Latrobe brewery's boosters calling for boycott

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Martha Rial-Post-GazetteFormer steelworker William Ehman pauses during a gathering of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens of the Greater Latrobe Area at Dino's Sports Lounge in Latrobe. Ehman and other union leaders called for a boycott of Anheuser-Busch and InBev products.

The imminent loss of the landmark Rolling Rock Brewery is spurring leaders of 15 Westmoreland County union locals to lay down their lagers and launch a nationwide boycott.

Organizers yesterday said beer drinkers should continue to pound down Rolling Rocks through the end of July, when the brewery is scheduled to close and move operations to a plant in New Jersey. But they called on imbibers to immediately shun all other products produced by the corporations who did the deal.

That means no more Budweiser, Busch, Michelob, St. Pauli Girl, O'Doul's, Bacardi, LaBatt, Beck's and Spike's products.

Anheuser-Busch, one of the biggest brewery conglomerates in the world, last week bought the Rolling Rock brand from InBev, a Belgian beverage company with 85 international brands, for $82 million. The sale was announced Friday to the plant's 250 employees.

"It was devastating. I've been working there 42 years," said maintenance man Ed Dobies. "Those corporations never set foot in this town, never got to see the dedication and work we put into them green bottles.

"Rolling Rock is Latrobe. If it moves out of town, I'm never drinking it again."

Recent Rolling Rock retiree Mike Ewantis noted that his dad "worked there 39 years, my brother works there, three of my daughters worked there. That place has been part of our lives for 70-some years, and they want to just wash that all away, give our jobs to new guys."

County commissioners yesterday also fretted about the loss of corporate taxes to the Latrobe school district and city, and wondered if Latrobe's water authority will need to raise rates once its biggest consumer is gone.

Politicians from Latrobe Mayor Tom Marflak to Gov. Ed Rendell have pledged to woo a new brewer to the cutting-edge facility, but William Ehman, the self-proclaimed "chief rabble-rouser" who helped lead the call for the boycott, said they were being presumptuous.

"Conglomerates make business decisions all the time, and they change their minds all the time, too. I'm an optimist," Mr. Ehman said.

"I think Western Pennsylvanians should do something right now -- not just us, but people everywhere who like a good beer, and who understand the pride and identity that goes into Rolling Rock," he said. "It's not too late to get [the brewing corporations] to change their minds."

Nick Carota, head of maintenance at the brewery's bottling division, said a Rolling Rock beer made in New Jersey may wear the same label, but it won't really be the same product.

"They can't market it as 'made from mountain spring water' when they're using water pulled from the East River," he said. "They won't get this kind of quality and workmanship from people in Newark."

"If it's not from Latrobe, it's not Rolling Rock," said beer-lover Heather McCallen. "It would be like swallowing a big lie."


Rebekah Scott can be reached at rscott@post-gazette.com or 724-836-2655.


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