It has been more than 50 years since Fehr’s XL has been brewed in Louisville. Founded in the late 1800s, Frank Fehr Brewing Company — often just known as Fehr’s Brewery — was, for a time, one of the top brewers in the Southeast.
A changing market that was deeply affected by the aftermath of Prohibition helped seal the fate of the brewery, which was located on Liberty Street. The Fehr’s brand was briefly owned by Brown-Forman before beer was produced under the Fehr’s name for several years by other breweries outside the city.
However, thanks to an enterprising local fan of the brand and its history, Louisvillians will get a chance to taste Fehr’s XL (which stands for “extra lager”) for the first time in decades — or at least a version of it, as brewed by Akasha Brewing Company under the direction of copyright owner Jeff Faith. The beer will be released at a special all-day event at the brewery on Sunday, Dec. 11.
“We’re trying to make it as close as we can to what was around at the turn of the century, and we’re making it in Louisville,” Faith tells Insider, pointing to a basic malt bill and hop ingredients published in the book “Louisville Breweries: A History of the Brewing Industry in Louisville, Kentucky” by Peter Guetig and Conrad Selle.
Faith also consulted a book called “The American Handy Book of Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades,” published in 1902, to reference the ingredients and basic brewing methods for the era. And, finally, he spoke with Selle on the phone to discuss the recipe he’d come up with for the new version of Fehr’s XL.
“It helped me confirm that we’re making the beer close to the way it should be,” Faith says.
Apparently, the beer is favorable to modern palates. Faith says when the wort came out of the mash tun, one of the assistant brewers noted that the beer was “so light,” which had Faith worried at first that something had gone wrong. But as tasting began, said brewer admitted he went back five times to get more sips.
“That’s a good sign,” Faith says with a smile. “It’s really light, really laid back, but it has a nice hop finish.”
Faith believes his combination of six-row malts, rice, Cluster hops for bittering, and then hops from the Noble family for finishing is very close to the recipe Frank Fehr’s brewers were using before Prohibition, giving us a window into what lager beer in Louisville was like more than 100 years ago.
Interestingly, the beer got brewed after a long wait — he has owned the copyright to the brand for about three years — essentially because Faith bought a special fermenting tank for the brewery to use so Akasha didn’t have to compromise its production schedule. He dubbed the fermenting vessel “Frank the Tank” (after Fehr’s Brewing founder Frank Fehr, with a nod to Will Ferrell), and the hope is the beer will continue to be made.
A key reason Faith bought the tank is because lager beer takes longer due to the cold-fermenting process, which ties up a fermenter for several weeks. He had been trying to find a brewing partner for a couple of years, but it proved difficult to find space since local breweries are typically already taxed in terms of vessel availability.
“I thought, ‘If I buy a tank, I know I’ll have space,” Faith says.
And while the reclamation of Fehr’s XL has been a labor of love — Faith also has an extensive collection of Fehr’s memorabilia — it bears noting that people from all over the country have sought him out to buy Fehr’s T-shirts and stickers, and to inquire about the beer.
The first batch was eight barrels and will be available almost exclusively at the brewery in pints and growler fills. His hope is the beer will eventually be distributed around the city and again become a go-to for Louisvillians, although it remains to be seen how the beer is received.
“I would love to see that happen for Fehr’s,” Faith says. “I’d love to see it in Louisville again — that’s where it belongs: in six-packs on shelves. I think it would be great if you could walk into a gas station and pick up the beer your grandfather drank.”
Time will tell. Meanwhile, Faith is simply enjoying the fact his dedication has finally become the reality he foresaw — Fehr’s XL has again been brewed in Louisville.
“I think Frank Fehr would be happy,” he says.
The Fehr’s XL release event will run from 1-6 p.m. and feature a display of vintage Fehr’s memorabilia, along with pint and growler sales. Akasha Brewing Co. is located at 909 E. Market St.