When Falls City Beer made its triumphant return three years ago, much was written in the local media, and there was some mild scuttlebutt among confused beer drinkers who expected it to taste like the vapid, watery dreck their grandfathers used to drink from cans in their kitchens.
We all know how that turned out. Louisville beer purists know a good beer when they taste one, and that English-style pale ale with which Falls City returned has now given way to four more new brews and a slick new brewery with a tasting room at 545 E. Barrett Ave.
But another local favorite from your grandfather’s days, Sterling, has made a similar return with a smooth American pilsner, and I’m kind of surprised I haven’t heard more about it. I haven’t seen it around town all that much either. Heck, at one point during the ’70s, both Sterling and Falls City were owned by G. Heileman Brewing, and both brands were cranking out very similar products, which are often called “American pilsners” (which is what most beer snobs would refer to as “American swill”). It seems Sterling would be poised – from a brand perspective, at least – to make a similar splash.
However, using the “Find Our Beer” feature on the Sterling website, I found only a dozen or so places around town that currently sell the new version. I enjoyed a pint of Sterling recently at Spring Street Bar & Grill, and it was a good experience, but it left me wondering if there might be a slight stumble here.
What I mean is that while the new Sterling is a pretty solid Pilsner beer – smooth and sessionable, but with a nice (if understated) bitterness at the back end of the palate – it also looks very much like the aforementioned stuff grandpa drank from cans, which is to say that it’s fizzy and yellow. Unlike Falls City’s return, which set itself apart with an amber ale with a body to it that distinguished itself from the canned stuff from the ’70s, Sterling may not have differentiated itself quite enough.
What I fear might happen to folks who aren’t in the know is that they will expect a ’70s, watered-down pilsner experience, and will get a bitterness for which they aren’t ready. Meanwhile, folks who prefer a bit more flavor and body might come to the wrong conclusion when they see the yellow brew spew out of the tap, and may make a negative assumption.
The thing is, drinking a modern Sterling beer is a pretty good experience, all in all. There’s enough going on that it won’t offend a discriminating palate, but it’s also smooth enough that your grandfather wouldn’t turn up his nose at it either. It has a nice balance.
The question is, will it ultimately be a ‘tweener? Will ’70s purists balk at paying $4.50 a pint for stuff they expect to get at a $4-per-six-pack clip? That remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether the Sterling brand will branch out and ultimately catch on the way Falls City has in its big resurgence. For my taste, I think it’s a great thing to have this brand back in our midst, and I also believe there is plenty of room for it in the beer scene. We’ll see how it shakes out.
What are your thoughts about the new Sterling? Leave your comments below.