February 01, 2010

The Beer Belly of America

At FloatingSheep, we're willing to search for and analyze almost anything that falls within the realm of human experience. Sometimes this is mundane (pizza) and sometimes it is contentious (abortion) but most of the time it falls somewhere in between. Such as, where can I get a drink?


Total Number of Bars


We were quite surprised, however, when we did a simple comparison between grocery stores and bars to discover a remarkable geographically phenomenon. We had expected that grocery stores would outnumber bars and for most parts of North America that is the case. But we could also clearly see the "beer belly of America" peeking out through the "t-shirt of data".



Starting in Illinois, the beer belly expands up into Wisconsin and first spreads westward through Iowa/Minnesota and then engulfs Nebraska, and the Dakotas before petering out (like a pair of love handles) in Wyoming and Montana.

The clustering was so apparent that we wanted to check how it compared to the "official" data on this activity. So we gathered 2007 Census Country Business Pattern on the number of establishments listed in NACIS code 722410 (Drinking places (alcoholic beverages)) and divided by Census estimates for state population totals for 2009 and found remarkable correspondence with our data.

On average there are 1.52 bars for every 10,000 people in the U.S. but the states that make up the beer belly of America are highly skewed from this average.









RankStateBars per 10,000 Population
1North Dakota6.54
2Montana6.34
3Wisconsin5.88
4South Dakota4.73
5Iowa3.73
6Nebraska3.68
7Wyoming3.4

Another slice of the Google data which shows the relative number of bars in a location further confirms this concentration. So looks like Wisconsin is your best bet.


Specialization in Bars

78 comments:

  1. I love this type of information and research! Good job! I can't believe it took me this long to find this blog!

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  2. Wow, lots of bar buzz concentrated around the great lakes...

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  3. Very interesting--I was surprised at top 7.

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  4. Just found this site - love it. Not sure where/how/if you could find the data, but it would be interesting to make a map of the locations from which people come to attend the Kentucky Derby. It would seem Churchill Downs might have a % of this info for ticket buyers (obviously not for folks who just go to the infield). Just a thought. Kind regards, Leslie Bates

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  5. Very interesting! I guess my spot in RI isn't so unique afterall - we have 21 bars within a mile, and 1 grocery store on the skirts of that stretch of town.

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  6. I'm from Wis- born and raised. People do tend to drink a lot here.

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  7. Great analytic point of view - USE is so interesting

    Visit my Diary also : www.smulu.pl

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  8. What a fascinating post -- love analysis of census data and what a great map. Keep up the good work

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  9. Very interesting blog. Can i suggest a stat analysis. Divorce Rate vs(Education/Social welfare/GDP per capita/ GINI coeff.).It has always intrigued me wrt Scandinavia.

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  10. Love the post. You sound like you'd be helpful in my quest for places to see this summer .. too bad i already live in the "Beer Belly of America" ... aww gotta love Wisconsin!

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  11. I guess I'm in a good place to stay liquid - Beerma in Iowa is a happy camper!

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  12. While this is interesting information, and correct when it comes to bars per people in population. It is kind of misleading though as Iowa is high on the list it doesn't come close to having the amount of bars as say New York or Wisconsin...Iowa just doesn't have much of a population. Keep this in mind when considering a "beer tour" of the midwest...you may be sadly disappointed (unless of course you backup trip was a "farm tour".

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  13. Pssh, I could have told you that about Wisconsin without the research! Hehe, I'm from MN, and you can tell the difference when you cross the border. La Crosse, WI used to have the most bars per capita in the country.

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    1. I think it says something about MN dry laws that every state on our border is on this list.

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  14. Floatingsheep - you're geniuses. Way to intelligently think out of the box.

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  15. Very intriguing. I feel like there are so many bars where I am from. Then again, New England, as a whole, is much smaller than those beer belly states.

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  16. is it accurate data? if so, very interesting point :)

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  17. Fantastic post, I'm from Minnesota, enjoy drinking beer, and have done my fair share of socializing in Wisconsin also. Stop by at The Blue Swan Chronicles.Blogspot covering travel,music, and adventure

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  18. Hello from Western Wisconsin, where a drunk young male drowns in the Mississippi every couple of years and we call it a conspiracy.

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  19. very useful research for upcoming St. Paddy's day

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  20. Please, Please merge this with average snowfall or winter temperature (windchill included).

