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We don’t just know our home by its sights and sounds – we also know it by its odors.

Smells Good

Yeasty Beer

No smell is more essential – eau de Milwaukee – than the yeasty, hoppy slap in the face of a brewery at work. Two major producers of this perfume: Miller and Lakefront.


Yeasty Bread

This one’s easy to catch. You don’t have to be out that late on Brady Street to encounter the vapors that leak from the back door of Peter Sciortino Bakery, where bakers with off-kilter sleeping habits produce signature Italian breads.


Smoky Edna

The throbbing heart of Iron Grate BBQ on South Howell Avenue is a behemoth custom-made smoker, Edna, who spends her days puffing on the back patio.


Cudahy Bacon

Even when it caught fire, the Patrick Cudahy factory (which normally has great nose) still smelled kind of good. Consider it an example of industrial odor done well.

Iron Grate BBQ. Photo by Chris Kessler


Smells Bad

Alewife Massacres

These silvery herrings are making a comeback and began to wash up on area beaches last summer, after spawning, to rot and ruin more than one romantic stroll.


Stinky Stink

All cities have sewage, but ours turns it into the Milorganite fertilizer sold worldwide. Technically, it’s not made directly from doo-doo, but when the wind blows the right direction, it can sure smell that way in the Third Ward and Walker’s Point.


Scent Masters

There are some strange experiments going on inside the Millipore Sigma (formerly Sigma-Aldrich) plant in the Menomonee Valley, which manufactures a number of chemical and biological products and has been responsible for some unusual smells, including that of overpowering pancake syrup.

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Monster Algae

Various kinds of Lake Michigan algae can stink up your afternoon at the lake, but perhaps none is more feared than the verdant Cladophora, a plant-like organism that grows on the lake’s bottom and occasionally washes ashore in great gobs to emit a noxious odor.


‘Scent of a City’ appears in the May 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning May 1, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

Be the first to get every new issue. Subscribe.

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