With the craft beer market exploding around us, and modern beer drinkers rattling off varieties of hops more easily than the letters of the alphabet, it may seem odd that we chose to rate this relic of the American brewing landscape.
Everything about Rolling Rock screams “nostalgia.” Its bright green bottle is adorned with a white-and-blue painted label featuring a romantic horse-racing theme. The fonts used for the text are so retro, you’ll want to buy war bonds. And it proudly boasts that it is brewed by “Latrobe Brewing Company.”
Don’t get too excited about that last one. Latrobe Brewing Company ceased to exist in 1987, and Rolling Rock is now a mass-produced product of brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev.
The 122-year-old Latrobe, Pennsylvania, brewing facility, by the way, still exists and is owned by City Brewing Company, which currently contracts it to brew Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
But let’s talk about the product.
Rolling Rock describes itself as an “Extra Pale Lager.” In these days of hopped-up IPAs, sour Belgians, and experimentally-spiced concoctions, that may as well say “Water.” Right?
And when you pour Rolling Rock from a green bottle — maligned by modern brewers for its lack of ultraviolet light protection — it’s easy to expect you’re going to endure a skunky, factory-produced mess. Right?
Those assumptions are specifically why we chose to include this old-school beer in our “Guilty Pleasures” tasting. So let’s see how this World War II era brew your father’s father drank has held up in the modern beer drinking world.
Our panel made a lot of jokes about Rolling Rock immediately on pour. It’s clear golden color and lack of notable head elicited more than one comparison to urine. We were off to a lovely start.
Immature micturition mocking aside, Rolling Rock’s appearance is fair at best. But what it lacks in head and beauty, it makes up for in huge carbonation.
Smell is average, with our panel noting a textbook lager aroma layered with notes of lemon. Our panelist Rick joked that it “smells like a bar floor back at college.”
In Rolling Rock’s defense, Rick went to a very good college.
Rolling Rock has a decent flavor — light, with a grainy cereal profile and notes of lemon. It has a sudsy mouthfeel and a mouth-drying effect that begs you drink more. But with an aftertaste that is watery and a bit grassy, you end up questioning those pleas.
It’s light, it’s fizzy, it’s watery — so as you might imagine, it’s quite easy to drink. And with an ABV of only 4.4%, you could drink a lot.
But our panel recommends you drink it very cold. We mean ice cold. Warmth does this brew no favors, as ours started to sour in our tasting glasses as our lengthy panel discussions warmed it.
Rolling Rock is, overall, a “Good” beer. Mock us for that if you wish. And admittedly, there are thousands of beers that are better than it.
But given its recipe dates back to the Greatest Generation, it has stood the test of time, and might be a nostalgic choice for a hot summer day, when you need to chug down an ice cold brew. Remember, we said ice cold.
Each bottle and can of Rolling Rock is emblazoned with the number 33, and we would be remiss if we didn’t weigh in on the “33 mystery.”
Several legends swirl around the origin of that number. Some say it’s the number of words in the company’s credo; some say it’s the number of a racehorse the original brewers bet on; some say it was a printing code that was accidentally left on the earliest labels. Rolling Rock claims not to be certain on the origin, and whether or not that’s true, they’ve cashed in on perpetuating that mystery.
For us here at The Basement Beer Tastings, none of that matters. We have our own interpretation — “33” is the number of points Rolling Rock is away from a near-perfect brew.
(Appearance 4.67, Smell 6, Taste 18.33, Aftertaste 12.67, Drinkability 22.33)