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    1. Well, why do you think we drink so much? -Madison, WI

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  21. In many states (Virginia, for example) there are no "bars" that fit NAICS 722410 - primarily alcohol with limited food. Instead, watering holes would be classified as 722110 and 72221 - primarily food but also serving alcohol. You can look up details of NAICS classifications at http://www.census.gov/eos/www/naics/

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  22. I'm curious what the information considers a "grocery store." Forex, here in Fairbanks, there are three grocery stores: Two Fred Meyerses and one Wal-Mart. I know of eight bars off the top of my head, and I'm sure there's more.

    The same is true in other Alaska locations.

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  23. OK...This is so true. and funny! KUDOS.
    Can I just say that I just moved to a predominately muslim country in west africa and lost 40+ pounds! No bars + no high frutose corn surup. You're so right.

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  24. This Wisconsinite will drink to that! There are so many bars within walking distance from my home in Oshkosh. There are more bars here than state-alloted liquor licenses, so bar owners are tripping over each other to see to it that they get one. The strange part is that the watering hole market is not yet saturated. Oshkosh could easily support more bars. It is common to go out for "a couple" after work on at least a weekly basis and there are bars to suit just about every type of person , personality, and occasion. It is someplace warm to go hang out and relax with your friends, neighbors, and coworkers and it has always been that way. I guess other places have coffee shops?

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  25. I'd like to see this tied in with county-level poverty data, personally.

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  26. As someone who has lived in many parts of the country, including Madison, WI, this data doesn't surprise me a bit. One follow-up piece of data I would be interested in is how the bars/capita data compares to the laws governing who's allowed in bars. In Wisconsin, going to the bar in the afternoon is a family experience. Meanwhile, most other states completely ban kids from bars.

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  27. As an ex-pat Cheesehead I am not surprised. There are only two seasons in the upper Midwest - Grillin' Season and Drinkin' Season. Gillin' only lasts 3 months, in a good year... Drinkin' runs 12 months, at least.

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  28. Hmmm, as a MNer who's also lived in WI, I'm disappointed in my native state's showing! The colloquial knowledge I've always heard was that MN, ND, and WI were the 3 top boozing states. I'm curious why the "beer belly" data seems to stop right at the MN boarder and pick up again at the ND boarder. Perhaps stricter zoning laws.

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  29. A few too many assumptions built in, I think.

    - Your first map doesn't adjust for population or pop density, does it?
    - I don't trust the google data. They have very odd places turning up as grocery stores.
    - You've got some very very low density areas showing up a very red (like ND). People like a drink, and it could be that there's a small minimum number of people required for a bar (does this include pubs and food establishments, btw?), so that in low-density areas, this shows up as a high ratio of bars to grocery stores. That is, a town of 5000 might have one bar, but so would a town of 10,000. In a state with lots of places of 5000, there are more bars per capita, but this says nothing about how much people are drinking.
    - DIfferent states have different laws about stores, esp. bars. For ex, NJ limits liquor licenses by town population, so the state is fairly low in bars and liquor stores.
    - So what about liquor sales or liquor consumption instead?

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  30. Montana native here. This information doesn't surprise me a bit. More specifically Billings, Montana was voted the 3rd drunkest city in Men's Health magazine in February. Ironically enough, Healthy Living magazine ranked us the 3rd best city in which to raise a family.

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  31. JKBrooks85 has a good point about restaurants that serve liquor will not classify themselves as "bars."
    Also, many dollar-type stores and convenience stores/gas stations sell food, so this would skew things.
    Stats.

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  32. Maybe its the Germans....
    http://www.lmic.state.mn.us/datanetweb/maps/ancestry/us/german.gif

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  33. I love this blog. Thank you for making statistics interesting.

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  34. Does the Midwest actually drink that much more, or do they just fail to see the need for more than one grocery store per town?

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    1. Not even 1 grocery store in the smaller midwest towns any more, they've been driven out of business by supermarkets, which are generally in the county seat only. Meanwhile, even the smallest towns have a bar or two.

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  35. You neglected to include data on the bars-to-churches ratio, which I recall coming up a lot in Wisconsin.

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  36. You'll also notice these are among the states with the fewest residents per square mile, and people will only drive so far to a tavern. That means you need more taverns per capita, simply because of travel time. No big mystery here.

