The fate of 250 jobs at historic Latrobe Brewing plant is up in the air today after its Belgian owner announced plans to put it on the market and sell the Rolling Rock brands to Anheuser-Busch for $82 million.
St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch will begin brewing Rolling Rock and Rock Green Light in August at its Newark, N.J. brewery.
"We don't like to see Rolling rock leaving Latrobe. Rolling rock is associated with Latrobe much like Iron City is associated with Pittsburgh," said George Sharkey, a business agent for one of two union locals at the Latrobe plant.
He said Latrobe employs about 180 union workers and 70 nonunion workers. The plant produced about 850,000 barrels annually. It has a capacity of 1.3 million barrels.
Union workers at the plant ratified a six-year contract last summer.
Selling the Rolling Rock brands is based on InBev's strategy of focussing on "the high-growth import brands in our portfolio," said Doug Corbett, president of InBev USA. Those brands include Stella Artois, Bass Pale Ale, Beck's, Brahma and Labatt Blue.
The sale comes after Gov. Ed Rendell and other elected officials had offered government assistance in an effort to save jobs at the brewery. Government officials had become involved because they expected Anheuser-Busch would brew Rolling Rock at its other facilities.
Mr. Sharkey said union officials have been told there are buyers interested in purchasing the plant without the Rolling rock brands. But with the industry burdened with excess brewing capacity, prospective buyers may be leery about purchasing a plant as large as Latrobe without a major brand.
"Certainly that wouldn't be easy," Mr. Sharkey said. Having a major brand "would be nice, but there's contract beers and other avenues to pursue."
Latrobe Brewing's uncertain futures comes as Pittsburgh Brewing, the brewer of Iron City, languishes in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company began formal negotiations with its union this week as part of its efforts to reorganize.
Latrobe Brewing introduced the Rolling Rock brand in 1939. The company was acquired in 1987 by Labatt, which was later acquired by Belgian brewer Interbrew. InBev was formed when Interbrew merged with Brazilian brewer AmBev in 2004.
Read more on this story in tomorrow's Post-Gazette.
Len Boselovic can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1941.