It may have been a slippery slope to begin with, releasing a beer under the Falls City brand that didn’t look or taste like what locals remembered.
The enduring memory in Louisville of the brand was a fizzy yellow liquid of questionable quality. Some people swore by it, others were more likely to swear at it. Or at least about it. Many remember the pilsner beer as being derisively called “Falls Shitty.”
But the brewery, which was revived in 2010 by a new owner — it has since been purchased by Neace Ventures — is turning back the clock to the 1970s on Saturday, May 12, with a special release event for the Falls City Classic Pilsner.
The beer will be sold on draft at the new taproom and in cans around town, with Falls City making a first run of about 500 cases. The packaging is based on a can from approximately the early 1970s, and the contents will be a high-quality pilsner that is light, crisp and will resemble the Falls City pilsner locals remember.
The hope is that the beer will speak for itself, while the presentation will interest former Falls City drinkers and anyone interested in the nostalgia of local beer history.
“My dad was a Falls City drinker, through and through,” says Falls City Brewing General Manager Drew Johnson. “He still refers to it as ‘City.’ He says, ‘What’s going on down at City?’ We made an easily approachable beer that everyone’s going to love.”
The event on Saturday at the Falls City Taproom in the Phoenix Hill neighborhood specifically invites people who may have worked at the original brewery, which closed in 1978, those whose relatives worked there, or just anyone with a Falls City story to share.
Anyone with a past connection to Falls City will be able to add their name to a large sign that will hang in the taproom. The first 50 people to show up after the event begins at noon will receive a free throwback Falls City T-shirt, and All Thai’d Up food truck will be on hand selling wings and Thai food in the beer garden. In addition, the Day-Drinking DJ will be spinning vinyl
When Falls City first returned in 2010, it was met with two very different responses. One faction saw it was an English pale ale that threw back to pre-Prohibition beers and said, “This isn’t the Falls City I remember!” Another faction saw the craft price tag and said, “I’m not paying $4 for a Falls City!”
But there’s a reason the brewery didn’t come out of the gate with a Classic Pilsner, Johnson says. The goal was to revive the brand as a craft brewery, and for eight years it has stuck to its guns in that regard.
“Even now there are people who don’t know we brought this back and did it as craft brewery,” Johnson says. “If we started in leading with this pilsner, I don’t think we would have been taken seriously.”
Falls City Marketing Manager Brian U’Sellis notes that having a branded taproom — the draft lines focus on craft brews of a variety of styles, while the décor pays homage to the brand’s past — makes it the ideal environment for a reboot of the classic Falls City beer.
“We’ve had so many people come through and say, ‘My dad worked at the bottle shop’ or ‘My grandpa worked at the brewery,’” U’Sellis says. “We wanted to wait until we had the right place to invite those families back.”
A first taste of the beer reveals that brewer Cameron Finnis achieved exactly what Falls City set out to do: create a clean, basic, easy-drinking American pilsner that should appeal to a wide variety of palates.
For those put off by the big flavors of craft beer, this one will be an easy drinker.
In addition, the beer will be sold at a lower price point than most craft beer, with a suggested retail price of $7.99 per six-pack, an approach Falls City hopes will attract a wider audience. Cans will be available at select bars and restaurants and should sell for $3-$4.
If all goes well, it may well join the core craft brands such as Hipster Repellant IPA and Streetlamp Porter as a regular. Classic Pilsner will be available at least through summer, however, Johnson says.
“It’s going back to just a simpler approach to beer,” he says, “something that’s classic and refreshing to drink. There’s only so many flavors a person can take. Now that we have the right (craft beer) lineup, we can roll this out, be comfortable we’re still a craft brewery and still pay homage to this beer. It’s going to resonate with the older demographic that still has that ‘Falls Shitty’ story, and a younger demographic that will still think it’s cool.”
The Falls City Classic Pilsner release event begins at noon on Saturday. The taproom is located at 901 E. Liberty St.