Brats and Beer
Teutonic Soul Food
Early immigrants from Europe brought a wealth of culinary skill and brewing expertise to America. These tried and true processes were passed down from one generation to the next and carried across the ocean in the hearts, minds and souls of hopeful immigrants. In Wisconsin, the influx of German folks had a tremendous effect on the food and drink favored here – especially brats and beer. That famed German engineering is celebrated each year as this dynamic duo is enjoyed at festivals, sports stadiums, pubs and special events across the state. While the first Oktoberfest was, and still is, celebrated in Munich, Germany, drawing millions of visitors each year, the festival has made itself quite at home in cities across Wisconsin – especially Milwaukee and La Crosse. The sizzle of bratwurst, the clanking of beer mugs and the feel-good Polka beat provide a heady mix for all.
Where Did Brats Come From?
No one knows the exact time or place in Germany where brats were born, but they have been satisfying hunger pangs for at least 600 years. They are a member of the “wurst” family and have lots of cousins, including knackwurst, liverwurst, Frankfurter Rindswurst and Thuringer Rostbratwurst. The word “brat” is German for “scraps of meat,” and “wurst” means sausage. There are at least 40 varieties of bratwurst in Germany, some with Protected Geographical Status under European Union law.
Sheboygan County is Wisconsin’s bratwurst capital. It’s no wonder, since forty seven percent of the county claims German heritage. Johnsonville began making brats here in 1945, and today it is the number one brand of sausage in the U.S.
The Origin of the Beer Species
Beer is an ancient beverage, already being brewed in small batches in Egypt and Mesopotamia in the fifth millennium B.C. Using hops in beer was perfected in Bohemia by the 13th century. The preserving properties hops provided allowed its export beyond Germany.
In the 19th century, Milwaukee became a brewing mecca because of German immigrants named Valentin Blatz, Joseph Schlitz and Frederick Miller, who all fathered vast beer enterprises. Jacob Leinenkugel did likewise in Chippewa Falls, Wis. More recently, smaller regional craft brewers have garnered a national following. Some of these are New Glarus Brewing Company, Capital Brewery (Middleton) and Ale Asylum (Madison).
Brats, Beer and Baseball
At Miller Park, the baseball stadium that the Milwaukee Brewers call home, the seventh inning stretch includes singing both “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “Roll Out the Barrel,” an homage to the city’s incomparable brewing heritage.
Also at Miller Park, more brats are sold than hot dogs. Brats, beer and baseball seem to go hand in glove. Here, as elsewhere in Wisconsin, the German traditions are still going strong.