Lou Brew: A Brief History [Lville Beer]

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This article appears in the February 2012 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit Lou.com.

Failed social revolution in 1840s Germany brought thousands of refugees, most of them liberal-minded Catholics, to Louisville, including a healthy sprinkling of lager brewers, who turned the neighborhoods in which they found homes — particularly Phoenix Hill — into yeast-scented zones dotted with brewing activity. Unfortunately, they and their Irish counterparts also sparked the formation of the immigrant-loathing, anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party, which in August 1855 instigated a riot, known as “Bloody Monday,” that resulted in more than 20 deaths and the burning of the German-immigrant-owned Washington Brewery near Baxter Avenue and Liberty Street.


Several brewers went out of business in ensuing years, in part because of the forward momentum of the nation’s temperance movement. Still, in an era with no public parks for folks to enjoy outdoor leisure and social gatherings, beer gardens set up near breweries were a recreational boon to the city. The largest, best-located was 1865-opened Phoenix Hill Park, whose cliff-top perch overlooking downtown (where present-day Rubel Avenue meets Hull Street off Baxter Avenue) offered picnic grounds, dance halls, a bowling alley, a skating rink and the Phoenix Hill Brewery supplying the beer.


Alas, of the total of 66 local brewery locations listed in the Encyclopedia of Louisville (most trading ownership hands several times), only 10 were in operating order when the Prohibition hammer came down in 1919, and only three of those — Frank Fehr, Oertel’s and Falls City — resumed brewing after the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933. Fehr, on Liberty Street between Preston and Jackson, gave up the ghost in 1964 as marketing giants such as Miller, Pabst and Anheuser-Busch trucked in their goods on the country’s new interstate system. Story Avenue’s Oertel’s, after its ill-advised purchase by Brown-Forman that same year, followed suit in 1967.


Diehard Falls City, the largest producer of the three and situated at 30th and Broadway, made a 1970s run with a weakened formula comparable to the St. Louis and Milwaukee big boys but was forced to shut down Louisville operations in 1978, selling its brand name to Heileman Brewing Co., although in 2009 ownership reverted to a Louisville owner, David Easterling, who plans to brew at least some Falls City beers here in the near future (see page 44).  


Subsequently, spurred by the national craft-beer movement that started with San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing and Boston’s Samuel Adams, small-batch breweries such as Bluegrass Brewing Co. have established a niche here.

Courtesy: Louisville Magazine

 

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