A Fight for Rolling Rock in Latrobe Pennsylvania

A Fight for Rolling Rock in Latrobe Pennsylvania

Latrobe, Pennsylvania, USA

It is easy to dream here. Rolling hills open into picturesque valleys where pure mountain streams feed the lush, local landscape. Traditions of the past and present are nourished by a sense of family - a distinctive thumbprint, marked by loyalty and community values. Over the years, it spawned such notables as Fred Rogers of children’s television fame and Arnold Palmer, championship golfer and aviation enthusiast.

Such a stable, growing community is an ideal location for business upstarts and corporate roots. In 1893, Pittsburgh Brewing Company opened Latrobe Brewery on Ligonier Street as a satellite production facility for its popular brand, Iron City Beer. It operated until 1920 when Prohibition lowered the guillotine on brewing and distilling operations throughout the USA.

But, Latrobe is a city of innovation. Despite the change in business affairs, it continued to adapt and develop. In 1924, less than 20 years after the Wright Brothers made their first historic flight at Kitty Hawk, Longview Flying Field was established as one of the earliest regional airports in the country. This was to be the eventual site of the first official U.S. Airmail delivery in 1939.

In the early 1930’s, rumors of FDR’s repeal of the 18th Amendment were in the air. According to Ralph R. Tito, "Anthony Tito solely purchased the Latrobe Brewing Company facility in December 1932," despite the risk factor."Eventually three of the four brothers - Joe, Ralph and Robert - would join Anthony in the brewing venture," wrote Ralph R. "The fifth brother, Frank, remained in Pittsburgh operating a beer distributorship." The grassroots brewery created two traditional lagers, Latrobe Old German and Latrobe Pilsner.

By 1939 - the same year as the first US Airmail drop - Latrobe Brewery debuted Rolling Rock Beer. This creative title was sourced from a local horse farm where the brothers boarded their horses and participated in equine events. Rolling Rock became the Flagship Beer of Latrobe Brewery, and a love affair between the brewery and the community leaped into full swing. In 1987, Labatt USA took ownership, preserving the community loyalty that had been established for so many years. Through a series of corporate acquisitions, Rolling Rock eventually became a part of the InBev portfolio.

Rolling Rock Flavor Profile and the Mysterious 33

Water sources from pure artesian wells deep within the earth form the base for Rolling Rock’s crisp, clean flavors. As an American macro lager, the body glistens in hues of light straw with a thin, foamy head of white that dissipates quickly. Aromas are grainy, with a gentle touch of corn and hay. A refreshing crispness is echoed in light carbonation and a slight zest as it touches the tongue.

Adding to the Rolling Rock heritage is the mystery behind the “33” on each bottle. The rumors are as delightful as the humor. It seems that even first-hand stories from the Tito family change as quickly as the wind. Among these legendary stories:

Two of the brothers flipped a coin to determine whose racehorse would be featured on the label – Number 33 won.

There are 33 words in the Rolling Rock pledge: “ROLLING ROCK From the glass lined tanks of OLD LATROBE We tender this premium beer for your enjoyment, as a tribute to your good taste It comes from the mountain springs to you.”

There are
33 letters in the listed ingredients: “water, malt, rice, hops, corn, brewer’s yeast”.

Rolling Rock is brewed at 33 degrees Fahrenheit.

Latrobe Brewing had 33 recipes for brewing beer – Rolling Rock was number 33.

The 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933, ending Prohibition.

Rolling Rock is to be served at 33 degrees Fahrenheit.

The brothers were trying to come up with a slogan for their signature beer. One of the brothers picked the current “pledge” and scribbled a “33” on it to indicate the word-count. It was sent to press, and the printers thought the 33 was part of the slogan. By the time the error was caught, it was too costly to change, so they kept it as part of the “mystery.”

The Latrobe Community Fight for Life

The heart and soul of Rolling Rock is about to leave the community of Latrobe. In a recent corporate deal (revealed to RR employees on May 19, 2006), Anheuser-Busch bought the label and the recipe from InBev for $82 million. It appears that InBev sold the brand, not the brewery – another cannibalization within the brewing industry, targeted at knocking the smaller competition out of the boxing ring.

In a fight to keep the brewery in its home base of Latrobe, Christina Gumola, the daughter of a Latrobe Brewing Company employee, sent a heart-wrenching letter to August A. Busch IV, President of Anheuser-Busch Inc., begging the corporation to reconsider their decision to move brewing operations to Newark, New Jersey. She emphasized the negative impact such a move would have on the families and community of Latrobe, and appealed to the A-B pledge that speaks of its commitment to uphold family values through strong community ties.

As a public service, Jeremy A. Evans echoed the Gumola plea and composed an online petition to August A. Busch IV, asking that Rolling Rock be kept in its birthplace. Busch is quoted as saying, “We have an ideal opportunity to grow this historic brand. This beer is not like others and its consumer following is equally distinctive.” The online petition has gathered nearly 14,000 signatures as of May 31, 2006.

It is as if the people of Latrobe are attempting to move heaven and earth. InBev’s decision to sell the brand and brewery as separate entities throws a wrench into the corporate engine, forcing A-B to make a decision based on economic feasibility rather than the tug on their hearts. InBev is a fierce competitor with ownership of over 200 brands worldwide, including Becks, Stella Artois, Brahma and Leffe. It is the world’s biggest brewer by volume.

It is still possible that Anheuser-Busch will invest additional funds to purchase the current Latrobe Brewery in order to keep the status quo. Whatever the decision, the people will adapt. Latrobe is, after all, a community where dreams are cultivated.


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