The Falls City story is as rich and interesting as its new beginning now! The beer began as a monopoly-busting people’s beer and went on to sell more than a million barrels a year in its heyday. Everyone thought the story was over in 1978 when the doors closed on the Louisville brewery, but it was just another chapter…
In 1905, local tavern and grocery store owners got together and formed the Falls City Brewing Company as a way to break a local monopoly on beer production by the Central Consumers Company. In 1901, the biggest brewers in Louisville all got together and formed one company that made all the beer and owned most of the real estate where taverns were located.
The tavern owners had to rent from them and buy their beer, so it really put the bar owners in a bad situation. In 1905, Ben Schrader organized a group of these owners and formed Falls City to create some competition. It was an immediate success! Draft beer was introduced in 1906 and bottled beer followed two years later.
By 1911, Falls City Beer had become very popular with annual production of 75,000 barrels and its first motorized delivery trucks, so the board decided to introduce a Berliner Dark Beer in addition to the Lager to attract a larger fan base. Also in 1911, the Central Consumers Company made a takeover bid to the Falls City stockholders. The vote was very close but the motion to sell was narrowly defeated.
Prohibition hit in 1919 and knocked a great many breweries out of business entirely, but Falls City changed their name to the Falls City Ice and Beverage Company and survived selling block ice and soft drinks, including Falls City Special Cereal Beverage (Near Beer).
When prohibition was lifted in 1933, Falls City was in a great position to capitalize. The name was changed back to Falls City Brewing Company and beer production resumed and distribution expanded throughout the entire Ohio River Valley (Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana), and eventually to Tennessee, the Virginias, and Illinois. The product line grew to include Hi-Bru, Extra Pale, Lager, Falls City Ale and a Bock (Dark). More than a million dollars was spent in the 30’s on buildings, kettles, vehicles and equipment. By the end of the 1930’s, the brewery was producing 450,000 barrels a year!
In the 1940’s, the war effort brought about rationing that made it difficult for beer production, but sales still climbed to 750,000 barrels by 1950. From the end of Prohibition until the late 60’s, Falls City was a dominant brewery and was the most popular beer in Louisville. The beer was well-known all over the region, in fact. Oertel’s and Fehr’s, Louisville’s other top breweries eventually went out of business and Falls City was the lone survivor until the national players like Schlitz, Miller and Budweiser became too powerful to compete with.
In 1978, the brewery closed and the rights to sell the beer were sold to Heileman Brewing Company. The beer was made in Evansville, IN, until Heileman was later sold to Pittsburgh Brewing. Pittsburgh Brewing continued to make the brand until recent years as a very low-cost lager. Part of the reason Falls City survived as long as it did is also the reason its legacy isn’t as rich as it should be. By changing the taste to adapt to the trend toward lighter beers, and then making necessary cuts to stay competitive with the national brands, Falls City’s taste isn’t remembered fondly by beer connoisseurs.
Now, the next chapter begins. The Falls City Brewing Company is open again with a new taste that reflects the original vision of Ben Schrader when he founded the company. Our aim is to bring back all the pride and prestige the brand enjoyed 50-70 years ago and to be part of the good times of a new generation of beer drinkers. Please enjoy a Falls City and let us know how you like it. We’re very proud to represent Louisville and the wonderful history of the brand and we hope it will be your favorite beer!