Nose: Complex. A bit sour. All malt, no hops presence. If there is, it’s faint. Has an odd malt profile. Almost corny, sweet, dry. Like rice.
Mouth: Light. Sour. Malty throughout. No real hops presence. Very complex malt though. Sour like a lambic. Definitive sweetness. Strong alcohol content for such a light body though.
Rolling Rock. Yeah, Rolling Rock. I know, you probably think this is shit. Well, it’s not really. It used to be much better.
What is Rolling Rock?
Well, it’s a lager. They call it “Extra Pale”. I’m not sure what that means but given it’s almost Pilsner like body, I’m guessing it’s a light lager but not in the sense that it’s a light beer. It’s not. It’s actually rather heavy for it’s lighter body. It’s been a Northeast staple, especially in Pennsylvania, since 1939. But, there’s history there. I’ll get in to that in a minute.
See, in PA, NJ, DE, MD, NY college towns, Rolling Rock was one of the cheapest ways to “have a good time”. You could literally buy a 6-pack at the bar by just telling the bartender you wanted a “Bucket of Rocks”. This consisted of a galvanized pail full of ice and anywhere from 4-8 bottles of Rolling Rock for about $4-$10. Not bad. I will admit though that Rolling Rock was an acquired taste back then. It was an odd duck of sorts. Probably due to the “blend” that it consists of. I’ve heard many postulations that this is a rice beer or it’s made solely from corn and fillers and…yeah, it’s all bullshit. Yes, there is a blend of grains and Rolling Rock isn’t the first one to do this or the only one. Rolling Rock’s blend was always a bit on the sour side like a lambic or a trappist ale. It’s lagered though and the brew is sweet too.
What you end up with is a very complex beer that is strong but easy to drink. It’s a perfect party beer! Well, it used to be. See, this is where that history comes in.
I drank Rolling Rock alot. It was my favorite and since I was a poor college kid, it was vastly superior to the watered down tasting light beers that my contemporaries drank like Old Milwaukee, Natty Light and so on. ‘Cause, it’s a full beer. It’s not a light beer. Also, pony bottles/cans. Made hiding them to sneak in to the stands at the drag strip a breeze so you could watch the races with cold beers and everyone was none the wiser! I was very familiar with this brew.
See, Rolling Rock was owned by Latrobe Brewing Company since 1939. In 1987, Latrobe fell on hard times and those Canadians at Labatt came in and purchased the brewing company and the brand. They saved Rolling Rock for future generations to come. They remained relatively hands-off and let the dudes at Latrobe do their thing they had been doing since 1939. I mean, if you have been brewing the same damn beer for almost 50 years, why mess with success? All was well and good until 1995 when this comapny known as Interbrew (Belgians) purchased Labatt. By default they got Latrobe. For 9 years, again, they remained hands-off. Then in 2004, Interbrew hooked up with a company called AmBev. They were Brazilian. The two companies merged and formed the bane of the beer lover’s existence, InBev. This is the start of the end.
InBev decided that Rolling Rock did not fit their profile and sold it to Anhauser-Busch in 2006. Anhauser-Busch promptly closed the Latrobe Brewing Company and moved brewing to Newark, NJ. Now, the problem there is that many people believed that part of the flavoring of Rolling Rock came from the spring water that Latrobe used to brew it. I’ll tell you, I think there’s something to that. Biggest reason is that immediately, when I tried Rolling Rock after the AB debacle, it was different and not in a good way. So, AB now owns Rolling Rock and they are screwing up a PA institution. In addition, the Latrobe Brewing Company is now idle. Half the town of Latrobe is unemployed at this point because Latrobe Brewing Company was employing 2-3 generations of most Latrobe, PA families. This hit Latrobe hard. The thing was, AB did not own the plant. InBev did. They saw no reason to keep it open and decided to sell it to City Brewing of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The brewery sat idle for a couple years. It was also a union brewery.
Ok, so what? Well, this is what. See, PA is a BIG union state. When AB and InBev screwed over Latrobe, all the local unions put out notice that ANY brew/product of AB or InBev was to be boycotted because of the reaming the union brothers in Latrobe took over what is admittedly a pretty shitty deal.
So, fast forward a year and a half. City Brewing is running the brewery at like 10% of capacity just to keep the plant open. They don’t have enough distribution to warrant it. Well, Boston Beer Company and Jim Koch decided that they need to up capacity. Seeing an opportunity, Jim contracted with City Brewing to put Latrobe Brewing Company back to work. This went over like gang busters with the unions because Koch, in a press release, was asked why he was rehiring the old workers. Koch’s response was that he didn’t have to train them.
Boston Beer Company brewed Sam Adams brews in Latrobe through 2009. However, they again, outgrew capacity and moved their contract brewing to the old Pabst plant in Allentown, PA and had to lay off the workers at Latrobe. BUT! In 2009, Iron City Brewing, riding a wave of growth signed a deal with City Brewing to brew at Latrobe on a contract basis. In July 2009, more capacity was added and Southampton Brands started brewing several beers there. They added even more capacity and an extra canning line in 2010. Latrobe Brewing Company is back to work after getting shafted and the three brands that had a hand in resurrecting the Latrobe Brewing Company have all enjoyed immense success in the Union Friendly areas surrounding the plants.
All because some Belgians came in and screwed it all up.
But now, Rolling Rock, still owned by AB (which, coincidentally is now an InBev brand) is brewed in St. Louis, MO. I promised myself that after the whole pile of BS went down in 2004 and Rolling Rock changed for the worst I wouldn’t bother with this brew. I bought a 6-pack solely for review purposes. I gotta say, this is not my beloved Rolling Rock. The bottle labeling is a pack of lies meant to capitalize of the 60+ year history of Latrobe Brewing Company’s legacy of brewing this beer and it’s pathetic really. This brew used to be a solid 5/10, possibly a 6/10 in my opinion. It was eclectic. Different. Like the weird friend that drives nothing but Citroens or diesel Peugeots. It was always odd but there was something familiar about it.
This now, though? It’s almost fake. The quality is consistent but the oddly robust flavor is gone. It still hits hard in the alcohol content but it’s missing something. It’s real hard to put my finger on it. To best explain it, it’s like the Batman movies. The first 3 or so. Michael Keaton was, in my opinion, one of the best Batmans. When Val Kilmer came along, he looked like Batman, had all the cool toys and such but…he wasn’t Michael Keaton. The George Clooney was the Batman and you felt robbed. Like somebody somewhere thought you were an idiot and wouldn’t notice. Neither were the REAL Batman. That was Michael Keaton and goddamnit! I want to know where my fucking Batman went! At least with Batman, eventually, Christian Bale came along and saved us from a bevy of mediocre Batmans. Sadly though, I don’t see a Christian Bale in Rolling Rocks future.
This gets 2 out of 10 for consistency and quality control but overall, this just isn’t Rolling Rock anymore. It’s a poor excuse running around in a home made Batman costume begging for your candy.