Falls City Beer unveils new product line, re-branded look

Falls City beer lineup

Surrounded by case after case of Falls City Beer, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer proclaimed March 1 as “Falls City Beer Day” in recognition of the brand’s new product line and look. The announcement was made a press conference at the brewery in Portland.

The announcement includes two new immediate releases in Kentucky Common and Easy Goer Session IPA, as well as three other new seasonals that will be sold in bottles and taps: Heather Ale, which will be available in late winter; Harvest Ale, available in the fall; and Red Rye Lager, available near the end of the year. In addition, Falls City representatives introduced redesigned packaging.

Fischer talked of his youth growing up in Louisville when Falls City was still a widely available beer. The original Falls City was founded in 1905 in response to a local monopoly on brewing, but it folded in 1978 following the failed release of Billy Beer. In 2010, it was revived by a local businessman, and last year was sold to a group of investors who also owns Old 502 Winery and Over the 9, a restaurant in the brewery/winery complex at 120 S. 10th St.

Kentucky Common is a beer style that is indigenous to Louisville and was being brewed here by the mid- to late-1800s. A dark, cream beer, it was a cheap and fast beverage to produce and take to market. It also was easy to drink and contained low alcohol, making it a favorite in Louisville’s taverns. It is estimated that about 80 percent of beer-drinking Louisvillians prior to Prohibition drank what became known as “common beer” or “komon beer.”

Falls City FischerFischer called it “a real milestone” that Falls City is rolling out the beer style as part of its core product line, pointing to a craft beer committee he formed two years ago to help promote brewing in Louisville. He noted that one of the key initiatives was to “reconnect Louisville with its distilling roots and its brewing roots.”

Falls City brewer Dylan Greenwood talked briefly about the history of the beer, which is made with similar ingredients used in distilling whiskey.

“We’re happy to bring it back to the masses,” he said. “Not only does it have a good history, but it’s a good beer.”

Easy Goer Session IPA is a lower-alcohol version of a currently popular beer style. Made with Palisades and Citra hops, it is less bitter than most standard IPAs and checks in at just 4.5 percent alcohol by volume.

“At 4.5 percent ABV, you don’t have to feel bad about drinking more than one,” Greenwood said.

These beers join Hipster Repellant IPA, which by comparison is 6.3 percent ABV, and Falls City Pale Ale, which was the first new beer the brand released in 2010. Much of Falls City’s brewing is currently brewed out of state, but the local facility will continue to brew limited monthly releases as part of the Falls City 7-Barrel series. These will be available only on draft at Over the 9, beginning with a Maibock, a malty German-style beer, and another beer style that was historically popular in Louisville.

While versions of Kentucky Common can be found periodically at other area breweries, Falls City CEO Cezary Wlodarczyk believes making it part of the brand’s base product line puts the brewery in “a unique position.” He specifically stated his goal to make the beer available at Churchill Downs and other iconic spots that are uniquely Kentucky.

“Falls City Beer is a brand that is totally connected to Louisville,” Greenwood said, “so not only is this a huge day for the brewery, but for the city as well. You can still see old Falls City signs on buildings around town. With new bottled beers like our Kentucky Common, we’re saluting local history but also producing well-balanced craft beer with the quality and variety beer fans now expect.”

Fischer added, “Falls City is iconic to Louisville, and watching its growth in the last handful of years is very exciting and meaningful to our city’s Renaissance of craft beer and spirits.”

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

Falls City plans beer garden, food and more at its new home

David Easterling

David Easterling

It wasn’t that long ago that things didn’t seem to be going well for Falls City Beer. Its brewer had resigned, leaving all the beer production to a contract brewer in Nashville.

When owner David Easterling announced he had sold half his interest in the brand and formed a partnership with Old 502 Winery, abandoning the Falls City tap room and mini-museum on Barrett Avenue to move to the winery’s 35,000-square-foot space at 120 S. 10th St., it appeared things might not be working.

But six months later, Falls City is again brewing in Louisville — although Falls City Pale Ale and Hipster Repellant are still brewed by Blackstone Brewing in Nashville — and plans are in the works for a beer garden, seasonal releases, food and more.

I spoke with Easterling, who eagerly gave me samples of Falls City’s Black IPA and Amber Ale and talked about what’s ahead. He mentioned future events at the brewery, starting with a brew-in this coming February with the LAGERS Homebrew Club along with plenty of other happenings going forward. Of course, brewing is high on the list.