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  37. Ron -

    With the seven states listed above, you are probably right on all accounts except Wisconsin. True, ND, MT, SD, IA, NE, and WY are all in the bottom half as far as population density by state goes (and all but one - IA - are in the bottom fifth).

    But the population density of Wisconsin is in the top half, and is greater than the national average. Wisconsin has two cities in the top 100 in the nation as far as total population goes (of these seven states, only Nebraska can say that as well). Or, if you prefer metro areas, Wisconsin has two... Iowa and Nebraska each have one (although could count two, if you given that the metro area of Omaha spills into Iowa).

    Furthermore, the city most commonly cited as having the most bars per capita is La Crosse, WI. Although a much smaller city, it has a population density comparable to San Antonio, El Paso, Austin, Memphis, Charlotte, Tucson, and Albuquerque - all cities at least 10 times the size of La Crosse.

    Granted, there may be something to population density (the sparsely populated WI northwoods still has an inordinate amount of bars), but you can basically make the data say whatever you want.

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  38. this is incredibly interesting. is there any way you can do some sort of comparison of bars with a television presence? i.e. there are minimal bars in chicago without television screens, and those that do have screens have at least 18 billion screens in them. i recently moved from colorado, where television screens were scarce.

    then, let's compare the prevalence of television screens in bars to the average intelligence level in those areas, or political party affiliation.

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  39. Thanks for all the feedback. Clearly the beer belly of American idea has sparked some interest!

    We are working on some statistical analysis of bars relative to churches, population etc and will be posting as it is completed.

    Data (whether NAICS code or Google directory) can always be an issue which is why we were interested in using both.

    There's an interesting critique of this map(and response by us) which gets into some of the data issues more.
    http://junkcharts.typepad.com/junk_charts/2010/03/beerstained-tshirt.html

    Most distressingly, they called our maps ugly! Sniff...

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  40. Guess that just proves the old saying, Wisconsin-Land of cow shit and beer farts

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  41. I would like to see a heat map similar to the grocery store one, but comparing # of bars to churches. THAT would be a fun one.

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  42. I want to see the amount of bars in relation to health and crime statistics.

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  43. Shouldn't the "beer belly" of America be determined by overall beer consumption, and not the number of bars where any number of drinks could be consumed without any guarantee for how much people are actually drinking there?

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  44. I wonder if the data isn't skewed a little bit. Grocery stores and convenience stores/gas stations in WI sell beer, wine with many holding a liquor store in the same building.

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  45. Now that you've done bars to grocery stores, can you liquor stores to churches? Might be some interesting patterns there...

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  46. I find it very interesting that North Dakota, a state with a population of about 650,000 can actually have more alcohol establishments that a place like Los Angeles with a population just under 10,000,000 - that's ten friggin million. Or even a place like Las Vegas - shitload of drinking going on in that town. The math just doesn't seem to work.

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  47. John- it isn't that Los Angeles necessarily has fewer bars than North Dakota (or Wisconsin, Iowa, or anywhere else), it's that it has proportionally fewer when compared to both the total number of listing for "bars" in the Google Maps directory and the state population.

    The difference between the first map showing the total number of listings and the other maps is indicative of this difference. On the first map, Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles (the country's three largest cities) all stand out, largely due to the correlation between population and number of drinking establishments. This isn't surprising.

    The fact that there is a pretty obvious cluster in the upper midwest with more than the average number of bars (when compared to the average number of Google Maps directory listings for bars, statewide population and the number of grocery stores) is, however, somewhat surprising. Hope that explanation helps make some sense of the numbers for you.

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  48. I'm guessing culture and religion has a large part in the "Beer Belly" map. In Wisconsin there is a high percentage of German Catholics. The American brewers Pabst, Anheuser, Busch, and Schlitz are obvious German surnames and their operations started in the reddest areas of the map.

    Percent German map
    http://www.valpo.edu/geomet/pics/geo200/pct_german.pdf

    Percent Catholic map
    http://www.valpo.edu/geomet/pics/geo200/religion/catholic.gif

    Looking at the Catholic map you if you cancel out the Hispanic Catholics in the Southwest, the Acadians in Louisiana and Quebec border and the Italians in New Jersey and Long Island, that is pretty much the Beer Belly Map.

