Billy Beer – Valuable Drink or Collectors’ Scam?

Have you ever tried collecting things? Then you would know about one of the biggest scams in collectors’ history –  Billy Beer Cans. For many publicans and beer-related antique collectors, old beer bottles and cans are a must when looking for items to fill up their bar.

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Billy Beer is one of these kinds of items that you should include in your antique collection. This is a beer originally brewed in Utica, popularly known as “Billy Beer,” and is one of the most iconic cans on your shelves. Who doesn’t like a good beer, especially with popular snacks such as Lay’s Potato Chips? But this case is a bit different.

If you search for “Billy Beer” on Google, you’ll see quite a few beers with this name. This is because the original Billy Beer no longer exists, only replicas. Despite this fact, the original was something many locals enjoyed reminiscing about, but not because of its taste. Keep reading to learn more about Billy Beer’s unusual and interesting history.

Billy Beer - Valuable Drink or Collectors’ Scam

The Background of Billy Beer

Everything started when the Falls City Brewing Company introduced Billy Beer to the US market in July 1977. Billy Carter, whose older brother Jimmy was President of the United States at the time, was the one who promoted it, and that was the only special part about the beer. In less than a year following Carter’s promotion, Falls City declared its closure in October 1978.

More About Billy Carter 

During the 1976 presidential campaign, the national press discovered something interesting about Jimmy Carter, and it was his hard-drinking younger brother named Billy, who at the time owned a petrol station. Soon after the press found out about it, Billy got famous and was labeled as a “professional redneck” by the Associated Press in 1979. 

We should agree that the nickname was a relevant and accurate assessment of his activities throughout his brother’s presidency. At the time when Billy was becoming more and more famous as a beer drinker, the venerable Falls City Brewing Company’s finances were weakening. Falls City, based in Louisville, had been a regional brewer since 1905, and the company even managed to survive Prohibition by making beer and soft drinks.

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Falls City thought about some marketing changes that would help them to become a strong beer manufacturer that could successfully compete in the beer market. That’s when they got this “bright” idea and decided to cooperate with the country’s most visible drunk redneck. It was a good offer for Billy, he wouldn’t pass up the chance to drink free beer or earn a quick profit, so he decided to promote his beer. 

What he had to do was select the best-tasting beer and promote it to the customers. Falls City prepared several test batches and allowed him to choose the one he thought was the best. “Perhaps I’ll become the Colonel Sanders of beer,” Carter said.

Well, it is funny and ironic at the same time that now Billy Beer is a failed brand that couldn’t survive the test of time. Everyone, including Falls City, was thinking that beer endorsed by the President’s black-sheep brother would become a national sensation everyone would admire.

They thought it would be impossible for a regional brewery like Falls City to meet so much demand, so they licensed the Billy Beer brand and formula to three other regional breweries, and Billy Beer was ready to “surprise the whole nation.”

The Debut of Billy Beer

Falls City is partially true in terms of attracting national attention. When Billy Beer was originally launched in November 1977, it received a huge amount of national attention, and both fans and adversaries of Jimmy Carter raced out to buy a six-pack of the novelty cans.

An interesting fact was that cans were the only format the beer was offered in and it was said that they never aged. Packs of Billy Beer were released with a photo of Billy and his buddies enjoying frosty cans of the brew. For more attention, each can was also accompanied by Billy’s signature and the promise that “I had this beer brewed just for me.” “It’s the best beer I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve tasted a lot.” Well, not exactly.

Why Did Billy Beer Fail?

Even though it caught national attention at the beginning, it turns out that Billy Carter wasn’t being entirely honest about his beer. Most drinkers of Billy Beer soon understood that Falls City was more concentrated on the marketing approach than the brew itself, so they kind of failed the taste of the beer, and Billy would later joke that Billy Beer was the reason he stopped drinking.

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It was a little late when Falls City made a bad mistake by hiring a famous, frequently inebriated attention seeker. In addition, Billy had a habit of going to beer promotion events and repeating the business line about how good the beer was, only to later get sloshed and disclose to reporters that he still drank Pabst Blue Ribbon at home. It was clear that not even Billy Carter was drinking his beer. 

Selling a product that tastes so awful that no one wants to purchase it again is difficult. As a result, Falls City declared in October 1978 that it was closing its doors after less than a year of producing the first brother’s suds, and Billy Carter quit the beer market after selling and melting 9 million empty Billy Beer cans.

Back on the Market!

Everyone thought that the disappearance of Billy Beer was the end of the brand. but it came back to the market again in the early ’80s. The reason was surprising and simple at the same time. Americans became thoroughly convinced that their unopened cans were very special and highly valuable.

What happens next will surprise you. In 1981, classified advertisements in newspapers throughout the country began appearing, Unopened cans of Billy Beer were being bought for $1,000. People started selling their unopened Billy Beer cans, and it became a kind of a trend, and they simply turned this worthless can of beer into something expensive and valuable. 

Anyone who had some unopened Billy Drink was overjoyed at the prospect of converting a bad beer into a fortune. A week or two later, the same publications would publish classified advertising from someone looking to sell their Billy Beer for $200 per sixer, an 80% reduction of its “real” worth. They thought it was a pretty good offer for a can valued at $1000.

This fooled a lot of people since they believed that their unworthy beer cans were more precious than any other thing they could invest money in. 

Are Billy Beer Cans Valuable?

Most people agree that these cans have no value. In December 1981, The New York Times ran a letter to the editor from a can collector who tried to explain that these common cans weren’t precious commodities and weren’t any different from other beer cans that at least had a nice taste. He even estimated that a can was worth between fifty cents and a dollar. 

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As anyone who collected baseball cards in the 1980s will attest, Billy Beer fit the template for a useless collectible. It was produced in massive numbers. Thousands of people had hoped to save some.

However, rumors about the beer’s worth remained throughout the decade, and vendors occasionally found fools as their consumers. The New York Times even reported in 1988 on a West Virginia couple who paid $2,000, yes, believe it or not, $2,000 in a can!

Although, after all those years, the myth about valuable Billy Beer hasn’t gone completely away. A short look at recent eBay sales reveals that an unopened can of Billy Beer sells for roughly $10, and a six-pack for $15-25. Well, this price is much better, and the beers are unlikely to taste significantly worse than they did in 1978, so if you are interested in collecting antique beer cans, Billy Beer might be a good choice.

Billy Beer Logo

Pictures of Billy Beer

Billy Beer In Simpsons

Did you know that Billy Beer is somehow related to the all-time famous animated sitcom The Simpsons? The truth is that it was once more proved when the beer was shown in The Simpsons. In fact, the character Homer once discovered this type of beer in his jacket. “We elected the wrong Carter,” Homer says after a few drinks. 

When Homer reads an obscene comic and discovers that Billy Beer was originally produced to transform people into werewolves, he gasps and declares, “I’m in danger.” The fact also shows that Billy’s beer was not just a simple thing, but part of something bigger. Maybe it became valuable material for collecting during all those years because of its long and interesting history!

Billy Beer in The Simpsons

Bottom Line

Not all the products are successful from the point of view of business, but they make great cases in marketing history. These days, you won’t get many chances to try a Billy Beer, and you probably wouldn’t want to. However, if you try, you can get a beer with the same label. There are a few tremendous modern beers that show no resemblance to the originals but are like their reincarnation. In your beer time, don’t forget to grab some popular and tasty snacks such as Planters Peanuts as well!

So, the next time you crack open a can, don’t forget to salute one of the Carters, especially for drinking-lover Billy!

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