Rolling Rock: From the Mountain Springs of, er, Newark

June 11, 2007

Pardon me for being out of the news loop on this one, but somehow the whole controversy about last year’s demise of the original Rolling Rock beer and the closing of its Latrobe, Pa., brewery completely passed me by. That might be because I hadn’t really thought about or consumed this beloved product for many years.

A recent sale at Kroger and elsewhere that knocked $2 off the case price (from $11 to $9 for 12 bottles) made it an attractive buy again, so I decided to give the old “33” another try. It always was a nice, refreshing, light summer beverage, and so the timing seemed right.

Not being a connoisseur or of particularly sensitive palette, I had no idea whether the beer tasted any different than it used to. I assumed that everything was the same as before. The bottle looked the same… but then I looked closer.

On the front of the bottle, the locale of St. Louis was there instead of Latrobe, and on the back the famous old “pledge of quality” had a suspicious preface:

“To honor the tradition of this great brand, we quote from the original pledge of quality:”

After which followed the original pledge text: ” ‘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 label changes alarmed me, so I looked at the 1-800 number on the case and noticed the words “Anheuser-Busch.” I called the number and got your garden-variety uninformed customer service rep and asked the question: “Where is Rolling Rock brewed and what is the water source?” And continuing, I asked, “Does Rolling Rock, in fact, come ‘from the mountain springs’ to me”?

After some hesitation, and the old ‘let me ask my manager’ schtick, I was told that Rolling Rock was bought by Anheuser-Busch and its brewing operation moved to Newark, New Jersey.

Rolling Rock is brewed from the municipal water supply of Newark, New Jersey.

That’s right, Newark, an EPA-Superfund site nightmare…

**(see rebuttal)

These are hardly mountain springs.

The customer service rep reminded me that the pledge comes with the caveat of its preface, which I understand, but still I believe it is entirely disingenuous, and fraudulent, to continue to run the old ‘mountain springs’ claims on the bottle.

The one bright spot is that the Newark Municipal water supply is not contaminated with added fluoride, unlike most big city water supplies across the country.

As for the taste of the “new” Rolling Rock, this fellow detected a decided difference.

As for me, I thought the beer tasted OK. Pretty much the same old refreshing summer beverage as far as I could tell.

My palette is not sophisticated enough to discern if the evidently heightened citrus taste is actually dioxin or herbicides or whatnot.


** I’ve been effectively rebutted on this point, as you can see in the comments below and on this posting issued by our playful ombudsman: Rick Was Misinformed About the Waters of Newark.