The current brewing equipment is the same seven-barrel system that was used for a time at the old location, a system that caused the brewery some problems when it was first set up.

“It didn’t have any instructions,” Easterling said, noting there were electrical issues and some user error involved. “We learned a lot.”

Falls City kettlesBut that system did produce the now popular Hipster Repellant, which is the latest Falls City beer to be available in bottles. It seems to be working fine now, and more beers will come. Meanwhile, the big side lot adjacent to the winery/brewery will become home to a mini beer garden once warm weather returns. In addition, Easterling envisions food truck events and possibly even a block party in conjunction with Old 502 and Kentucky Peerless Distilling, which is just a few doors away on 10th Street.

There’s plenty going on behind the scenes as well. New brewer Dylan Greenwood, who came on board in August, is busy creating new beers, like the aforementioned Amber and a planned bourbon barrel stout. Formerly a brewer for Bluegrass Brewing Company and Foothills Brewery in North Carolina, Greenwood also recently brewed a red rye lager that will be sold going forward under the name Winter Lager.

“I’m not sure how people feel about rye,” Easterling said with a smile, noting that some will shy away from anything that has rye as an ingredient due to the unique, spicy flavor it brings.

Greenwood added, “You can get away with rye as a winter lager because people expect a bit of spiciness.” (He noted the beer also has some caraway.)

In the spring, a session IPA — which has already been popping up on taps around town — will be produced and packaged, with full local distribution. Easterling is especially happy with this beer (as well as the Winter Lager) in a craft beer market that is hop-crazy.

“I always find when I’m drinking it that I do get my hop fix,” he said, and at just 4.5 percent alcohol by volume (about the same as a Miller Lite), “four or five beers later, I still feel pretty good.”

The session IPA may be packaged via mobile canning. What that means is that Falls City will outsource a company, possibly Michigan Mobile Canning, which has a location in Indianapolis, to come to the brewery and can the beers on site.

“They show up with their truck, it takes three or four hours, and then they’re done,” Greenwood said.

Another notable beer in the works is what Greenwood called a “chocolate-covered strawberry stout.” He said he is trying to track down all the necessary ingredients to make it the way he wants.

Falls City canFalls City is also making its own tap handles on site. Food in the form of small plates and appetizers is also in the plans for the tasting room, where visitors can now drink Old 502 wines as well as Falls City beers.

“It’s a pretty unique experience that nobody else can offer,” Easterling said of the tasting room, where both beer lovers and wine enthusiasts can find options for imbibing, not to mention shopping for Old 502 Winery and Falls City gear. “I think next year it will really take off. It’s easy to park down here, it’s easy to get to. People don’t normally come down here, but it’s a destination.”

Ultimately, Greenwood said, the long-term plan is to slowly but surely move all brewing production to the local facility. The brewery space has plenty of room for expansion, although he said that will take a lot more financial investment. In the meantime, Easterling is happy with the brewing and bottling Falls City has with its Nashville partner.

“We always get a really consistent product down there,” he said.

Overall, plans seem to be in place to keep the brand, which was created in 1905 and lasted locally until 1978, moving forward. Greenwood said once canning begins, there may be a throwback can in the offing to satisfy those purists who still remember the Falls City beer of 1960s and ’70s.

“People still ask for that, even though it sank the company in the 1970s,” Greenwood said. He likens the old Falls City to a film from the early ’80s that was, in its time, considered groundbreaking: “Tron.”

“It’s nostalgic,” Greenwood said, “but I don’t want to experience it again.”

He laughed and said, “We’re just trying to establish ourselves as a good craft brewery right now.”

This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.

What’s on tap for Louisville’s beer scene?

louisville beer - leo weeklyMatt Fuller, Vince Cain and Zach Barnes are working their butts off these days. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Fuller and Cain, along with a couple other helpers, were busy building out a 3,000-square-foot space in the Highlands in preparation for opening Great Flood Brewing, their new craft brewery.

They were hoisting a roof piece they’d put together themselves onto what will soon be a walk-in cooler where precious kegs of their beer will be tapped. And even though the space, which is just a few doors down from Twig and Leaf, looked like so many piles of lumber mixed with a few ladders on that Saturday, they remain confident they’ll be open sometime in late February.

