Billy Beer was never very good, and it didn't last on the market very long, but it may deserve a large share of credit for the contemporary boom of craft beer.
Produced briefly in the late 1970s by Billy Carter, the oafish younger brother of then-President Jimmy Carter, the beer leveraged whatever national attention is given to a president's good-ole-boy, beer-swilling sibling.
"I had this beer brewed up just for me," Billy Carter would tell the camera in TV ads for Billy Beer. "I think it's the best I ever tasted. And I've tasted a lot. I think you'll like it, too."
At the time, there was barely a craft or micro-brew industry, in a large part because federal law prohibited home-brewing and also held tight regulations for the commercial production and distribution of beer—both laws hold-overs from Prohibition.
Then, a year after his brother introduced his (weak sauce) Billy Beer, President Jimmy Carter signed into law a pair of federal regulations—an allowance for home-brewing, and another law to de-regulate the beer industry. Combined, the laws opened up a new frontier, and paved a way for hobby brewers to launch into full-blown, commercial breweries.
At the time, in 1979, there were fewer than 100 breweries in America—including, yes, the fledging Billy Beer, brewed by Louisville-based Falls City Brewing Company, which had been in operation since 1905.
Although little more than a historic footnote to an oft-overlooked president, five years after Jimmy Carter allowed home-brewing and de-regulated the beer industry, a couple dozen microbreweries had opened in various cities throughout America, including pioneers like Deschutes Brewery in Bend.
It was the beginning of a frenzy—and by 2015, there are nearly 2,500, including more than 20 in Central Oregon alone.
In our annual Beer Issue, this year we celebrate those "little" ideas, the ones that begin as a concept and then bubble up and become mainstream trends. The once-fringe idea of "open yeast" brewing is sweeping through the industry, and there are new ideas about distribution, and even the brew-pub, an American institution since Benjamin Franklin, is being radically overhauled.
And, this year, we don't limit our Beer Issue to, well, beer. Two weeks ago, we profiled the booming kombucha industry in Bend and, in this issue, we look at hard cider. With 50 percent growth each year since 2011 and three cideries now open in Bend, it is the fastest growing industry within all beverages.