Asheville you say? That'd be Asheville, NC, a city in the mountains of western North Carolina that bears a number of similarities to Missoula. It has an active and healthy population with a thriving cultural scene and an abundance of outdoor recreation. Oh, and great beer, too. Sound familiar?
I ran across this article in the Citizen Times explaining how Asheville went from zero to Beer City USA in a mere sixteen years. The city's beer scene has grown from one brewery in 1994 to nine today. Having grown up not far away in Virginia, I can attest to what an impressive feat that is. The craft beer renaissance hit Montana well before it found most of that part of the country. Missoula's Bayern Brewing Co. got its start in 1987.
The article got me thinking. Which city in Montana could claim the title of Beer City Montana? Billings has the most at five. Missoula has three - or four, if you count both Kettlehouse locations. Missoula's new Hellgate Brewing Co. is reportedly opening sometime this year. Bozeman has two (I'm including Belgrade) with a third soon to open (406 Brewing Co.). If you add in the brewery specific taprooms, Missoula has two more with Flathead Lake Brewing Co. of Missoula and the new Tamarack Brewing location currently under construction. Of course, Bozeman boasts a great set of taps at the Montana Ale Works restaurant (40 or so) and Missoula has the king of all beer selections with The Rhino and it's 50 taps.
It matters much more to me that we continue to encourage the craft beer industry in Montana no matter where it is rather than crowning any one city as the beer capital. Asheville has a population of around 75,000 which compares closely to Missoula's 65,000. Then again, Asheville boasts a regional population of over 400,000, four times the amount of Missoula's 100,000 or so. That speaks well for Missoulian's love of beer and their ability to support three breweries, two new brewery specific taprooms and more on the way.
I don't believe for a second that the additional breweries and taprooms will dilute the ones who pioneered the way. Rather, so long as the newcomers can live up to the quality Missoulians have come to expect, there's every reason to think they'll help make Missoula and the rest of Montana a great destination for craft beer.
What do you think?