Billy Beer, the Edsel of brew that fizzled out two years ago after Billy Carter briefly promoted it, is making a comeback as a collector's item.
"Since Billy's been back in the headlines, it's going like crazy," said Steve Gerachis, manager of Press Liquors. The store, two blocks from the White House, has sold 85 cases of the suds in the last week. Seventy of those cases were sold Tuesday to a Seattle bar that had claimed to have a corner on the market, inviting customers to "Billy Up" to the bar for one last swig.
F. X. McRory's Whiskey Bar is selling the beer for $2 a can, with profits going to a local charity. Press Liquors still has about 96 cans left, selling for $1 each. Yesterday, Gerachis upped his price for a six-pack from $3.99 to $6.36.
"A can could be worth $10 soon," he said. "It all depends on Billy Carter. He's in the news, so everybody wants it."
Liquor store salesmen said the sudden interest in Billy Beer coincided with the recent revelations that the president's younger brother had accepted a $220,000 loan from Libya -- or as store owner John Kalil put it, "Since Billy's been cuttin' up."
"Think what would happen," he added, "if Billy is uncovered as a Russian agent."
The blue-and-orange, 12-ounce cans feature Billy Carter's signature and the slogan: "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." Originally marketed by three breweries in 1977 and sold in about 10 states, the beer enjoyed brief success as a novelty item. It also spawned a few jokes, such as the one about a spinoff Jimmy Beer. "It's just like Billy Beer," the punch line went, "except it has no head on it."
In 1978, with sales slipping, Billy Beer died a quiet death. While other liquor store owners were glad to be rid of the cans gathering dust on their shelves, Steve Gerachis bought up the last 500 cases from the local distributor and stored them in the basement.
"We figured it would be worth something someday," he said.
Although Gerachis said the beer is probably stale by now, the can has indeed become a collector's item.
"It wasn't in production that long, so there wasn't much made," said Maurice Coja, owner of Washington's Brickskeller bar, which stocks over 500 brands of beer. Coja said he still has about 25 cases of Billy Beer, which he said is enjoying a recent surge in demand.
According to Coja, there are an estimated 500,000 beer can collectors in America. "And Europeans are really going crazy for them now," he said. Beer cans generally appreciate 25 percent a year, Coja said, noting that a one-of-a-kind can from a small brewery recently fetched $7,000.
Declining to comment on the quality of Billy Beer, Coja did say the container "might be a priceless item. You never know."
Mick McHugh, proprieter of F. x. McRory's Whiskey Bar in Seattle, said he bought 20 cases of Billy Beer last year, trying to corner the West Coast market. "It's a bit yeasty," he said yesterday in a telephone interview, "but it's not bad."
When news of Seattle's brisk business in Billy Beer reached Washington Tuesday, Gerachis sold McHugh 70 cases at the inflated price of $16 each. "I think he's nicking me a little," said McHugh. Since the proceeds will go to charity, a West Coast freight company is shipping the beer at no charge.
McHugh said his recent promotion has generated so much interest that the breweries "may bring it back."
There's only one problem now. Billy Carter's on the wagon. CAPTION: Picture, Steve Gerachis manager of Press Liquors at 14th and F streets NW, poses with the remaining cases of Billy Beer that he's selling for $1 a can. By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post