T-shirt Tuesday: Billy Beer

T-shirt Tuesday: Billy Beer

When Jimmy Carter was elected President in 1977, the media fell in love with his brother Billy, the younger, dumber, beer-chugging Carter. Billy became a red-neck folk hero and the perfect balance to his brother’s earnest demeanor. 

Before becoming a glorified beer-drinker, Billy went to Emory University in Georgia, dropped out and served in the USMC for four years. He returned to his hometown of Plains, Georgia to work in the family’s peanut business. In ‘72 he purchased a gas station, and a few years later ran a losing campaign for mayor in ‘76.

Billy first became the official spokesperson for Peanut Lolita liqueur while his brother held the presidential office. The sweet and nutty liqueuer was a thick whiskey and peanut-based liqueur produced in the 60s and 70s, advertised by an exoticized woman belly-dancing on their bottles. Sales for the liqueur plummeted once Carter left office. 

But his more notable endeavor was Billy Beer, first made in 1977 by Falls City Brewing Company. The company, based in Louisville, Kentucky, had been in operation since 1905. The company got its name from Louisville itself, originally named Falls City as it is home to the only large waterfall on the Ohio River south of Pittsburgh. 

Organized by local tavern and grocery stores, Falls City was determined to break the monopoly on beer by the industry’s giants like Pabst Blue Ribbon and Anheuser Busch. Falls City even survived through Prohibition by manufacturing soda pop.

But by the mid-70s, the Louisville brewery wasn’t doing so well, despite the expected comeback with the Drummond Bros. brand. Falls City had to make a big move, so they approached the country’s most lovable drunk about forming a partnership. And of course, he said yes.

Billy beer cans featured the endorsement of its namesake, reading, “Brewed expressly for and with the personal approval of one of AMERICA’s all-time Great Beer Drinkers-- Billy Carter,” and “I had this beer brewed up just for me. I think it’s the best I ever tasted. And I’ve tasted a lot. I think you’ll like it, too.

Sales were really hot when it first hit the market, as the novelty of the can had people running to stores to get their own. But the taste of the beer was nothing special, and many felt the marketing outdid the product itself. While touring the country to promote Billy Beer, Billy himself admitted he was a drinker of Pabst.

In an article from the Milwaukee Journal in 1978, they write, “Pabst beer got a boost from President Carter’s brother Friday. Billy told some 50 persons at the grand opening of a car dealership in Nennah that in private he drank Pabst.”

The article continues, “Carter wore blue jeans and boots and a flowered long sleeve shirt. He bragged about his beer and admitted his family didn't like the way he carries on. But Billy said he has felt as embarrassed about his family sometimes as they have been embarrassed by him.”

Billy's relationship with Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, would be the nail in Fall City's coffin. Registered as a foreign agent of the Libyan government, President Carter stated about his brother, “I am deeply concerned that Billy has received funds from Libya and that he may be under obligation to Libya. These facts will govern my relationship with Billy as long as I am president.” Billy’s ties with Libya and Gaddafi became an unrecoverable-PR disaster for Falls City, and the company was closed by its shareholders in ‘78.

After Billy Beer ceased production, newspapers in the 80s began advertising Billy Beer cans for several hundred to several thousands of dollars each, attempting to profit from their perceived rarity. However, the cans were produced in the millions and not worth much at all. Still, rumors of their perceived value were persistent for the remainder of the decade, with some six-packs selling for thousands. 

Quench your thirst- Shop our collection of vintage beer t-shirts here!