We're number one! We're number one!
That's pretty much what the Montana social media universe was chanting on loop last week. The burst of online enthusiasm had nothing to do with collegiate sports, or our outdoor recreation opportunities, or the level of drinking on St. Paddy's Day in Butte (well, maybe tangentially on that last one). No, Montana had simply been ranked the best state in the country for craft beer lovers by the financial services website The Motley Fool. But here in Big Sky Country, them's the kind of props we cherish most.
That widely shared bit of news hinged on Montana scoring high in four categories: annual consumption per capita (41 gallons), breweries per 100,000 people (4.63), bars per 100,000 people (59.3), and beer excise taxes (a mere 14 cents per gallon). "You don't have to move to Montana if you love beer," The Motley Fool wrote. "But it might be worth your while to make a pilgrimage there sometime soon."
Sooner seems better than later, given the bevy of new breweries slated to open in the Missoula area alone by midsummer. But a deeper read of The Motley Fool's rankings shows that, while Montana does rank number one overall, there's still ground to be gained. The state only truly bested its 49 competitors in one column: bars per 100,000 people. Wyoming, Wisconsin and Oregon still have us beat on excise taxes. North Dakotaperhaps thanks to a boost from the "Deadwood"-esque Bakken boomtopped the charts for annual consumption. And probably the most sensitive nerve of all, Vermont stole our thunder once again with the most breweries per capita.
Seriously, Vermont. Focus on maple syrup and leave the beer to us, please.
Thankfully, as great as those fleeting feel-good moments are, not everyone fell for Motley Fool's ranking scheme. Growler Fills blogger Alan McCormick was quick to point out the bugs still floating in our beer, from the Montana Tavern Association's push to quell the craft brewery boom to the fact that, last spring, the state legislature couldn't pull together enough support to establish an interim committee to examine the issues still holding the industry back.
McCormick's post was a much-needed reality check for those cheering perhaps a little too loudly. Yes, the beer is good and the brewfests many. But there are battles still being waged, and more Montana can do to make its new title really mean something.