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Rolling Rock Beer...oh my

It was sad to find out that Rolling Rock got bought out by InBev...I saw it on sale in a can for 1.50 for a 24 ounce...I didn't expect the beer to be nothing more than Budweiser with a green label. I also didn't expect craft beer in a can. On the contrary. I was craving the classic skunky hoppy Heinekin like lager quality of Rolling Rock.

I couldn't afford craft beer so I thought I'd compromise. It turns out the recipe of Rolling Rock is different. There aren't the same amount of hops used and it's Bud with the old label printed on a can.

Darn.

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  1. Yup. Might as well be a generic.

    I remember the heavily laced, iron-infused water base that Rolling Rock used as it's signature back in the '50s. It was a unique taste in all of N. America then.

    1. Actually, "Rolling Rock" was owned by InBev (known as Interbrew at the time) since the mid-90's, when the Belgian company bought RR's owner, Canadian brewer Labatt (which bought Latrobe in the late 1980's). InBev sold the Rolling Rock label to Anheuser-Busch over 6 years ago now (pre-merger of AB and InBev).

      Anheuser Busch claims they continue to use the same recipe (it still is one of the few beers that uses both corn and rice as adjunct - the use of the former and the different abv [4.5 vs 5.0] proving that it is not simply "Bud with the old label'), 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.

      That "classic skunky hoppy Heinekin like lager quality of Rolling Rock" is the result of another beer defect called "lightstruck" - caused by florescent or sunlight exposure of the beer in less-protective green (or clear) bottles. It's not going to be found in beer from a can.

      I'm no fan of AB-InBev or of the adjunct lager beer style (have generally avoided both for well over 30 years) but it is hard to believe that the skilled brewers at AB could not duplicate Rolling Rock's taste, adjusting the water and other ingredients to match the beer that came of Latrobe. That's not to say, of course, that they might not have eventually "tweaked" the recipe for marketing reasons (successfully or not - RR's sales have been going down since long before AB's acquisition of the brand) just as they and other brewers are constantly doing with their other beers.

      42 Replies
      1. re: JessKidden

        LOL at " the skilled brewers at AB". Thats funny stuff right there!

        1. re: carolinadawg

          Skilled enough for Greg Koch's Stone Brewing Co. to hire one them, I guess.

          http://www.brewerspublications.com/au...

            1. re: Jim Dorsch

              Yeah, takes big skills to produce that wonderful "American lager"!

              1. re: carolinadawg

                It does, actually. I'm no fan of Bud, but brewing a consistent product on that scale ain't easy. You can't argue macro beers show poor brewing skills. They may be bland and insipid, but that kind of consistency is tough to maintain.

                1. re: Josh

                  +1 on what Josh says. AB goes to great technical lengths to ensure consistency in beer with very minimal flavor. It is surprising how they pull it off, actually.

                  1. re: Josh

                    By that "logic" the cook at McDonalds is more skilled that the cook at Per Se? Ok, got it.

                    1. re: carolinadawg

                      You're comparing line cooks. The correct comparison is the McDonald's corporate chefs vs the chefs at fine restaurants.

                      1. re: carolinadawg

                        If you understood the technical details of brewing, the difference between styles, and the different ingredients used to make those styles, you would have probably have a different perspective on the issue.

                        Just because you may not care for the style of beer they make or you think it is inferior flavorwise to the styles you like, does not mean that they are not technically well made.

                        1. re: LStaff

                          He doesn't understand those things. The points we're trying to make will be lost. At a certain point it's worth conceding that some people cannot be convinced of something they refuse to believe, no matter wat you say.

                          1. re: carolinadawg

                            Those two things aren't analogous.

                            The only thing a fry cook at McDonalds does is put frozen beef patties on a griddle and push a button. There is no skill involved in that task.

                            Brewing a technically precise light lager means mastering numerous principles of fermentation science.

                            1. re: Josh

                              Eh, making crap is making crap. Who cares.

                              1. re: carolinadawg

                                I'm sure that's why Stone hired AB's brewmaster.

                            2. re: carolinadawg

                              Howard Johnson's hired Jacque Pepin to develop food lines for it's restaurants, and i dare say he could cook better than the chefs at the majority of fine food restaurants out there

                          2. re: carolinadawg

                            Here's the bio of a friend of mine who is an AB brewmaster. I would say he has big skills.

                            http://faculty.unlv.edu/rhadden/Georg...

                            1. re: carolinadawg

                              It takes way more skill to brew an American lager (or any other light colored lager) without faults than it does to make an American IPA or Imperial Stout. Know that.

                              1. re: LStaff

                                Absolutely right. The hoppy brews are much, much easier to make. Brewers can hide a multitude of sins behind all the ramped up, exaggerated hop bitterness that IPAs seem to have these days.

