Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Musings on Falls City, standards of longevity, and that strange word "craft."

From the outset, let's be clear. I'm a big fan of what Falls City is doing these days. My wife and I like Over the 9, the Falls City/Old 502 gastropub.

We took friends there recently, and they also enjoyed it. Verily, by doing business where it does, Falls City is playing a leading role in reconnecting Portland with downtown, and this matters to me a great deal.

Falls City's latest bottle releases, Kentucky Common and Easy Goer Session IPA, are 4% abv and 4.5% abv, respectively, and that's huge; finally, there is ballyhoo about session-strength releases, and I'll be drinking a lot of the Kentucky Common.

To summarize, I'm coming from a position of friendship and appreciation.

This said, a headline at Louisville Business First is slightly misleading, and with requisite gentleness and scrupulous objectivity, I'd like to explain why.

One of the city's oldest craft beer breweries is rolling out the biggest product line expansion in its history

Before I tell you, let's look at the story from last week's roll-out.

 ... The brewery is adding a new year-round offering, Kentucky Common, which is inspired by the city's pre-Prohibition bourbon industry, along with a family of seasonal beers, including Easy Goer Session IPA, according to WLKY-TV.

Kentucky Common has ingredients that are similar to a bourbon distiller's mash, and that style is one that originated in Louisville, the story said.

Cezary Wlodarczyk, Falls City's CEO and president, said he hopes the beer will be offered at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington and Churchill Downs in Louisville. Wlodarczyk said the beer is iconic and deserves a presence in the state.

The headline identifies Falls City as one of Louisville's "oldest craft beer breweries." Allow me to observe that this is a tad far-fetched, although Louisville Business First merely takes its cues from Falls City's own web site.

In 1905 a group of bartenders and grocery store owners had had enough with being forced to buy, serve, and sell beer produced by a local beer monopoly. So they got together and created Falls City Beer. At that moment of rebellion and independence, Louisville’s first craft beer was born.

And ...

Craft beer before craft beer was cool. 

In fairness, I've embraced a cynical, post/pre-craft position with regard to the use of this word, and it is quite possible that "craft" currently possesses almost no coherent definition whatever. Still, as a functional curmudgeon, I strive for accuracy. In this instance, verifiable chronology is available to assist us.

  • The original Falls City Brewing Company operated in Louisville from 1905 through 1978.
  • The original American "microbrewery" was New Albion, founded in 1976.
  • In 1984, the word "craft" was used for the first time, and the New York Times did not use the word until 1997.
  • The "old" Falls City, which had nothing whatever to do with micro- or craft-brewing, was contract-brewed in Pittsburgh until 2007.
  • Today's Falls City began contract-brewing in 2010 and brews on-site, too.

If 2010 represents Falls City's contemporary inception, then it was preceded in Louisville by at least seven other breweries during the period of "craft" beer's ascendancy -- some lasting, some morphing, others folding. BBC and Cumberland Brewery predate the "new" Falls City by 17 and 10 years, respectively.

A brewery reborn in 2010, while "craft" by most any sensible modern definition, is not one of the city's "oldest" in the same chronological sense.

Concurrently, a brewery originally born in 1905 hardly can be referred to as a "craft" brewery, since neither the usage nor the concept existed then.

The "new" Falls City has brewed certain of its beers on site, in Louisville, at two locations since 2011 or thereabouts, with a short break when the Barrett Avenue taproom closed and the brewery was reinstalled at the present 10th Street location. Flagship brands continue to be contract-brewed elsewhere.

All this is admirable, and as noted, I'm a fan. But Falls City, while "craft," is not one of Louisville's "oldest" "craft" breweries.

Of course, perhaps we might dispense with "craft" altogether and move forward with the reclamation of good, real and true beer. Falls City certainly is helping fulfill this mandate, because as Cresant Smith rightly observes in her assessment of last week's brand introduction, Falls City's Kentucky Common is delicious ... as well as historically accurate.

Falls City Brewing Co Expanded Line-Up of Beers (Louisville Beer Dot Com)

I was able to try the Kentucky Common and it was very easy to drink. It very well matched the Beer Judging Certification Program standards of what a Kentucky Common should taste like. Medium amber in color, moderately grainy/corn aroma with a medium sweet flavor. Bready, toffee notes and gentle carbonation. It finishes semi-dry and clean.

Note that Over the 9 will be my first stop for Session Day 2016.

Come drink beer with me on Session Beer Day, April 7, 2016.


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