What does the “33″ mean on the Rolling Rock Label?

September 7, 2007

Beer History, Featured

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The "33" represents the fabulous day that prohibition was repealed – December 5, 1933.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…Rolling Rock Label "33"

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".

Conclusion

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.

 

 

30 Responses to “What does the “33″ mean on the Rolling Rock Label?”

  1. Mark Taylor Says:

    I am from Pennsylvania originally. You’re right about the fact that “33″ created a buzz around the product, but that is not why they kept it. I have also heard It is exactly 33 miles from the original mountain spring water source used to make the original product.
    What I heard from Latrobe folk lore is that there were 33 individuals credited with making the product and getting it to market in 1939. You certainly can’t argue with their success, and the perpetuation of the controversy is part of that. Oh, BTW, the horse is because they were farming folk and raised horses. It was a symbol of strength in quality.

  2. Juniper Jones Says:

    I always thought that “Rolling Rock” and “33″ were related in that 33 was the age of Jesus when he died, and he supposedly walked out of his tomb when the “rock” was “rolled”, creating an exit. That’s what I was told years ago anyway. I thought the original brewery was run by monks…and so it made sense to me.

  3. Robert Says:

    I find it a stretch that anyone (even monks) would connect a beer with Jesus, especially in the modern, progressive United States. I heard once that it was a reference to the packaging in a six pack: three on one side, three on the other. Were they the first to package their product in such a manner. I don’t know, but why is the thirty-three prominantly displayed in quotes?

  4. Audie C. Says:

    I believe that the number 33 came from the Scottish Free Masons… Some people believe the year the Pittsburgh Steelers began 1933… But it having Scottish roots and Mr. Art Rooney is now the embassitor of Ireland… Just my theory..

  5. John J. Says:

    Probably masons. It’s “33″, and its mysterious. I can’t think of anything more likely than crazy masonic secrets.

  6. RandallGHoeppner Says:

    Good thoughts all. One onther thing on the “33″ on rolling rock. If you count all the words describing Rolling Rock there are exactly 33 words. I am from PA and an old timer showed me that one. Thanks

  7. ralphie Says:

    ref rolling rock beer number 33 mystery. could the number 33 be one of the FreeMason secret numbers?

  8. michael Says:

    legend has it that the brewery workers liked consuming beer at 33 degrees(one above freezing). beernumber.com

  9. annie Says:

    ithink it was one of the best marketing hooks the ad men ever came up with

  10. Dave Says:

    A friend of mine ran into Ralph Tito (one of the original buyers of the brewery back in 1933. He met him at the Yough Reservoir, probably in the late 1980s. Ralph was a pretty old duffer by then. He said then that the 33 celebrates the reopening of the brewery. While James story is better, I dont think he was there at the birth.

    Apparently the 33 was a little tongue in cheek as the brewery had been making some RR secretly during most of Prohibition.

  11. sniprmn8 Says:

    Beer is best served at 33 degrees fahrenheit, 1 degree above freezing. If you kept the beer in an old fashoned refridgerator that kept the beer at 33 degrees you could see the colder air rising out of the bottle as you opened it, creating a frost on the bottle, (I’ve done this both with beer and glass coke bottles). If the frost was created by the colder air hitting the bottle as you opened it, you knew that it was at the perfect temperature.

  12. howie felterbush Says:

    i really dont care what the “33″ means all i know its good beer

  13. Michael Craft Says:

    Could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that there are 33 degrees of levels in the Free Masons which is probably the most secret and most exclusive club in the world?

  14. the truth Says:

    The brewmaster bet on the horse named “Old Latrobe” in a high stakes race. It’s number was “33″ it won on a complete longshot almost miracuously and it’s given name was “Old Latrobe”. He took the large winnings from the odds on loser and started an ale brewing company in St. Louis(an easy city to start brewing in)Budweiser)) , named after the horse that helped him start the legendary brew. The “33″ is dedicated to the winning horse which is the only reason that a poor pale ale enthusiast could start an American institution. An awesome pale ale with a well deserved controversial history.

  15. Porkus Gorpsky Says:

    Dottie, the former owner of Ardmore Beverage in Ardmore, PA told me that “33″ stands for the number of words in the Rolling Rock value statement printed on every bottle and can…and now maybe a few other things to like the best serving temperature, the year prohibition was repealed and a masonic symbol. I loved the taste of those returnable bottles we used to keep cold by packing them in with snow, “33″ degrees…to the point that the tops of the beer had an iced 1 inch neck. Great beer, great legacy, Cheers!

