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Living without alcohol in America's drunkest state

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Erin Bagatta
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(From left) Jason Gonzalez, Seth Eby and Emily Meyer

Beer has always been synonymous with Milwaukee, and Chicago played a significant role in that — more specifically, The Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The fire started in a barn and spread to over three square miles of the city, destroying 11 of the city’s 23 breweries.

As a neighborly response, Milwaukee breweries, starting with Schlitz, shipped expansive cases of free beer to Chicago via Lake Michigan, according to The National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. Soon later, with the help of brand loyalty, Schlitz became known as “The beer that made Milwaukee famous.” Although this can be seen as a proud example of how Milwaukee became a self-proclaimed “Beer Capital of the World,” there is a dark side to our drunk history.

While scrolling on Milwaukee’s Reddit page, I came across a post titled, “I feel like an outsider because I don’t drink.” More than 50 Milwaukeeans expressed a similar sentiment or offered advice on activities you can partake in that aren’t centered around alcohol. Folks suggested a stroll through Oak Leaf Trail, joining a gaming group or picking up disc golf. In a city known for its beer, what do you do when you clash with Milwaukee culture? What does sober living look like when alcohol is Milwaukee's identity?

There are many reasons individuals choose not to drink. For some, being sober could be a lifestyle choice, an effort to stay healthy or knowing that drinking can heighten their anxiety. I spoke with three individuals who candidly shared how alcohol colored their experiences in a city where refusing a drink can be perceived as blasphemy. Take a listen to this week’s episode of the Uniquely Milwaukee podcast, and be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Audio Storyteller | Radio Milwaukee