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Welcome to Amazing Tap Handles - The Tap Handle Museum. Here you will find photos of the Museum's collection of beer taps, along with brewery info. Have a look around the Museum, and use the contact form in sidebar to leave me feedback about the site, talk about taps, or if you have a rare tap handle you'd like to sell to the Museum. I'd love to hear from you! Please, no inquires about buying taps - they're not for sale.

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Friday, July 5, 2013

Tap Handle #294: Latrobe - Rolling Rock

I wasn't really looking to acquire this tap, but it showed up in a group purchase, was cheap, and I kind of like it. The green metallic paint job is definitely pretty. There are several similar versions of this tap, including an older version that does not have a bottle cap, a smaller "pony" version, and a light up version (there are screws in the back of the light up version that allow access to the battery).

The Latrobe Brewery was founded in 1893 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania by Benedictine Monks (according to local legend). The brewery was run as an extension of the Pittsburgh Brewing Company until 1920, when operation was suspended and the 18th Amendment established Prohibition. Some time later, four local brothers, Frank, Robert, Ralph, and Anthony Tito, took a gamble and purchased the facility in hopes that Prohibition would be repealed. The gamble paid off and in 1933, the Latrobe Brewery was back in business. For six years, the Tito brothers brewed Latrobe Old German and Latrobe Pilsner varieties. In 1939, Rolling Rock was brewed for the first time.

Rolling Rock, since its creation, has been bottled in distinctive green glass bottles with white painted lettering. On the back reads the slogan: "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. '33' ". The "33" is what has puzzled its loyal followers for years and the theories as to what it means are numerous. James Tito, a descendant of one of the founding brothers and CEO in the 1980's, suggested it was a number for the printer indicating how many words were in the slogan that was somehow forgotten to be removed. There are many other theories: 33 steps from the first floor to the second in the Latrobe Brewery; 33 letters in the list of ingredients; 1933 is the year Prohibition was repealed; 33 mountain springs that feed the brewing reservoir, and more. No one knows for certain. (My guess is that it's the year 1933 - not so much because Prohibition was repealed, but rather the date the Tito family opened for business. It is a pledge from the brewers, after all.)

Rolling Rock's production peaked in 1974 at 720,000 barrels on the 35th anniversary of the beer's birth. The lack of focus in marketing by the Tito's eventually hurt them due to the mass marketing of competitors. While it never was a truly national brand, much of the demand outside of southwestern Pennsylvania shifted towards trendier beers, and sales fell. By 1985, the Tito family sold the business as production had dropped and two labor strikes caused turmoil. A buyout firm named The Sundor Group purchased the brewery and began to inject a much needed marketing budget into the dying brewery, hoping to flip it for quick profit. However, Sundor Group had spread itself too thin financially and was forced to boost marketing efforts at the expense of capital expenditures. Awareness and accessibility increased, but quality suffered.

In 1987 Labatt acquired the brewery, and their expertise in marketing and distribution revitalized Rolling Rock and brought its popularity to a national scale. The next fifteen years saw double digit growth, helped by purchasing brewing equipment from G. Heileman Brewing. The new equipment lifted the brewery's capacity to 1.5 million barrels in 1994, allowing the introduction of Rolling Rock Bock and Rolling Rock Ice. Things looked bright until Interbrew purchased Labatt in 1995. Interbrew (which later became Inbev) eventually sold the brands to Anheuser-Busch in 2006. Anheuser-Busch decided to move production to Newark, NJ, costing hundreds of workers their jobs. The brewery lay dormant until it was purchased by City Brewing Company. City Brewing contracted with the Boston Beer Company to brew Sam Adams brand beer there in 2007. Boston Beer invested significantly in the expansion and modernization of the facility, but in 2008 moved their operations to an old Pabst brewery they purchased near Allentown, PA., forcing a temporary shutdown of Latrobe. In 2009, Iron City Brewing signed a deal with City Brewing Co to begin contract brewing at the plant, along with some Southampton brands which were moved to Latrobe from Lion Brewing, as well as Stoney's and Stoney's Light, and Red Stripe.

Rolling Rock is a pale lager with the ingredients printed right on the label (water, malt, rice, corn, hops, and brewer's yeast). Anheuser Busch claims they continue to use the same recipe, even to the extent that AB brewmasters said that they would "learn" how to brew it to high levels of DMS (normally considered a defect) to duplicate the signature Rolling Rock taste, although many drinkers remain unconvinced. Weighted average on is 1.99 out of 5.

Rolling Rock Official Website

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