at Indiana University, I wrote them a letter telling them how much I love their beer and they sent me T-shirts, hats, and other promotional items, some of which I still have 25 years later.
The Falls City Brewing Company was based in Louisville, KY and operated from 1905-1978. The company was organized by local tavern and grocery store owners and the name taken from the original name of Louisville, because it is on the site of the only large waterfall on the Ohio River south of Pittsburgh. This company was a bit different than most breweries in the USA as it was not family owned. It was organized to break a local monopoly on beer production by the Central Consumers Company. Central Consumers also owned the taverns (or tied houses) located in neighborhoods where they could be operated profitably. The brewer, acting as landlord and supplier at the same time, caused the tavern operator to be at their mercy. This practice, while common in the UK, was later outlawed in the US. (scan thanks to "Mr. Drewerys - Wes Weaver)
Shot from "Louisville Breweries" by Peter R. Guetig and Conrad D. Selle - all the other black and white scans are from this fine book!
Draft beer was introduced in 1906 and bottled beer two years later. A small ice house was built in connection with the brewery, and ice was sold to peddlers who operated in the western part of the city. Ice production carried the company through Prohibition. In 1911, the company purchased a five ton Morgan truck and one half ton auto car, and there was a great rivalry among the drivers as to who would be chosen to drive the two trucks. Also in 1911, the Central Consumers company tried to buy out their little competitor. A number of heated debates took place and loyal stockholders fought to retain the company. (new pic of Falls City sign in front of Locke's Grocery thanks to Charles Locke)
In 1919 the brewery was closed for Prohibition and the company reorganized. From 1919 to 1933 the company survived as the Falls City Ice and Beverage Company by producing ice, soft drinks, and near beer. Despite no longer being able to brew beer, the company actually prospered. Falls City beer production was resumed in 1933 and was distributed in the Ohio River Valley including Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, & West Virginia. Also in the 1930s, Falls City was the official beer of the Indianapolis 500 race. (Tray from www.trayman.net)
During the Louisville floods of 1937, the brewery served as a refuge for the citizens of Louisville, until they could safely cross the river into Indiana. The slogan at the time was "It's Pasteurized!" which is a bit strange, since almost all packaged beer sold is pasteurized. in 1952, the president of Falls City, Lillian Madden, appeared on the TV show "What's My Line?" where a celebrity panel tried to guess the guest's occupation. The panel was unable to guess that she was president of a brewery... Ms. Madden, or "Miss Lillian" as she was affectionately known, had started as a secretary of the company and was Chairman of the Board when she retired in the 1960s. She served as President of Falls City for 14 years.
In 1967 with the closure of the Oertel Brewing Company, Falls City was the last brewery left in Louisville. Annual sales were in the 750,000 barrels per year range. Sales peaked in 1969, and then began to slowly fall.
During this time, television station WHAS did an investigation into after hours drinking, gambling, and prostitution in the Louisville area. This lead to an investigation by the Fed and closing of a number of after-hours bars. A sales representative from Falls City testified on behalf of the authorities, which did not please many bar owners, which had an important part of their income from after hours drinking and gambling. A number of bars and stores banned Falls City and their representatives from the premises.
Falls City was briefly involved in auto racing, sponsoring a NASCAR Late Model Sportsman driven by James Ham of Nashville, TN. In 1973 they sponsored future Nascar superstar Darrell Waltrip in the #48 car. Falls City also went on to sponsor a 200 mile race at the Nashville Speedway in both 1974 and 1975. Thanks to Joseph Summerour for the tip!
During the 1970s in response to the decline in sales, Falls City introduced Drummond Bros. Beer ("lighter, more youth oriented"). The story behind this is quite interesting. University professor Bill Larger gave his class the following problem to work on: You're a brewer with excess capacity. What do you do to make better use of your capacity? At the last class before the night of the final, the professor told the students to show up for the final at the Falls City Brewery tap room. Some executives from Falls City were there to hear the student give their ideas about what the brewer should do. Some students thought the solution would be to introduce a new brand.
After the students finished their presentations, the folks from Falls City rolled out a cart full of Drummond Brothers and explained to them that the brewery in Mr. Larger's example was not hypothetical; it was Falls City and they had come to the same conclusion that the students did. It was the first they had heard of the new brand. Many thought the beer was darned good. Student Dick Durbin recalled a story they told about the name, Drummond Brothers. "In a brainstorming session, they were trying to come up with a really masculine sounding name. Someone said "bullfrog", which was followed by "bulldog", then "Bulldog Drummond," an old boxer. They kept the Drummond part". The beer later won two gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival in 1994 & 1997. Drummond Bros. appeared as far west as St. Louis, with the logo "Make the Light Switch" (kinda catchy!). Drummond Bros was also the first beer to feature the "Sta-Tab" opener which kept the tab ring with the can and reduced litter. St. Louis University's college newspaper ran full time ads saying "Get Your B.A. (Beer Allocation) from Drummond! The inside joke was the President of the University was also called Drummond.... The brand, however, met with limited commercial success, so Falls City tried one last big gamble with Billy Beer.
