On The Rocks: History Of Alcohol In Wisconsin, More Political Money, This Month In Science (2024)

When it comes to alcoholic superlatives, Wisconsin sweeps the rest of the country: Compared to every other state, it has the highest percentages of people who are drinkers, binge drinkers and drunken drivers.

One common theory about why Wisconsin’s drinking culture is so extreme is linked to the state’s German heritage. About 43 percent of the state’s population claims German roots, which explains Wisconsin’s drinking culture — so the theory goes — since medieval Germans are the ones who invented hopped beer.

According to Julia Sherman, the coordinator for the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project in Wisconsin, pointing to German ancestry is a cop out.

“It’s been too many generations,” she said. “Germany has passed from the living memory of Wisconsinites.”

Sherman said there are examples throughout Wisconsin history that demonstrate ancestry isn’t behind the state’s drinking culture. In 1838, the Wisconsin territorial legislature created a dry county in Walworth, in the southern part of the state. Moreover, Wisconsin had a thriving temperance association long before it had any commercial breweries.

Sherman also pointed to New England to disprove the German-heritage theory. That region also has high levels of alcohol consumption, but its German heritage is proportionally much smaller.

On The Rocks: History Of Alcohol In Wisconsin, More Political Money, This Month In Science (1)
Photo: University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and Health First Wisconsin

Sherman suggested that a more likely factor behind Wisconsin’s drinking culture is race.

“The white population has a higher rate of drinkers than any of the other racial groups,” she said.

Wisconsin’s population is 86 percent white, whereas the country’s population as a whole is 72 percent white, according to the U.S. Census.

Sherman said that besides race, there are four main reasons for Wisconsin’s high rates of alcohol consumption. She calls them “the four As”:

Availability: “Alcohol is literally everywhere. It is sold in far more locations in Wisconsin that in other places,” said Sherman.

Affordability: “We have some of the lowest alcohol prices in the country,” she said.

Attractiveness: “There is a tremendous amount of alcohol advertising,” said Sherman. She pointed to the commonplace alcohol advertisem*nts on public transit in the state as an example.

Acceptability: “We have very relaxed social norms,” said Sherman. “There is an expectation that we will all drink.”

Editor’s Note: This story is the first part of a week-long series, “On the Rocks: A Look At Wisconsin’s Alcohol Culture” on WPR program, “Central Time.”

On The Rocks: History Of Alcohol In Wisconsin, More Political Money, This Month In Science (2024)


Why is there so much alcoholism in Wisconsin? ›

One common theory about why Wisconsin's drinking culture is so extreme is linked to the state's German heritage. About 43 percent of the state's population claims German roots, which explains Wisconsin's drinking culture — so the theory goes — since medieval Germans are the ones who invented hopped beer.

What state drinks the most alcohol? ›

Naturally, California consumes the most alcohol in raw volume with a whopping 88.6 million gallons drunk in 2021 — nearly 30 million more than runner-up Texas's 58.9 million gallons. Floridians take the bronze, with 55.2 million gallons consumed in 2021.

What is the history of the drinking age in Wisconsin? ›

The legal drinking age in Wisconsin has not always been 21. For example, between 1972 and 1984, the legal drinking age was 18. From 1984 until 1986, the legal drinking age was 19, before going up to 21 on Sept. 1, 1986.

What is the most popular drink in Wisconsin? ›

Wisconsin's Twist on a Classic — The Brandy Old Fashioned

Did you know Wisconsin consumes the most brandy per capita in the country? Part of the reason is due to our official state co*cktail, the Brandy Old Fashioned. It's the Old Fashioned co*cktail you know and love, with brandy in place of whiskey.

What city in Wisconsin drinks the most? ›

According to a survey by InsiderMonkey, Milwaukee has an excessive drinking rate of 24.6 percent, the highest among cities in the U.S.A. This Wisconsin city was ranked the drunkest in America... again.

What is the number one cause of alcoholism? ›

Family plays the biggest role in a person's likelihood of developing alcoholism. Children who are exposed to alcohol abuse from an early age are more at risk of falling into a dangerous drinking pattern. Starting college or a new job can also make you more susceptible to alcoholism.

What state has the lowest alcoholism? ›

Lowest Alcohol Consumption by State

The 10 states with the lowest alcohol consumption levels are Utah, Maryland, Idaho, Arkansas, Kentucky, Connecticut, Georgia, New York, Oklahoma, and Washington. In terms of alcohol consumption per capita, Utah has the lowest rate of only 17.7 gallons consumed per person.

Which race consumes the most alcohol? ›

White males (74.27%) and females (65.10%) have the highest rates of alcohol consumption. Latino males (69.99%) and females (49.52%) have the second-highest rate of alcohol consumption. Native American males (65.48%) and females (51.66%) have the third-highest rate of alcohol consumption.

What alcohol is made in Wisconsin? ›

Great Lakes produces over 30 spirits including vodka, gin, rum, bourbon, absinthe, fruit brandy and more, all made with Wisconsin-grown elements like Door County cherries and Marathon County ginseng.

Can you buy alcohol on Sunday in Wisconsin? ›

Wine & Liquor

Monday thru Sunday, 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m.

What was the drinking age in 1970? ›

History of the MLDA

Following the repeal of Prohibition, nearly all State laws restricting youth access to alcohol designated 21 as the minimum age for purchasing and consuming alcohol (Mosher 1980). Between 1970 and 1975, however, 29 States lowered the MLDA to age 18, 19, or 20.

Why is drinking so big in Wisconsin? ›

German, Polish and Irish immigrants all made up a big part of Wisconsin's population in the early 19th century and brought with them a history of drinking and brewing beer, but the geography of their new home state played a large role in making it possible for them to continue brewing traditions, Draeger said.

What is Wisconsin's favorite soda? ›

Today, Jolly Good Soda remains a Wisconsin favorite with more delicious flavors than ever before.

What drink was invented in Wisconsin? ›

History of the Wisconsin Old Fashioned

It is said that during prohibition, people started making Old Fashioneds with muddled fruit to mask the taste of the bad bourbon. And for some reason, Wisconsinites never stopped after prohibition ended!

Why does Wisconsin drink so much brandy? ›

Brandy's popularity in Wisconsin started when a large number of German immigrants moved here in the 19th century and couldn't find their favorite drink, brandewijn. This prompted Korbel to start distilling for the public in 1889. Small-batch local distilleries produce – or have produced – brandy, too.

What city in the U.S. consumes the most alcohol? ›

This place topped the list in 2022 and 2021, too. Milwaukee and Wisconsin are yet again topping the lists for alcoholism in the U.S. According to a survey by InsiderMonkey, Milwaukee has an excessive drinking rate of 24.6%, the highest among cities in the United States.

What state has the least alcoholics? ›

Utah has the lowest consumption of alcohol, with alcohol consumption per capita of 1.34 gallons. This is most likely attributed to the strict alcohol regulations in Utah.

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