    The Lutheran map sort of compares well, too. Lutheranism started in Germany but its influence in America is probably more from Scandinavians.

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  49. very cool !
    I would be very interested in seeing the same analysis made for Europe (# of bars / 10000 people, and # of bars vs # of grocery stores) !

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  50. great map, I'm originally from Wisconsin, it does not surprise me...

    "I'm from Milwaukee and I ought to know that Blatz Beer tastes great wherever you go" old TV commercial...

    Lots of beer brewing and drinking throughout the state. Leinenkugal, Point....

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  51. I wonder which state has the most actual "beer bellies"... women included.

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  52. Now, could you cross reference this map with pickup truck ownership and gun rack sales?

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  53. Ditto the comments on bars v. churches. As a proud Wisconsinite I'm sure that heat map will be hot as hell, I mean well.

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  54. I'm surprised its this uncommon. Almost every little town I've been in has at least 1 bar & most do not have a grocery store.

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  55. Need to overlay state's where Liguor is managed by the state. ie Virginia you cannot buy ligour anywhere but ABC stores, and then see how many ABC stores there are vs Grocery Stores and Bars.

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  56. Wow this is awesome, I'm happy that I stumbled onto your guys blog!

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  57. Looking at Total Number of Bars map of the east Coast and Great Lakes regions and comparing it to Swine Flu map. The considerations are very close.

    Now add in the Pizza map and someone may wonder if pizza, drinking and swine flu may be the most discussed topic while eating pizza and drinking.

    Having different colored over-lays may be interesting to see?

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  58. Here in Wisco, the grocery stores sell beer too. Even on Sunday. We love beer.

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  59. Wawoo man, from where did u get all these maps.. Swabi

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  60. ja i'm not at all surprised by this data. i'm originally from northern minnesota, and have lived in both south dakota and iowa. let me tell you, there's not much to do in this part of the US... especially in the dead of winter...

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  61. Speaking of beer and T-shirts, did you know there is this saying in Australia?

    "It's not the beer, mate, it's a fat T-shirt"

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  62. Randy wrote "Shouldn't the "beer belly" of America be determined by overall beer consumption, and not the number of bars where any number of drinks could be consumed without any guarantee for how much people are actually drinking there?"
    Trust me, Wisconsinites don't just go to their local bar and hang out drinking water and nibbling on lettuce. We drink (and brew) plenty of beer, and consume more brandy than any other state in the nation. We consume more bitters than anywhere in the world. Hell, tailgating was invented in Minnesota, in the winter. Maybe we don't consume the "most" beer, but we consume a lot and add to that all the other alcohol we enjoy, we are at the very least the "alcoholic liver" of the nation. However, "beer belly" sounds a bit nicer, and goes better with that "bible belt" nonsense.

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  63. I've grown up in WI, my hometown of about 2k has about 6 bars I can think of off the top of my head and another 3-4 in the surrounding country side. Given the drinking culture here, none of this comes as a surprise. As a Wisconsinsite, this actually comes as a point of pride.

    I've lived/traveled other places and I was actually confused while in cities bigger than my hometown would have only 1 bar, one liquor store, and the grocery/gas stations wouldn't sell beer.
    I actually thought the bars per 10,000 would be higher for WI.

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  64. Great analytic point of view - USE is so interesting




    wine glass rack under cabinet

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  65. There's quantity but there's also quality. The next challenge must be to map where to find good quality beer - i.e. a digital map of the Good Beer Guide.

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  67. Notice that the top seven contain lots of farm land and rural areas ... and a mind set that there's nothing to do but drink. They also have a high density of hunters. It seems that those who hunt also drink. The chart doesn't surprise me.

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  68. Is it possible that in the midwest we simply call a bar a "bar," while on the coast a business owner might market her establishment as a "lounge," "tap room," or "night club," even though it's essentially the same?

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  69. The funny thing is most people in Wisconsin do their drinking at home, and all supermarkets also sell beer and liquor (most people in Wisconsin buy their alcohol with their groceries).

    So for Wisconsin at least you're basically comparing bars with liquor stores.

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  70. Having lived in NE Montana for many years I can share my own thoughts about why there are so many bars up there. When it's often below zero and people want to go out somewhere, naturally you want to go somewhere warm. Bars are always a warm wonderful social place to go.

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