Such work is going on all around town. Red Yeti Brewing is building out a space in downtown Jeffersonville and hopes to open by late January; another local brewer, Cory Riley, is eyeing April 1 as an opening date for his Bannerman Brewing in the Clifton area. And Beer Engine, based in Danville, Ky., has been working furiously to open a location in Germantown. In addition, five more breweries are planning to open in 2014 in and around the area.

Add those to six established local breweries and brew pubs — Bluegrass Brewing Company, Cumberland Brews, New Albanian Brewing Company, Falls City Beer, Apocalypse Brew Works and Against the Grain Brewery — and the supply of local craft beer is about to more than double. And that doesn’t even include Gordon Biersch and BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, two chain breweries with locations in Louisville. Nor does that include craft beer destinations such as Sergio’s World Beers, Louisville Beer Store, Buckhead Mountain Grill, Tony Boombozz Tap Room and plenty of others that offer craft brews from around the region and the world.

So how much craft beer can Louisville consume? Sure, there are a lot of hipsters here, but even they spend a ton of their drinking money on PBR. How will a new brewery survive? In talking to a few of them, they express varying levels of confidence.

Barnes, of Great Flood Brewing, says, “We think the demand is going to be great. If (the market for craft beer) grows, the demand will be so great we won’t have to force it. The general market for craft beer is still growing, and that’s fantastic considering the economic market.”

The national Brewers Association reports that there are just fewer than 2,500 craft breweries — which are defined in part as having an annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less — currently operating in the United States. But consider this: There are another 1,500 or so lined up and preparing to begin operations. So, Louisville is not an exception. In fact, Louisville is outpacing the overall trend.

Will the market hold?
The good news is that growth of the craft-brewing industry in 2012 was 15 percent by volume and 17 percent by retail dollars; 13.2 million barrels of craft beer got brewed in 2012, compared with just fewer than 11.5 million in 2011.

Craft beer now represents 10.2 percent of the domestic beer market, according to a recent story by Business Insider; meanwhile, a study by IBIS World predicts the craft beer market will grow to $3.9 billion this year.

A few recent studies have shown a decline in beer consumption as wine and mixed drinks grow in popularity, but it’s the Big Suds breweries — Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors — that seem to be losing favor in the market.

That’s all good news, right? Local brewers feel confident, despite the inherent challenges. In the case of Red Yeti, Paul and Brandi Ronau ran into problems with the building at 256 Spring Street that delayed the opening. If and when it does open at the end of this month, head brewer Paul Ronau says the beer on tap will be guest crafts. Original beers probably won’t be ready until spring, but still they move forward.

At Great Flood Brewing, much research was done to ensure a good chance of success. “We hope we’re not close to a saturation point,” says Cain.

But how will they differentiate from other brewers around town or, heck, just down the street?

“We have such a small capacity size,” he says of Great Flood Brewing’s two-barrel system, “and we’re going to brew so frequently that we’re going to have something new all the time.”

Experimentation will be the order of the day. They are even tossing around ideas of ways to get customers involved in helping out with recipes.

Leah Dienes, co-owner and head brewer at Apocalypse Brew Works, believes there is room in the market for more breweries. Bannerman will open just down the street in April, but she fully believes the two breweries can co-exist.

“As long as beer is coming in from out of state, there is room for more local breweries,” Dienes says. “Buying local is a growing trend across many cities in the U.S. And we are part of that trend.”

Dienes keeps overhead down by operating a taproom that opens only on Friday and Saturday. Many of her sales come in the form of growlers, often to regulars who live in the neighborhood. Apocalypse also brings in food trucks every weekend and hosts special events, creating foot traffic. Poorcastle, a daylong concert series in July, and Yappy Hour, a Kentucky Humane Society benefit as part of Louisville Craft Beer Week, were two events that brought in big crowds in 2013.

Speaking of Louisville Craft Beer Week, it’s also a positive sign that such events and efforts not only exist, but that they keep growing; there are more and more craft beer events popping up each year and enjoying success, from Brew at the Zoo to the Highlands Beer Festival to the forthcoming debut of Tailspin Ale Fest, set for Feb. 22 at Bowman Field. Louisville even has its own website dedicated to the local beer scene in LouisvilleBeer.com.

But all that still doesn’t mean the market couldn’t top out.

Dave Stacy, the head brewer at Gordon Biersch on Fourth Street, believes a saturation point is ahead. Still, if a customer comes to his place and can’t find a beer he likes, Stacy will direct that person to BBC, Apocalypse or Against the Grain. Will there come a time when there is too much of a good thing?

