Happiest Hour 

Montana grows beerier

Montanans like craft beer, and having neighbors few and far between. That's not news. But this is: We now rank No. 2 in the country in breweries per capita, behind only Vermont, with one for every 30,919 Montanans.

Based on 2011 counts, Montana's 32 breweries pushed the state from No. 3 to No. 2, surpassing Oregon, according to the national Brewers Association.

"I'm extremely pleased," says Montana Brewers Association Director Tony Herbert. And, he says, "I think we're on the way to catching Vermont ... if we add another three or four breweries."

That's looking likely. At least two more breweries have already opened in 2012Uberbrew in Billings and Wildwood Brewing in Stevensville. Philipsburg Brewing Company will open in a few weeks, and Desert Mountain Brewing Company in Columbia Falls and Bridger Brewing Company in Bozeman are slated to begin pouring this fall.

Bowser Brewing Company in Great Falls, Higherground Brewing Company in Hamilton and Draught Works in Missoula all opened their doors late last year.

"We have a very good, strong craft beer industry going on, don't we?" Herbert says.

The growth reflects national trends. According to the Colorado-based Brewers Association, there were 367 more microbreweries in the U.S. in 2011 than in 2007, an 87 percent jump.

Naturally, this news calls for a pint.

Happiest Hour celebrates western Montana watering holes. To recommend a bar, bartender or beverage for Happiest Hour, email editor@missoulanews.com.

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