"Please, pour it back in the horse it came from!"
Harsh words from some anonymous wag, but a wholly accurate description of the taste. The Falls City Brewing Company, near bankruptcy and pinning all their hopes on this brand, used only the cheapest (and, of course, worst) ingredients in this beer. My father remembers a rumor that they replaced the hops in the beermaking process with horse hay.
Not that it mattered to the brewery - taste was not the selling point. Billy Beer was simply a last-gasp attempt to cash in on the newfound popularity of then-President Jimmy Carter's ur-redneck brother, Billy.
Billy Carter was just the next in line of supremely embarassing Presidental relations (a wonderful and fulsome history, going from the nepotism scandal that surrounded John Adams' brother-in-law, right up to a lying, cheating Savings and Loan director and a two-bit drug dealer that somehow ended up on Saturday Night Live). Now, Billy was Mostly Harmless, a loudmouthed gas-station owner who owned a beat-up Chevy pickup with the words REDNECK POWER emblazoned on the sides. He looked the part, too, round, bean-shaped body clothed in cheap plaid country duds, watery eyes staring out of too-thick glasses. He did anything for a quick buck, sometimes appearing as cheap (and drunk) celebrity entertainment for birthdays and weddings all over. Brother Jimmy, the finger-wagging President of Moral Imperatives, had many public relations problems dealing with this beer-swilling dark sheep in the family... and that helped good ol' Billy to become an anti-hero of sorts to those who despised Jimmy's preachy tendencies.
So a Nashville promoter with his ear to the red-dirt ground of the American backcountry teamed up with a falling-apart brewery, hired Billy Carter as a shill, and created Billy Beer, sold in 1977 and 1978. On top of the can was the phrase Brewed expressly for and with the personal approval of one of America's all-time great beer drinkers -- Billy Carter, and below was the ringing celebrity endorsement :
I had this beer brewed 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.
(signed) Billy Carter
The cardboard on the twelve-pack showed the good ol' boy himself, grinning in a near-mongoloid manner, hoisting a can of the grog and again proclaiming it to be 'the best beer I've ever tasted'.
Those brave enough to pop the top, hold their nose, and take a swig were often found later in mental hospitals, babbling cryptically about 'the golden horror'. Most people bought a case to keep in the attic, in grand hopes that it would be a collectible one day and they could sell a can to kitsch-crazy hipsters at a one million percent markup. This didn't happen; other than one fluke at an early '80s flea-market in Oklahoma (where supposedly it was sold for $600 a can), the price for Billy Beer has stabilized at around 25 cents on the collectibles market, a case of supply far exceeding demand.
The Falls City Brewing Company folded a short while later, the unknown music promoter went back behind the scenes, and Billy Carter went back to normal life as the butt of millions of jokes. (Brother Jimmy often got laughs during speeches by eviscerating Billy, once claiming that he offered his brother the head position at the FBI or the CIA. The punchline? Billy said he wouldn't lead any federal agency he couldn't spell.) The sad ending is that Billy Carter, in his quest for a cheap laugh and a quick buck, later became embroiled in a real scandal - he accepted $250,000 from the Libyan government (then a top-level Public Enemy in the U.S.) to become a goodwill ambassador for Colonel Quadaffi in 1979.