“Beer being the product that it is, I think we’re getting close to that (saturation) point,” Stacy says. “But I still think it’s better to keep that door open.”

It’s a good point. Why panic when the market is still growing? Stacy points out that differentiation is an important factor. Gordon Biersch specializes in German-style beers, and there is no other brewery in Louisville doing that specifically. If you want a Marzen-style beer, well, Gordon Biersch is a good place to look for one.

At the same time, Blue Stallion opened last year in Lexington and also specializes in German lager-style beers. Sure, it’s a good 70 miles down the road, but it’s still down the road. How long before another brewer follows that lead? And for Gordon Biersch, there is also the specter of how beer snobs eschew chains.

“Our challenge is how people view us,” he admits.

Bubble in the beer market?
Roger Baylor, owner of New Albanian Brewing Company, has been in the business of craft beer for quite a few years; his business model with Rich O’s Public House and Sportstime Pizza hinged on it from the word “go” when those side-by-side concepts launched in 1990. Later, he was the first one in town to eliminate sales of corporate beers like Bud Light. New Albanian as a craft brewing entity was founded in 2002.

“Saturation point depends on the capacity of the new breweries, their level of debt service and what size territory they need to get by,” Baylor explains. “What happens when everyone decides to play the game the same way?”

He added that if the amount of beer local breweries need to produce to stay ahead is more than a local market can absorb, then it must be bottled or canned and shipped further and further away, “which tilts the advantage toward larger and better capitalized entities.”

Pat Hagan has been in the craft-brewing business for more than 20 years as owner-operator of Bluegrass Brewing Company. BBC survived a 1990s market that claimed local breweries such as Pipkin and Silo, and also outlasted Ft. Mitchell-based Oldenburg.

“Where is the bubble in the beer market?” he says. “I don’t know whether it’s a saturation point. There are just so many (new breweries) popping up all over country. Somewhere along the line, something has got to give.”

Hagan wonders aloud what the new brewers’ aspirations are. BBC, like NABC, bottles and distributes outside the Louisville market and has a presence in taps around the area. Breweries like Apocalypse can also be found tapped around town. But how big is too big?

“I guess everybody would like to get as big as they could,” he says. “Apocalypse Brews makes good beer and is getting some distribution out. You take small ones like that, (and) I think we can handle a few more. I keep looking at (the demand) and wondering, but it keeps going.”

Like others, however, he’s simply happy the demand has become so big. That has created room for all these craft brewers’ aspirations and promises plenty of new beer in 2014 and beyond.

“At least consumers are more aware of it and more willing to try it,” Hagan says.

Cory Riley of Bannerman Brewing noted that Michigan Brewing Company entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy earlier this year; it is a mid-size craft brewery. A handful of other craft-brewing companies have suffered similar fates over the last year and a half. Is that evidence of saturation in that market, or are these isolated situations?

“In the next couple of years, we’ll hit that saturation point,” Riley says. What will happen then? “The beer will get better.”

Once again, differentiation may be key. Riley says he plans to feature sour beers and Belgian-style beers at Bannerman, which is different than a BBC, a Cumberland or a New Albanian. He also believes people who drink local craft beer will drill down in their support of local products.

“You’ll find that people who live in certain neighborhoods will go to their local brewpub,” he says. Also, he points out that many will avoid drinking and driving by walking to their local brewery for beer.

Of course, that notion takes us back to the days when distribution channels were smaller and refrigeration wasn’t as advanced as it is today. It wasn’t all that long ago that buying a six-pack of Corporate Light at the liquor store wasn’t even an option, so you went to the corner pub with a bucket and got it filled up with whatever was on tap. The return of the local brewer and the growler is obviously a good sign, both economically and socially.

Baylor believes one of the keys may be to remain as local as possible. Five years ago, New Albanian began brewing beer for bottling and distribution outside the Louisville area. But he believes broader isn’t necessarily better.

“It has been a success, but just barely,” he says, “and NABC’s ‘export’ growth is slowing.”

While that doesn’t mean NABC will stop bottling and distributing, what it does mean is a re-focus on maximizing what’s happening in-house, “and be even more ‘local’ than before,” Baylor says.

The problem is that with more small breweries trying to distribute, that means more craft brands for liquor stores to put on their shelves. “But the shelves don’t get any bigger, do they?” Baylor says. “If craft beer is 10 percent or 15 percent (of the market), it still means much of the shelf space has to go to mass market (stock).”