  16. Chris Says:

    One cold Sunday I stayed in the Allegheny Club in Three Rivers Stadium to watch the game in warmth and comfort. As I sat at my table drinking a Rolling Rock, an older man sitting at the table next to mine asked me if I liked the beer that I was drinking. After telling him how much I enjoyd Rolling Rock, he told me that he was one of the original founders of the brewery. I honestly don’t remember his name was. Perhaps Mr. Tito, but I do not know. Anyhow, after a pleasant conversation about his role in the starting the brewery, I eventually asked him about the meaning of the “33″ on the printed labl. He told me that it had absolutely no meaning, then told me that it was the printer’s mark–probably just a note to count how many words for costing purposes. The number was printed in error. Funding and time limitations resulted in their decision to ues the initial batch of incorrectly printed bottles. Soon there was a buzz about what the “33″ meant and why it was there, so they decided to leave it purely for markting purposes.

    Son the nxt time someone asks what it means, you can tell thm it mans absolutely nothing, and you’ll be right.

  17. brett Says:

    I agree with the freemason comment, the highest degree a freemason that is publicly known is the 33rd degree and being a 33rd degree freemason is a big deal, this is a number they are very proud of and love to display it, the masonic temple of the Scottish rite in Washington D.C. has the number 33 all over it, the adress is even 1733 although this is not the correct adress according to the cities layout.

  18. Stella Waldvogel Says:

    I think everybody’s wrong.

    Rolling Rock was launched in 1939, the height of Seabiscuit’s popularity. The horse on the bottle is Seabiscuit.

    He placed first 33 races in his career.

    Admittedly, his last win was in 1940…when exactly did the 33 first appear? Was it on the 1939 beers?

    Even if it was, that doesn’t disprove my theory. Seabiscuit was foaled in 1933.

    When the truth comes out, remember: Stella called it. :)

  19. christopher Says:

    33 is short for 1933 the year the steelers were founded

  20. Tom Says:

    The theory I have is a metric measurement for a bottle of beer is 33cl

  21. Ralph Mecca Says:

    Ralph Tito is correct. Ralph Mecca , ralph’s cousin, told me, Ralph Mecca , Ralph mecca’s son. , lots of ralph’s in our family. That our uncle Joe Tito made comment to his brothers, Ralph,, Tony, Bobby and frank in response to repeal of prohibition in 1933 that ” the same as it ever was” . At which time it was decided to put the “33″ on bottles.

  22. Andrew Webster Says:

    I happen to be a Master Freemason myself so maybe I’m biased, but Benjamin Latrobe was one of the great unsung founding fathers. He was an architect and the man who designed the Masonic layout of Washington DC. He was also, you guessed it, a 33rd degree Mason. As far as I’m concerned, it’s solved. The 33 on RR bottles is a Masonic reference and homage.

  23. Stefan Says:

    Another theory that sounds very plausible but doubtful is that 33 is the angle of repose for rocks. Which means that if rocks are piled up so the slopes form a 33 degree angle with ground, then the rocks will roll. Hence rolling rock.

  24. John Says:

    My friend called the toll-free # that has 3333
    as part of it.The girl who answered said the
    phrase “here’s to you 33 was a reference to the
    year alcohol became legal.If that is the case
    why not say 1933 instead of just 33?

  25. john Says:

    A friend called that toll-free # w/all the 33′s in it.The girl
    who answered said it was because prohibition was repealed in
    1933. Well why not just put the whole date 1933 instead of
    just 33. Also the town of Latrobe is named for a Freemason
    who was also an architect.

  26. Stephen D Says:

    Is everyone else blind or am I? I’ve counted the words in the pic above (those inside the quotation marks) and all I get is a total of 31 words. Where are the two other words that everyone else sees?

  27. Jim Says:

    “Where are the other two?” He asked?

    Here:

    ROLLiNG ROCK

  28. Richard Says:

    Thanks for that Jim! I did finally research it a bit more and it appears the original bottles did say “Rolling Rock” just before the slogan so I think that is where the “missing” two words are from.

    But again…. no body knows for sure what the “33″ really means!

  29. GR Says:

    Back in 1974, my brother and I were trying to solve this great mystery of beer also,we wrote a letter to the brewery and the vice- president of the brewery at that point in history explained to us that the significance of “33″ was two fold,the year prohibition was repealed & the number of words on the back label.I have heard many of the other theories behind the 33 as well.However;seeing as this was straight from the horse’s mouth…I’m sticking with it!

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