It will come as no surprise that the residents of a city known as "The Nation's Watering Hole" like to have a beer or two.
But Milwaukee isn't just your average brewing town. It's the hardest-drinking city in America, according to Forbes.com's ranking of America's Drunkest Cities.
To determine the rankings, we started with a list of the largest metropolitan areas in the continental U.S. Thirty-five candidate cities were chosen based on availability of data and geographic diversity.
Each city was ranked in five areas: state laws, number of drinkers, number of heavy drinkers, number of binge drinkers and alcoholism. Each area was assigned a ranking in each category, based on quantitative data, and all five categories were then totaled to produce a final score, which was sorted to produce our rankings. (Click here for the complete methodology.)
Milwaukee ranks high for its drinking habits across the board. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey 2004, more than 70 percent of adult Milwaukeeans reported that they had had at least one alcoholic drink within the past 30 days — the highest percentage on our list. Twenty-two percent of Milwaukee respondents confessed to binge drinking, or having five or more drinks on one occasion--also the highest on our list. And 7.5 percent of the population were reported as heavy drinkers — adult men that have more than two drinks per day, or adult women who have more than one drink per day.
High percentages of alcohol consumption and abuse can translate into serious trouble for a city, including increased public health costs. (See "Cutting Alcohol's Cost.")
Milwaukee has long had a reputation as a city built on beer. It was once the nation's top beer-producing city, home to four of the world's largest breweries: Schlitz, Pabst, Miller and Blatz. Legendary sitcom characters Laverne and Shirley fixed bottle caps on one of the city's assembly lines. Even the name of the town's baseball team — The Brewers —alludes to its boozy past. Today, Miller Brewing, now a subsidiary of SABMiller, is the only major brewery left in town, but other major corporations call the city home, including Harley-Davidson, Briggs & Stratton and Manpower.
Prominent Milwaukeeans say the city's history gives it a bad rap. "It's just such a stereotype," says "Lips" LaBelle, longtime afternoon DJ on 94.5 FM WKTI. "Milwaukee has so much to offer, and I hate to see it painted in that light. I don't think [alcohol abuse] is any worse here than in any other city." Perhaps the city's wide and varied summer activities are driving up the alcohol numbers, he suggests — Milwaukee is also known as "The City of Festivals."
Or, there could be another explanation. "It's cold here, and we need our brandy," says LaBelle.
Coming in second on our list is another chilly metro: Minneapolis-St. Paul. The twin cities ranked No. 2 for adults who reported having had a drink in the last month, No. 3 for binge drinkers and No. 12 for heavy drinkers.
Rounding out the top five drunkest cities are Columbus, Ohio; Boston; and Austin, Texas.
Curiously, several towns with a reputation for partying and drinking didn't rank very high on the list. You might be able to score a free cocktail in any Las Vegas casino, but overall, the city comes in at only No. 14. New Orleans is home to Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras, but it only ranked in 24th place. And spring-break party spot Miami placed all the way down at No. 33 of 35.
Of course, just because a city ranks high on the list doesn't make it a den of debauchery. A top-drinking town could be populated by grandmas who imbibe a glass of wine every night to keep their heart healthy. And just because someone tips back a few beers doesn't make them irresponsible.
But it's a safe bet that nobody's going thirsty in Milwaukee.
© 2012 Forbes.com