Once upon a time Milwaukee was touted as the “Beer Capital of the World.” A variety of reasons may have led to this select distinction among all of the other major beer producing cities. Certainly among the reasons is the simple fact that Milwaukee produced excellent tasting beer.
For whatever reasons that Milwaukee developed such an esteemed place in the history of beer, certain factors did not play any part in this development. Something set Milwaukee apart from the crowd, but first let’s look at what facets about Milwaukee’s beer industry were similar to those in other cities.
Certainly, Milwaukee was no better off than other cities when it came to the availability of beer making supplies. In fact, Milwaukee most likely used barley and hops from some of the same suppliers as other large cities. Transportation methods had developed sufficiently in those days to allow easy distribution of supplies across the nation.
Labor certainly wasn’t a factor in Milwaukee’s successful venture into the beer industry. Laborers were just as plentiful in other cities. Plus, the cost of labor wasn’t noticeably cheaper in Milwaukee. The breweries paid their workers a wage that seemed comparatively the same from city to city. Working conditions were also relatively similar throughout the nation, so that wasn’t a draw either.
Nor was it likely to be the water supply contrary to a popular belief that was held for many years. The water in Milwaukee does not hold any magical qualities that make it a must have for brewing beer. It does not hold any chemical properties that provide special advantages for brewing beer. However, many still believe that the water in Milwaukee is excellent, just not magical.
Initially, the supply of beer barrels, beer casks, and beer vats was provided by the Wisconsin lumber industry at relatively low prices. However, one beer barrel is as good as another in most cases, provided that it’s clean and sanitized. Plus, Milwaukee’s beer industry soon began to purchase their beer barrels, beer casks, and beer vats outside of the Wisconsin lumber industry due to a shortage in Wisconsin. This may have increased the price they paid due to added transportation costs, but that’s about all that it did.
Transportation of the beer produced in Milwaukee was similar to transportation in other cities of the Great Lakes region. Since none of these other cities merited the famed title of “Beer Capital of the World,” their methods of transportation certainly cannot account for it.
Perhaps one of the best reasons for Milwaukee’s early success in the beer market is the simple fact that the Milwaukee beer industry looked outside of Milwaukee for a sales market in the earliest stages of its development. At that time, in the nineteenth century, Milwaukee’s population was small.
Therefore, to garner a sizeable piece of the market, beer distributors needed to look to other cities. This practice showcased Milwaukee beer across many localities, giving it a national flavor. In fact, so successful was long distance shipping for Milwaukee that its beer touched many corners of America.
Additionally, its proximity to the Great Lakes region was a real boon to its success for two reasons. First, the Great Lakes offered terrific transportation opportunities. Secondly, the city of Chicago, with its larger population, was in close proximity as well. The Great Fire of Chicago was a terrible disaster for many. However, Milwaukee’s beer industry took a great surge in business directly after this catastrophic event.
Last but not least, the men behind the beer industry in Milwaukee must be given credit for their foresight in early expansion as well as the aggressive tactics that they employed. Some of the largest American brewers have made their home in Milwaukee including Miller, Pabst, Blatz, and Schlitz.