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Why Is Milwaukee Called "Beer City"?

Angela Farrer
Angela Farrer

Milwaukee, Wisconsin is sometimes called "Beer City," due to its history as a major hub of the American brewing industry. Beginning in the mid-19th century, large numbers of skilled German brewers and farmers immigrated to this area that proved to be excellent land for growing wheat. Together with hops and barley, this crop provides a key ingredient for making beer. Milwaukee's position as a port city also provided a ready shipping lane for transporting harvested wheat bushels and manufactured beer to the rest of the country. The number of local breweries grew rapidly over only a few decades; one historian estimated that by the 1850s there was one brewpub for every 40 residents within the Beer City.

A few different factors contributed to the success of Milwaukee's success in the brewing industry during the mid-1800s. The city's cold climate and close proximity to Lake Michigan provided a ready supply of ice blocks that kept the brew ingredients fresh in the days before mechanical refrigeration became commonplace. Since the early local population of Milwaukee was relatively small compared with some other American cities, brew masters with significant business acumen focused on building national markets from the very beginning. Beer manufacturers also found a large and ready market for their brews in nearby Chicago, where cases of brews could be shipped frequently and inexpensively.

Hops, which are used to make beer.
Hops, which are used to make beer.

At the height of Milwaukee breweries' heyday, four of the largest beer manufacturing companies were headquartered in this city: Miller, Pabst, Schlitz, and Blatz. The output and profits of these breweries helped move Milwaukee's reputation from being merely the Beer City to the Beer Capital of the World. Brewing today makes up a smaller segment of the city's economy, since only one out of these four breweries remains in Milwaukee. The Miller brewery still employs a substantial number of local workers, and tours of this historic facility are popular among Beer City visitors.

Tanks for fermenting beer.
Tanks for fermenting beer.

Due to the legacy of the beer industry, Milwaukee natives can have a good deal of pride in this product that first allowed their city to grow and flourish economically. The Milwaukee Brewers baseball team is named as one tribute to the history of the Beer City. The annual Milwaukee Brewfest is one of the most popular city events, bringing hundreds of specialty brewers together from around the world. The Brewfest offers visitors plenty of beer- and food-sampling as well as live entertainment and art exhibits.

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Discussion Comments


I went to college in a little town in Wisconsin and they might as well call the whole state the beer state. There are more different beers made there than any place I have ever seen. There is a huge variety of good beers that you can find. But what no one mentions is that there are just as many if not more super cheap disgusting beers.

There are more varieties of cheap beer, malt liquor and everything in between in Wisconsin than anywhere else. Every week a new variety would show up in the liquor store 50 cents cheaper than what was there before. Most of this beer tasted horrible, but when you were in college that didn't matter so much.

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    • Hops, which are used to make beer.
      Hops, which are used to make beer.
    • Tanks for fermenting beer.
      By: Ahileos
      Tanks for fermenting beer.
    • Beer.
      By: jayvee18
    • Three types of beer in pilsner glasses.
      By: Marius Graf
      Three types of beer in pilsner glasses.
    • Wheat harvested in Milwaukee can be used to make beer.
      By: womue
      Wheat harvested in Milwaukee can be used to make beer.