                                1. re: The Professor

                                  I don't subscribe to the idea that you can just cover up all flaws with hops, nor do I think they are as easy to brew/design (especially on a commercially viable basis) as some beer geeks like to think.

                                  Two of the hardest things to get right with an IPA - balance and getting big hop aroma/flavor without too much grassiness/vegetal character. Not as easy to pull off a great ipa vs. just a mediocre one - as exemplified by how few really great IPA's there are on the market vs the plethora of mediocre ones.

                                  1. re: LStaff

                                    I would certainly agree with you that there are few really great IPA's on the market, and also agree totally that balance is a tricky and important thing...especially where hoppy brews are concerned. The reality is, I am pretty much in agreement with you right down the line. I was just probably a bit clumsy in expressing myself (it wouldn't be the first time). As a devoted IPA drinker for more than 43 years, I certainly have nothing against hop-forward beers.

                                    I still do believe, however, that some commercial brewers with comparatively limited skills (especially a few ex-homebrewers who've gone commercial) are hiding sloppy brewing behind high IBUs. Some beer geeks (and I don't intend the term in a flattering way) seem to base their assessment of beer quality mainly on how much bitterness it packs, often describing some of the more balanced (and often very fine) examples as "boring". Then again, it _is_ all about personal taste. Plenty of mediocre beers are finding an audience these days, so what the hell do
                                    I know...
                                    ...LOL.

                                    1. re: The Professor

                                      After posting yesterday, I culled some local store inventory lists to compile all of the single IPA's avaialable at stores in the Boston area. Came up with about 90 of them - of which I find only 9 worth purchasing - unfortunately I can only find one brand currently out of those 9 that is fresh enough for me to consider purchasing - Lagunitas.

                                      1. re: The Professor

                                        I disagree (of course).

                                        You can't cover up bad beer with hops, nor with bitterness.

                                        I think you're confusing a non-discriminating audience that doesn't know anything about beer buying into the idea that only hoppy or bitter beer is worthwhile with reality.

                                        In reality, bad beers with lots of hops taste like bad beers with lots of hops.

                                        1. re: Josh

                                          I dont know. Ive heard more than one brewer tell me you have significantly more "forgiveness" when brewing an IPA/Double IPA in comparison to brewing say a subtle lager or a nice mild. The analogy Ive heard it compared to is if you are going to the beach in a bikini (lager) versus a mink coat (IPA) you better have the "body" to back it up. Whereas the mink coat gives you a little wiggle room if you will...

                                          Now that isnt to say that brewing an IPA (or a double IPA) is in anyway easy. Far from it. Theres plenty of bad IPA's out there and the concept of "balance" is significantly more difficult to achieve in a vehicle where bitterness must dance carefully with sweetness somehow without being too much one way or the other nor seem like an unmarried mix of ingredients (which is how i would describe a LOT of IPA's). But there is something to be said for using a powerful seasoning to mask imperfections. And since in my experience the majority of craft drinkers these days do seem to be in the "non-discriminating audience" category (more hops is good!!!) and seem unable to detect these kinds of imperfections you think are obvious or simply dont really think of them as imperfections in the same way some people dont think "skunkyness" is, Id say theres definitely a market there.

                                          1. re: Insidious Rex

                                            Faults are known as "unique flavor profiles" to the noob craft beer geek. White Birch had the most unique flavor profiles going and craft noobs ate/drank it up. And when you point out the common faults they are experiencing they try to label you as the one who doesn't get it.

                                            Real connoisseurship has been replaced by # of beers one has tried, acquisition of rarez, and knowing trade values.

                                              1. re: LStaff

                                                Lot of crowded lawns out there.

                                              2. re: Insidious Rex

                                                Interesting comments from Jim Koch... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY4rtD... "You can kind of hide things in craft beer"

                                                1. re: Insidious Rex

                                                  Like the way he hid cherry cough syrup in his Cherry Wheat? Or Lemon Pledge in his Summer Ale?

                                                  He sure didn't hide anything in Cranberry Lambic.

                                                  1. re: Josh

                                                    I once ordered "Sam Adams" at a restaurant, not realizing that when the waiter droned-off the tap list, he meant the seasonal SA Winter Lager - "brewed with Winter Spices" (whatever that means). I had to send it back, afraid that somehow the tap line had been accidentally connected to the urinal deodorizer machine.

                                                    1. re: Josh

                                                      Well, unfortunately he couldn't hide the cough syrup in the CW. Some of the vilest "craft" beer that i have ever had.
                                                      And, don't forget the grains of paradise in the Summer Ale, also not a fan.

                                                      1. re: TroyTempest

                                                        Grains of paradise are used in quite a few witbiers. Perhaps it's a matter of how much.

