In Wisconsin, discovering a town that isn't drenched in beer would be a newsworthy occasion.
But Wisconsin's tendency to be soaked in suds was the news on Wednesday, when Vox reported on the geography of beer preferences in the U.S. Wisconsin, Illinois (and the Midwestern states generally) were highlighted for having more bars than grocery stores.
The site whose research is cited refers to it as "the beer belly of America."
Among the other findings — none of which should shock residents of the Badger State: Wisconsin prefers beer to wine, and its dominant light beer is Miller Lite. And although the Pabst Brewing Company brews both Schlitz and Old Milwaukee — and the company is now headquartered in Los Angeles, not Milwaukee — Wisconsin has remained loyal to the beer that made Milwaukee famous, and the other one that bears the city's name.
For those of us familiar with the villages anchored by the tavern just off the highway, the towns whose main drags are lined with pubs while neighborhood taverns dot the rest of the community and the cities whose nightlife centers on an endless assortment of bars, it's no surprise that the most common auto-complete suggestion on Google for "Why does Wisconsin have so many…" is "bars."
In fact, Wisconsin falls behind only New York and California when counting the number of bars — not including those with full-service kitchens — in the state.
So what's the story behind Wisconsin's tavern culture? Steven Elbow dug into it in a cover story last year, in which he talked to Jim Draeger of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Wisconsin was home to a lot of breweries, and many of those breweries owned their own taverns, Draeger said.
The breweries made their home in the Badger State because Wisconsin "had everything a 19th-century brewer could want: pure water, agricultural lands to grow grains, access to the vast amounts of ice required to brew beer."
And the obvious: "We had a lot of drinkers."
"The reason why there are taverns in Wisconsin is because Wisconsinites as a people are culturally predisposed to drinking with other people in a social setting," Draeger said.
Wisconsin today ranks 11th in the nation with the number of breweries per capita, according to the Brewers Assocation. And although Wisconsinites will always love their Miller Lite and Old Milwaukee, events like Madison Craft Beer Week and the Great Taste of the Midwest illustrate the state's love affair with craft brews. State Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, wants to put that love on the books with a law that aims to make Wisconsin "the Napa Valley of craft brewing."
Whether it's a craft brew or a can of something light, you'll find Wisconsinites in taverns — not grocery stores or churches — hoisting their glasses with a hearty "Prost!"