Additionally, the local and regional craft brewers are still competing for that space with established brands like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and even pseudo-craft beers like Blue Moon, he says, and at price points the smaller breweries can’t hope to match.

“So, where’s the market?” Baylor asks. “It’s there, I think, but in places that get ignored. We know they’ll come to our buildings and drink our beer there, and because of that and deep roots, we’ll be OK. But who is our customer elsewhere? And will the new start-ups have time to grow roots?”

All good questions, with unknown answers.

Meanwhile, however, the beer boom is on, and how big the bubble can manage to get is still anyone’s guess. It sure isn’t going to stop those who believe the market has plenty of room to expand.

“You don’t know where a lot of food you eat comes from,” says Barnes of Great Flood Brewing, “or the clothes you wear. I know where (local beer) comes from. It’s a social activity brought down to a natural scale. As long as we keep that dynamic as we’re brewing, I think it’s a permanent trend, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Drink up, Louisville.

This post was originally published in LEO Weekly.

Falls City Hipster Repellant Debuts at Liquor Barn

louisville beer - liquor barnI cruised by Liquor Barn out at Springhurst yesterday after work to (again) try Falls City Beer‘s Hipster Repellant IPA and to snag one of those cool Falls City mason jars. I hadn’t been to Liquor Barn in a while, however, and had forgotten just how much great beer they have on tap.

Of course, if you know what you’re doing and you have 40 lines at your disposal, you’ve got a pretty good head start.

I started off with a pint of the Hipster Repellant ($4, keeps the pint, a special deal yesterday evening), and perused the draft list as I enjoyed it and chatted with some of the staff and others on hand to get their beer on.

A great feature of the tap/tasting bar is that you can get two-ounce pours for 75 cents and six-ounce pours for $1.75 before deciding on a growler to take home. I didn’t get a growler this time around, but I did taste a couple of extra brews while I was there.

One was a beer I’ve been curious about for a while but had not gotten around to trying: Country Boy Brewing Jalapeno Porter. All I can say is that if you haven’t had this stuff, you need to. Like, today. It has such an intriguing depth to it — it possess all the characteristics you’d expect from a good porter, and adds a light jalapeno flavor, and just the tiniest bit of a spice kick that lingers on the palate. Nicely done.

I also had a six-0unce pour of Green Flash Brewing Company Symposium IPA at the recommendation of one of the Liquor Barn employees. I’ve had Green Flash beers before, but I don’t recall ever having the Symposium IPA. According to the Green Flash website, this is the third go-around for the beer since 2008, and I can see why they keep bringing it back. It has a floral and citrusy nose, and the flavors explode once you take a drink.

The beer description at the site notes that Green Flash placed a “profound emphasis on hop extravagance” — that’s putting it lightly. Apparently, the brewers added hops at every step of the brewing process, and the result is a highly complex and unique flavor in a beer that is still light bodied and crisp. Highly recommended.

Yeah, I’ll be going back to Liquor Barn again soon. Hope to see you there.

A Falls City Sneak Peek: Hipster Repellant

louisville beer - falls city hipster repellant

The “Hispter Repellant” IPA was, indeed, a little angry.

I took my dad to the Falls City Beer tasting room over the weekend and got a nice surprise: As if free samples of good Louisville beer wasn’t enough, we also got a tour of the brewing facilities and a sneak-preview taste of a new IPA that is, at least internally, being dubbed “Hipster Repellant.”

Hipster Repellant (which may or may keep its name when released to the public) is a special brew made to be available at Louisville-area Liquor Barn locations. While it had just been kegged and therefore was a tad over-carbonated when Falls City’s Rob Haynes poured the samples, the nose on this beer is outstanding.

“It’s a little angry,” he said, referring to the over-foam. When I mentioned the nose, he said, “I just want to huff it.” Indeed. It has less of a hop bite than the nose suggests, but there is still plenty there — I’d guess it at around 60 or 65 IBU. It’s crisp and smooth, with a creamier mouthfeel than I expected — although that very well could have been pushed along by all the foam.

We also tried a couple of other new-ish ones now on tap at the tasting room:

Kentucky Waterfall APA (6.6 percent ABV, 40 IBU): Straw-colored, mildly cloudy and crisp, this drinks like a great summer beer. My dad isn’t what you’d call a hop-head, and he really liked this one. It’s surprising this one is 6.6 percent alcohol, because on the palate and nose it could pass for a session beer. It’s a solid entry.