                                                        1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                                          Maybe.
                                                          I had a sample of the summer Ale, which had the GofP in it at the store and it was ice cold, so i didn't get a real great indicator of the taste. I bought a sixer and took it home. At less than ice cold, it just tasted kind of strange (not in a good way), or maybe it was the Lemon Pledge.

                                                          1. re: TroyTempest

                                                            Grains of paradise have a peppery taste.

                                                            1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                                              Generally, I like Witbiers (maybe they use a more subtle hand in the GofP's), but really didn't like this. I attributed it to the Grains of Paradise, but it could have been something else. I could go back and re-try it but life's too short, why bother.

                                                        2. re: TroyTempest

                                                          Grains of Paradise in beer used to be against Mass. Health laws:

                                                          "Adulterating liquor used for drink with Indian cockle, etc.

                                                          P. S., 208, § 4.

                                                          "Whoever adulterates, for the purpose of sale, any liquor used or intended for drink, with Indian cockle, vitriol, grains of paradise, opium, alum, capsicum, copperas, laurel-water, logwood, Brazil wood, cochineal, sugar of lead, or any other substance which is poisonous or injurious to health, and whoever knowingly sells any such liquor so adulterated, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison not exceeding three years; and the articles so adulterated shall be forfeited."
                                                          http://books.google.com/books?id=iSYS...

                                                          1. re: JessKidden

                                                            I wont ask what Indian cockle is but an Opium Ale sounds intriguing.

                                                      2. re: Insidious Rex

                                                        He's absolutely right ...and 'good on him' for actually admitting it as a craft brewer.
                                                        I've been saying the same thing for years.

                                    2. re: carolinadawg

                                      AB-InBev has some of the most highly skilled brewers in the world. It's just that they are restricted by corporate to mainly making the kinds of beer that corporate...and most beer drinkers...want.
                                      AB-InBev has at least a few specialty brews out which are every bit as good as and which compare surprisingly favorably to some of what the smaller brewers are turning out (it's just not fashionable these days to acknowledge that fact. LOL.).

                                      1. re: The Professor

                                        Both Jim Dorsch and The Professor make very good points. I believe that A-B may have some of the most highly trained and skillful brewers, it's just that it seems to be unfashionable to give any recognition to this.

                                      2. re: carolinadawg

                                        I recall an article in the New Yorker many years ago that profiled the Dogfish Head Brewery. Both Sam and his head brewmaster actually talked about the great deal of respect they have for the folks at AB for being able to produce such a massive amount of beers with such consistent flavor profile. It's not like they were claiming that AB made the best beer in the world, but they were quick and direct with their praise for the skill and high degree of professionalism required to produce what they do at the volume they ship out.

                                        There's a big difference between liking a beer; finding it interesting, dynamic and bold; and slamming the professionals who produce the lowest-common denominator American lagers of the world as being unskilled. It may be hard for a casual drinker to understand this, but serious brewers and industry professionals have no qualms about giving respect to the brewers at AB.

                                    3. FWIW, I've always found Rolling Rock to be extremely watery, mostly flavorless, and overly sweet. It is truly one of the worst beers I've ever drank. Hops? They may be in there, but who can tell. Skunky? Though I rarely touch Rolling Rock, I've occasionally been subjected to it once or twice a year for nearly twenty years, and honestly, skunky would at least be SOMETHING as opposed to the revolting blandness that is the signature of the swill.

                                      As little as I care for Bud and Bud Light, I can wholeheartedly say it's a better brew than Rolling Rock.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: The Big Crunch

                                        As a college friend noted, it was a good breakfast beer

                                      2. Haven't had a RR in years and never really likes it anyway. But...all the owners missed out on promoting/leveraging it as a cult beer and improving sales. Back in the late 70's/early 80's it was one of the cult beers in NYC. Logo, 33, packaging etc. Should be a bigger beer than it is. This has nothing to do with taste/flavor. Just business. From the glass lines tanks of old....

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: MOREKASHA

                                          I don't know why, but IIRC, RR just kept declining after AB/Inbev bought the brand.

                                          1. re: MOREKASHA

                                            > . "...all the owners missed out on promoting/leveraging it as a cult beer and improving sales."

                                            Labatt - which bought the brewery in the late '80's from interim owner, the mfg. of "Sunny D" orange drink - did OK with the brand. In the '80's (when still owned by the Tito family), Latrobe was brewing under 500k bbl/yr. They seem to have peaked in the early 2000's and hit the 1m bbl/yr figure in 2004 and the 8th largest brewery in the US, having leapfrogged Genesee and Pittsburgh and outlived a number of other much larger US brewing companies (Stroh, Heileman, Schmidt's of Phila).

                                            After that point, sales did stagnant and then start going down and (as Jim notes) that's apparently continued since AB bought the brand. After InBev bought AB, rumors in the industry had AB-InBev interested in selling the brand off (again). Currently IRI figures have Rolling Rock as AB-InBev's 13th best selling brand (up 27% this summer), running neck 'n' neck with their Euro lager import flagship Stella Artois, so it's not exactly a failure.

