This is one of those great beer conversations where everyone has an opinion and there doesn’t seem to be a clear provable conclusion.
There are several different versions of this legend which we have been able to discover. We have listed these below in reverse order of likelihood (from least likely to most likely) according to our extensive research and our best guess (not quite throwing darts at a list of possibilities, but close).
Rolling Rock “33” Theories
There were exactly 33 steps from the brewmaster’s office to the brewing floor.
The reservoir that was used by the brewery for its main water source was fed by 33 streams.
The list of ingredients on the label – water, malt, rice, hops, corn, brewer’s yeast – totals 33 letters (not counting the commas or the apostrophe).
The brewery workers were members of the Local #33 union.
The highest level that can be attained by a Freemason is 33rd degree (maybe the Latrobe’s were Freemasons?).
Legend has it that the Rolling Rock brewery was started with money won at the horse track. The winning bet was placed on #33, "Old Latrobe," and that is why there is a horse and the "33" on the bottle.
It was the 33rd version of the recipe that became what is now Rolling Rock. This one may have come about because of the Jack Daniels label. It states "Old Number 7" on the label in reference to the 7th attempt at its recipe.
The "33" represents the fabulous day that prohibition was repealed – December 5, 1933. Now that’s a holiday worth celebrating… why don’t we get that day off work?
And the most popular and most likely version…
The "33" represents the number of words in the slogan on the bottle:
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.
Now even this version has some controversy and multiple versions itself. From what we have been able to gather, it may have happened like this….
Our main source here is Latrobe Brewing’s past CEO, James Tito. Apparently Mr. Tito became very interested in this legend as well and began reviewing notes and speaking to members of the Latrobe family about it. After all of his research, Mr. Tito has been quoted as believing the 33 was left on the label by accident during the printing process.
There was apparently some disagreement on what the label should look like and what it should say, including an argument on how long the slogan should be. Eventually the family settled on the 33 word slogan that remains today (see above), and during the discussions of its length someone wrote "33" on the copy.
This label was then sent to the printer and was mistakenly thought to be part of the copy itself. Before the error could be discovered, a very large number of bottles were printed. Since this was the Depression (1939) and Rolling Rock paints their label directly on the bottles, it would have be extremely expensive to discard this batch of bottles and reprint them all. It is also important to note that bottles back then were cleaned and reused multiple times, which may explain why future runs of the bottles kept the "33".
Many folks have come along and debunked all of the explanations detailed above, including the “words in the slogan” argument. Many feel that it would be unlikely for a printer to make such a mistake given that the customer would have had to approve a proof and even if they did mistakenly approve the "33", it could have just been removed on future prints of the label.
While this may be true, we would like to offer another explanation. Just maybe, once the "33" labels reached the public, it created a little bit of a stir. Folks began debating and arguing over what the 33 meant. What company wouldn’t want to create a little buzz and mystery around their product, and of course some free advertising. Further proof of our point is that we are still discussing it today…..
Let us know what you think about the 33 and any other theories you may have heard in the comments below.