502 APA (5.5 percent  ABV, 55 IBU): Of course I had to try this one, simply because of the name; maybe this can be the official beer of 502Brews.com. Made with Amarillo hops, this one is a brilliant orange color, very dry on the finish, crisp and lager-esque. I could drink this stuff all day.

Here are some pics I shot of the brewing equipment and other odds and ends:

Falls City Beer at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

louisville beer - falls cityI’m not a University of Louisville Cardinals fan, but I am a fan of Louisville beer. Therefore, I am quite happy that Falls City Beer is now available at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

I haven’t been to a game this season, so I didn’t even realize it until Falls City sent out the announcement via its e-newsletter and a tweet this morning. But you need to know where to look: You can get Falls City Pale Ale near Gates 9 and 1 (Stands 1 and 23) during football games.

Usually, the stuff being carried around in tubs and even on draft at the concessions stands consist of corporate swill and corporate swill light, so this is a fine development. Cheers to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Speaking of Falls City Beer, another new brew has been unleashed. Here’s the description from the Falls City e-newsletter:

Falls City Kentucky Waterfall APA: This new APA features Cascade and Simcoe hops giving it a piney and citrusy hop character.  A mild malt backbone adds hints of caramel and toffee.  6.6% abv, 40 IBUs.

No Given Sunday (in Indiana)

louisville beer - no given sundayBack in the late 1990s when I was a reporter and page designer for Louisville Eccentric Observer (now known as LEO Weekly), I had to work every Sunday morning/afternoon in preparation for Tuesday’s deadline. During football season, my routine was to go home afterward and watch football the rest of the day with a six-pack of beer at my side.

But in those days, I lived in Jeffersonville, Ind. This meant making sure I stopped in downtown Louisville to get beer before crossing the river after work, because everyone in the Midwest knows you can’t buy beer on Sunday in Indiana. (Yes, I am one of those who has experienced going to Mike Walsh Liquor & Beer on Market on a Sunday afternoon, and noting that three fourths of the vehicles bore Indiana plates. Shame the Louisville Beer Store wasn’t around back then.)

This year, a bill was proposed in Indiana that would have allowed Sunday alcohol sales at grocery stores and other retail shops, but Rep. Bill Davis, chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, wouldn’t let a committee vote on it. And so, my Hoosier friends will continue to envy me the fact I can, after 1 p.m., buy beer on any given Sunday.

What is particularly annoying, I think, is that Indiana’s continued refusal to allow Sunday sales, along with cold beer sales in grocery stores and convenience stores, has nothing to do with the Sabbath and antiquated ideals, but rather everything to do with the special interests of the package liquor store lobby, which has deep connections with members of the Indiana General Assembly. It isn’t about God; quite simply, the liquor stores are afraid of the competition.

“Allowing Sunday sales would be a slow death,” Raymond Cox, owner of Elite Beverages, told The Indianapolis Star. “Allowing cold beer would put us out of business overnight.”

Here’s what I have to say about that: I live in a Louisville neighborhood that has a Kroger, multiple convenience stores, and a CVS where one can easily buy cold beer and (at the drugstores, at least) wine and liquor, on any given day, including Sunday. And yet, Gary’s Liquors, which is surrounded by these businesses, continues to thrive, even adding a drive-through lane within the last two years.

Are Kentucky and Indiana apples and oranges? I have to believe Gary’s survives by offering a wider selection of craft beers, quality wine and liquor. Unlike at Kroger, Thornton’s or CVS, which typically carry big distributor brands only, I can walk into Gary’s and know I can pick up a six-pack of Falls City or Bluegrass Brewing Company beers. (And really, even with Kroger’s mix-and-match deal, wherein you make your own six-pack of “craft” beers, one of the choices is Landshark. The hell?)

Well, this long-running idiocy (five decades and counting), as you probably have already heard, has prompted a lawsuit. Not sure you can fight a state government leaders who have an agenda, but it will be interesting to see if this gets anywhere. Past efforts have been similarly stifled, although at least they gave Hoosiers a way to get a growler to go on Sundays, so maybe there’s hope for change.

Meantime, my condolences continue to go out to my Indiana friends who may want to enjoy a six-pack on a Sunday evening. Keep on doing your package beer shopping on Saturday, and keep those fingers crossed.

No Fanfare for Sterling?

sterling - louisville beerWhen 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.

sterling beer can louisville

“Yo, Pappaw. Pass me another one before my buzz wears off.”

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.