                                            1. re: JessKidden

                                              Is that in volume or profit. They have positioned Stella (the bud of belgium) as a premium priced brand. RR is positioned as an off brand. If they sold the same volume, Stella will certainly be more profitable. If its the same profit, then I guarantee the volume of RR has to be 2x to 3x Stella. I still see them selling the brand.

                                              1. re: cwdonald

                                                "Best selling" in the brewing industry has always been based on quantity - stated in barrels or cases. I doubt one could find out the actual "profit" ABInBev makes on individual beer brands, and in this case would also depend on marketing/advertising and importing costs.

                                                The SIG numbers are for off-premise, grocery/drug/conv. store sales - so the actual quantities are not total US sales and are sometimes even less accurate given some beers' larger on-premise percentage. They "work" for rough comparisons (especially within a single brewer's portfolio), and that was my point.

                                                I'm not arguing quality or profit, only that even as RR sales have fallen during the past decade of Labatt/Inbev > AB >ABInBev ownership, it still is selling at respectable levels for a "macro" brand - placing in the Top Third of the domestic brands in the Top 100 US beers for 2011.

                                                Those same SIG stats (for 2011) list Rolling Rock's average retail price at $20.14/cs - putting it in the "Premium" price segment dominated by the AB and MC flagships (for example, the four best selling beers - Bud/Bud Light at $20.02/20.04, Miller Lite and Coors Light at $19.60). OTOH, Stella Artois at $34.64/cs would typically be designated as being at "Import" "Above Premium" or "Superpremium" prices.

                                                IIRC, ABInBev denied the rumor that the brand was on the block (unlike their attempt to sell the non-UK rights to the Bass brand). Still it was an unusual deal for AB (which had not traditionally bought breweries or brands since the '50's when they ran into anti-trust problems), and was made all the more so when the AB wound up under InBev ownership just a few years later and RR became InBev's "bad penny" brand.

                                                The ABInBev - Grupo Modelo deal is rumored to be in jeopardy also over DoJ Anti-Trust concerns and the US Feds could demand AB in the US divest itself of other brands or assets and Rolling Rock would be an obvious candidate. Then the question become what company could afford it and has the excess capacity to brew it in those quantities?

                                                MillerCoors - Seems unlikely, but a lot of unlikely things have happened in the US brewing industry the past decade and a half.

                                                NAB Genesee? Also rumored to be for sale.

                                                Pabst? They already own dozens of those "heritage" brands and are dependent on contract brewing from M-C.

                                                City? They no longer own any brands, and depend on contracting exclusively.

                                                An international brewer (Diageo, Heineken, Sapporo) looking for a US domestic brand for added market share? (The latter in particular was rumored to be considering such a move after buying Canada's Sleeman). Rolling Rock could even be contract-brewed in the US at City's Latrobe brewery where Diageo has moved Red Stripe for domestic markets.

                                            2. re: MOREKASHA

                                              On the flip side of the "cult appeal" idea, when I was growing up in the '90s, Rolling Rock was just another cheap beer on the beer aisle. It was ubiquitous in NC, or at least in Winston-Salem, and was most commonly found at high school and college keggers, interchangeable with Busch Light depending on which one might be on sale that week, and thus cheaper.

                                              1. re: MOREKASHA

                                                They even changed the painted bottle so that it now says, "As a Tribute to the Glass-Lined Tanks of Latrobe, We Brew This Swill in Saint Louis, Mo." I'm paraphrasing, of course. It's like how Asahi and Sapporo all have "IMPORTED!" on the label in big, bold letters, but "From Canada" hidden away in a tiny font somewhere else.

                                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                  I agree that the TTB should not allow AB to reprint that "pledge" suggesting the beer is still "...(f)rom the glass-lined tanks of Old Latrobe..." (but I guess since they also now own the name "Latrobe Brewing Co." it's not much different that Old Milwaukee being brewed all over the country for Pabst in Miller plants - and when it was a Stroh brand in the '60's and 90's, it WASN'T brewed in Milwaukee).

                                                  But, though the labels on RR say "St. Louis, MO" that is merely the corporate headquarters - AB has been pretty clear that their Rolling Rock is brewed at their second oldest brewery in Newark, NJ, in part because "Glass-lined tanks are used to brew Rolling Rock at
                                                  Anheuser-Busch’s Newark brewery" according to the brand's Fact Sheet http://www.anheuser-busch.com/s/uploa... (page 2). Newark's location in RR's traditional northeast market probably was a consideration, as well.

                                                  1. re: JessKidden

                                                    Nor should they be allowed to use the term "German Quality" - where it used to say "Imported Germany" on their Beck's packaging.