President George Goetz & Vice-President James Tate of Falls City discuss the Drummond Bros launch from "Louisville Breweries"
Billy Carter was the Pabst swigging brother of then president Jimmy Carter who owned a gas station in Plains, GA. Billy was a red-neck folk hero of sorts, and Falls City convinced him to launch his own brand of beer. They invested heavily into national marketing and distribution. The plan was to license the beer to other regional brewers and create a new national brand. Sales were really hot when it first hit the package stores (I also ran right out and bought some!) and it received enormous media coverage.
But the beer was nothing special and Billy ran into some serious personal criticism when he signed a representative agreement with dictator Moammar Kadaffi of Libya (who Ronald Reagan almost bombed to kingdom-come several years later). It was a PR disaster and the last gasp of Falls City. The company closed by shareholders in 1978 in the face of rising competition from national brewers. But the company operated at a profit right up until the days they closed the doors. (By the way, if you're wondering how much that full can of Billy Beer you've been saving might be worth, you'll be lucky to get one dollar for it so you might as well go ahead and drink it....)
Much of the brewing equipment ended up in China, just like Falstaff's. The brand was first picked up by G. Heileman of LaCrosse and then sold to Sterling Breweries of Evansville, IN. When Sterling closed the brand was transferred to Pittsburgh Brewing of Iron City fame and is still available. Besides Falstaff, Falls City was a favorite of mine and I still remember the TV ads with their hot air balloon while a student at Indiana University. The beer was rather light on the hops, but very refreshing on those hot southern Indiana summer days. In 1997, Drummond Bros Beer was given a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival
03/27/2011 Dale sent in this photo of a Falls City billboard near Clarksburg, VW
03/13/2011 Vicki Mardis sent in a photo of this cool Falls City case she found.
03/13/2011 James Fink found this old Falls City Beer while doing concrete work
04/19/2010 Cool billboard from the U of L archives
12/28/07 Georgia Friend of Falstaff Ricky Graham wrote to tell me that Falls City Beer has a prominent role in the recent film "We Are Marshall". Not only is this true, but it is a great film for the holidays. Thanks, Ricky.
05/05/2009 During the 1970s, Falls City issued this EP of drinking songs. Thanks to Leonard Yates for the send.
8/31/07 On a recent road trip I spotted this cool Falls City sign in Louisville, KY
This cool Billy Beer Railroad Car available from Greenway Products
Review of original Falls City Brews in 1978 by James D. Robertson in the "Great American Beer Book"
03/25/09 George Milton Bennett (with helmet) and Ed Childress at the 1/4 mile track at Nashville / George again with his car that had PBR on one side and 'City on the other - thanks to Ronny Mangrum
A bit o' trivia: Did you know comedian Foster Brooks got his start with Falls City Beer? Although famous for playing drunks, Brooks was actually a teetotaler when he perfected his act. He started out at Louisville radio station WHAS, reading ads for Falls City Beer, which involved him taking a long big drink and commenting on it. As the evening wore on he would get more and more drunk, until the end of his shift he was doing his trademark routine. He had been a life long 'City drinker when someone bet him he couldn't give up beer, & he did. Brooks died in 2001. Thanks to R Travis for the tip.
Below please find some pics I took of Falls City Brewing on a trip to Louisville in 1999. The brew house had been torn down, no doubt to scrap the copper brew kettles, but the rest of the brewery is still standing.
Former headquarters - now a dentist's office
A shot of the bottle shop - now a machine shop
I believe the building on the right was the ice plant
This cool Falls City Structo Truck thanks to Gary at www.structotruck.com
Falls City Beer TV ad from 1981 - Just click on the pic!
Falls City Print ads from www.gono.com
02/09/09 A couple of old Falls City Pics thanks to Jeffrey Bednar
2/14/09 Treasure hunter Don Perring found this Falls City ad printing plate while out with his metal detector...
11/30/09 - Good news 'City lovers - Falls City Beer is back with new owners and a very upscale web site full of information and great promo gear. Just click here to get the scoop!
If you have anything else on Falls City, please email me! Thanks to former bartender Eddie Gilmore, Dick Durbin, Don Brewington, Chester Spradlin. "the Beer Mogul" Mike Durnin, & Roy Nall for their input for this page! If you would like to read more about Falls City Brewing & other breweries in Louisville, Peter R. Guetig and Conrad D. Selle have written an excellent book called "Louisville Breweries" available from the Beer History Store. I also found information on "The Impact of Automation on the Falls City Brewery " by Bren W. Kindelsperger from the University of Louisville Archives.