Thursday, January 31, 2008

inner dork: Milwaukee's best

As some, dear readers, so kindly pointed out to me last week, uh, where's Milwaukee in all of the beer love?

So, here are some factoids as to why Milwaukee was at one point, the king of bad beer.

Speaking of bad beer, remember Hamms and the Hamms bear? Man, I had a baseball T as a kid that I LOVED. Wore it all the time. I loved those little beer commercials with the Hamms bear. He had so many misadventures. He was so silly...
Do you suppose the Hamms Beer Company was marketing to kids? Huh, do ya?

So, did you know....

Milwaukee did not enjoy any significant advantages as concerned the price or availability of raw materials such as hops and barley.

Labor was not noticeably cheaper in Milwaukee than most other brewing cities.

Milwaukee's water supply did not offer any special advantages for brewing. The nineteenth century myth that Milwaukee water produced a superior brew was debunked by early chemists.

There were no particular advantages associated with transportation of freight in or out of Milwaukee.

Although cooperage (barrels, vats, casks, etc.) was inexpensive in Milwaukee due to the large Wisconsin lumber trade, the savings were not significant enough to provide a major advantage. And anyway, the Milwaukee brewers consumed so many beer barrels that they were often forced to buy them from suppliers outside Wisconsin, thus incurring transportation costs. In fact, frequent barrel shortages in Milwaukee finally compelled the Pabst and Schlitz breweries to join forces and establish the Delta Cooperage Company to secure a constant supply of barrels.

Cheap, abundant ice from Lake Michigan certainly favored brewing before the advent of artificial refrigeration. Ice also stimulated long-distance shipping of beer, since rail cars needed to be packed with enormous quantities of ice to prevent spoilage of the beer en route. But all Great Lakes cities -- Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, etc. -- also enjoyed the same advantages. Thus, Milwaukee's ice supply can not alone be credited with the developing city's brewing prowess.

What, then, caused Milwaukee to become the "brewing capital of the world?"
The best answer is that it was a combination of a diverse set of factors:

1) Conditions in Milwaukee were just as favorable for beer-making as they were in most major cities. Yet, compared to many nineteenth century brewing centers, Milwaukee's population -- and that of its outlying regions -- was relatively small. Thus, Milwaukee brewers were forced to turn to outside markets to expand sales. This unique problem ultimately transformed Milwaukee's breweries into "nationally-minded" organizations. Once begun, the strategy of long-distance shipping did not cease for Milwaukee's brewers until their beer was being sold in every corner of America.

2) Proximity to the large beer-consuming population of Chicago -- and the easy and inexpensive lake transportation thereto -- was always a boon to Milwaukee's brewing industry. For example, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 boosted sales of Milwaukee breweries enormously. Schlitz's frequent shipments of beer to the devastated city earned it the slogan, "The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous." Schlitz enjoyed a 100 percent jump in sales immediately after the Chicago fire.

3) There is no question that certain of Milwaukee's brewers were extraordinarily talented businessmen. While their particular circumstances may have accidentally lead them to aspire to greater markets than most brewers, it can not be denied that the men behind the breweries were savvy, aggressive industrialists. And much of their success was achieved through vision, hard work and sound business sense.

Next week: why beer and cheese make a lovely combination of co-mingling tastes on the buds.


Phollower said...

In the immortal words of Homer, "Mmmm, beer." I think that was Simpson, not the Iliad guy. Though he may have said it too.

ptg said...

Glad to hear you covered the city of beer.

But instead of beer and cheese, why not beer and pizza? Beer and brats? Indeed, beer and any food? They all go well together.

Phollower said...

How about beer and forgetting most of the evening? They seem to go together a lot too.

Nick said...

Amen... now pass me a cold one!

Jay said...

I think what also needs to be said about the success of brewing in Milwaukee is that it does not, in any way, mirror the state of Wisconsin as a whole when it comes to brewing beer. There is such a rich German and Belgian heritage here. There are 59 breweries in this state with a population of 5.5 million, including big names like Miller, Pabst, G. Heileman(Stroh's), and Leinenkugel's. Compare that with a neighbor like Illinois,(where I'm origially from,) that has 43 breweries with a population of nearly 13 million. Brewing is in the blood here. We love our beer. I'm fairly certain that in Green Bay, for instance, part of the residency requirement is having a liquor license.

Quantity over quality is NOT what Wisconsin brew is all about. There are SO many GREAT local brews to be had here, I could spend an inordinate amount of time,(and often do,)trying previously untasted beer. Porter, lager, ale, stout, IPA's, pilsner, bitter, lambic, altbier, rauchbier, Belgian-style Tripel, dopplebock, Hefeweizen, ye gods! I could go on forever!!!!!

You really should visit Madison sometime. We could drink awesome beer 'til the wee hours and piss on frat boys to our hearts content! :-)

limpy99 said...

The thing I remember about Hamm's was that in college you could get a 12-pack for no more than $3. After that I don't remember much of anything at all.

Party Girl said...

As I sit on my couch and read this post and the comments, I am trying really, really hard not to vomit.

I had a wee bit of fun last night.

Not with beer, but with vodka. A lot of vodka.

I got the spins while laying in bed.

Number of times I vomited: twice.
In pretty quick succession. Me no likey.

Party Girl said...

...three. Three times.


I feel like I am channeling Linda Blair.

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puerileuwaite said...

So Barb, I see we meet again.

Anyhoo, Jeffrey Dahmer *could* be considered "Milwaukee's Best" in a different category.