How a Drinking Song, “The Beer Barrel Polka,” Became a Wisconsin Sports Anthem

During the seventh-inning stretch at a Milwaukee Brewers’ baseball game, you won’t hear the traditional “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” fanfare, instead something nearer and dearer to fans can be heard roaring throughout the stands.

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“The Beer Barrel Polka,” also known as “Roll Out the Barrel,” has been the rallying cry among the True Blue Brew Crew since the team’s debut season in Milwaukee in 1970. But the song itself predates the team by nearly five decades.

It began as an instrumental polka, born from a Czech composer named Jaromír Vejvoda in 1927 with lyrics added in the mid-1930s. Possibly due to the occupation of Czechoslovakia and the subsequent emigration of its people, the song spread rapidly during World War II and gained global popularity as a drinking song. With seemingly universal lyrics, it was a go-to tune for soldiers on both sides of the front.

After having gone through several translations, the song came to the U.S. as “The Beer Barrel Polka,” with lyrics by Lew Brown and Wladimir Timm. So how did a World War II drinking song become associated with the Milwaukee Brewers, and eventually, Wisconsin sports altogether?

When the Brewers adopted the “The Beer Barrel Polka” as their anthem, the team logo was the Beer Barrel Man. The song was a tip of the hat to their insignia, but the polka also paid homage to the Polish and German heritage that abounds in the state. “In 1970, the grounds crew wore lederhosen,” the Brewers’ former Publications Director, Mario Ziino, once told ESPN. “Fans used to polka dance on top of the dugouts when the song was played.”

Every game since the team’s 1970 debut season has featured “The Beer Barrel Polka,” played from either a live organ or canned instrumentals. “Piped in vocals? Not a chance,” Ziino said. “Brewers’ fans like to hear themselves sing the lyrics to their song.”

Over the years, the song has become one of Wisconsin’s unofficial state songs. It has also been adopted by other sports teams across the state, garnering crowd favoritism at Green Bay Packers home games, after Milwaukee Bucks home wins, and everywhere else there is a beer, a ball, and a fan.

Listen to the Brew Crew “Roll Out the Barrel,” below.

Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images

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