fridge full of bottles of rolling rock beer

Rolling Rock was established as a local beer in 1939 in Pennsylvania but has since spread its tentacles across the whole nation. There’s a reason so many people love this beer and are unwilling to leave it off of their drinking schedule – it’s unique, and in a good way too. However, despite the beer’s popularity and pedigree, many still don’t know what kind of beer it is. Here’s your quick answer.

Rolling Rock is best classified as a standard American lager, with this choice informed by its moderate bitterness (IBU of 9), very high carbonization, pale straw color (SRM of 2-3), the alcohol content of 4.4%, the use of corn and rice in the brewing process as an adjunct, and Rolling Rock being bottom-fermented rather than top-fermented.

Above is essentially a summary of the kind of beer rolling rock is. If you’re seeking more information about the classification of the beer as a lager, its sub-classification as a standard American lager, and the factors that have led to this choice, you’ve come to the right place. Additionally, this article will examine the use of rice and corn adjuncts and their impact on the classification of the beer. Read on!

Is Rolling Rock A Lager Or Ale?

The very first classification of any beer is as a lager or ale. After this foundation has been laid, further, more specific classifications can be obtained. Let’s consider what ales and lagers are then, shall we?

To understand ales and lagers, you need to know that beer can be manufactured using top-fermentation and bottom-fermentation.

Ales are prepared using the top-fermentation technique, using top-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) at warm temperatures (60˚–70˚F). On the other hand, lagers use the bottom-fermentation technique, and this is done using bottom-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces pastorianus) at colder temperatures (35˚–50˚F).

Rolling Rock is classified as a lager because it uses the bottom-fermentation technique at cold temperatures (35˚–50˚F).

What Kind Of Lager Is Rolling Rock?

The distinction between ales and lagers is only the first step to classifying beer, and there are other subcategories. While the classification of Rolling Rock as a lager is straightforward, sub-classifying it is not as easy.

More factors have to be considered before properly sub-classifying beer. Many beer-certifying organizations publish guidelines containing these factors, and we will be using the guidelines of one of the most reputable organizations – the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).

Under these standard guidelines, Rolling Rock is best classified as a standard American lager. The exact criteria that were considered in reaching this sub-classification are detailed below.

Why Is Rolling Rock A Standard American Lager?

We have established that several factors come into play when determining the subgroup a beer belongs to. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, these factors are bitterness (measured in IBU), color intensity (measured in SRM), original gravity, final gravity, and alcohol content (measured in ABV).

First and foremost is the bitterness of the beer. This is measured in International Bitterness Units (IBU), telling how bitter a beer is. The higher the IBU of a beer, the more bitter it is.

The BJCP states that standard American lagers should have an IBU between 8 and 15. Rolling Rock has an IBU of 9, implying that it meets the bitterness requirements for standard American lagers.

Next on the list is color intensity, which measures the darkness of a beer. This factor is measured using the Standard Reference Method (SRM). The higher the SRM of a beer, the darker it is.

According to BJCP guidelines, standard American lagers should have an SRM between 2 and 4. In comparison, Rolling Rock has an SRM of around 2.8, which is within the standard requirement for American lagers.

Moreover, beer gravities are crucial in their sub-classification. The two relevant gravities are the original and final gravity – OG and FG, respectively. These gravities indicate the estimated alcohol content in a beer during brewing.

The original gravity of a beer measures the sugar content in the beer wort before alcoholic fermentation. In contrast, the final gravity measures the unfermentable sugars in the beer after alcoholic fermentation.

The Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines provide a range of 1.040 – 1.050 for the original gravity. Rolling Rock has an estimated original gravity of 1.050, which is just within the recommended range. For the final gravity, standard American lagers should have between 1.004 and 1.010. Again, Rolling Rock has a final gravity of 1.010, just meeting the standard range.

Therefore, Rolling Rock meets the BJCP gravity requirements for standard American lagers.

Moving on to the last factor then – alcohol content. This is the most direct of all the factors on here and reflects the amount of pure alcohol in a beer. It is measured in alcohol by volume (ABV).

The Beer Judge Certification Program states that standard American lagers have an ABV between 4.2 and 5.3% ABV. As Rolling Rock has an ABV of 4.4%, it meets the alcohol content requirement for standard American lagers.

Since Rolling Rock complies with standard requirements, it is classified as a standard American lager.

Does The Use Of Corn Change How The Beer Is Classified?

Adjuncts are common in beers, with brewers using them to lessen mash loading, thereby increasing the capacity of the brew. The use of an adjunct has a significant role in determining how beer is classed. Lagers employ rice or corn as adjuncts, whereas ales use wheat.

Most lagers use either rice or corn, but Rolling Rock uses both. This is one of the reasons for the unique color and flavor profile of Rolling Rock. If you want to know our exact opinion on the flavor of this beer, have a look at our review here.

Has Rolling Rock Always Been A Standard American Lager?

Rolling Rock started as a premium lager with slightly different properties than standard American lagers. Particularly, premium lagers have a higher IBU, meaning they’re more bitter. The change to the lighter standard American lager is probably due to changing trends in the late 90s to lighter-style beers.

While this move has gained a lot of new fans, many long-term Rolling Rock loyalists are disappointed in the brand sacrificing its history for another style.