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New Business Brewing at the Mall

A brewery was going to be Raymond Miller’s retirement project. But since breweries are “popping up” all over Havre, he thinks it will be too late if he waits any longer. Now’s the time. 

Thirty-nine-year-old Miller and his wife, Maria Naranjo, are renovating the former Rue21 store in the Holiday Village Mall into Vizsla Brewing, set to open in September. Miller said they went with Vizsla because the Hungarian hunting dog breed represents everything he likes about dogs. He’s had a vizsla before but doesn’t anymore. The couple has small dogs now, in accordance with Naranjo’s preferences. 

Miller, who said he has been home brewing for three years, will be the brewer (he specifically requested that he never be referred to as “the brewmaster”). The couple has ideas to localize, as well as pay homage to some of their favorite animals, through their business endeavor. Vizsla Brewing will serve signature brews with names like Dukes of Havre, Don’t Give a Shih-Tzu, and Chihuahua Stout. 

“We’re going to do different beers than everyone,” Miller said Sunday. Vizsla Brewing will offer Belgium ales, English bitter beer, high-alcohol imperial beers, and for those who need to get back to work after having a beer, mild-strength session beer. 

Miller and Naranjo are transplants, he from Longview, Texas, she from San Diego. They moved to Havre in January 2016 for work —  Miller works for U.S. Border Patrol — and a change in their pace of life. 

Naranjo said she used to be an engineer with a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc. She has spent 20 years behind a desk. On Friday, she was up to something different. 

“This is outside of my element. I’m learning a lot,” Naranjo said.

With remnants of the old store still visible — a Rue21 sign included — and no visible signs to indicate the space is being converted into a brewery, there is plenty of work to be done. The couple has hired contractors, but they too are chipping in almost daily work, Naranjo said. “This was a much bigger project than we anticipated.”

Naranjo holds up a picture of upcoming Vizsla Brewing’s logo.// Photo by Teresa Getten

Vizsla Brewing’s motif is going to be a modern-industrial one, the logo that of a hunter and his dog walking in an orange-ish sunset glow. 

Since moving to Montana, the couple has taken to a lifestyle atypical to their former. They’ve gone camping — “things we didn’t do before” — they’ve visited the regional national parks, and Naranjo even got a bow she practices shooting at HR Archery. She may or may not use it to hunt. She’s not there yet, she said, to where she can take a life.

“I’ve been trying to enjoy more of what Montana has to offer,” Naranjo said.

They chose the former Rue21 space for reasons of convenience. A back door that opens directly to the front of the mall parking lot provides easy access to and from the brewery.  Although there are no plans to serve food, they will allow customers to bring food to the brewery. They are also hoping other food businesses may move in to add to the Chinese buffet. 

Vizsla Brewing’s arrival is a change in direction for the Holiday Village Mall. Sears Hometown Store, the latest in a list of businesses to leave the mall, recently announced its closing to be July 23. Herberger’s, part of the Bob-ton chain that went bankrupt and was liquidated, is scheduled to close Aug. 31. Other stores to have left the mall within the last year have been The Press and Famous Footwear.

They are indeed concerned, Naranjo said, about the recent store closings and its potential to hamper business success. But management has assured them the mall has gone through worse and that it would recover. “It’s cyclical — things will pick up,” Naranjo said she’d been told.

Village Mall manager, Chandra Moomey, said Friday, “The future of the Holiday Village Mall is great.” There are some things in the works and she’ll give out more information when the “dust settles,” Moomey added.  

Vizsla Brewing will be Havre’s third craft beer brewery, after the first, Triple Dog Brewing Co., opened March 2014, and Old Station Brewing Co. opened just this May.

Havre’s local breweries are part of a growing national trend.

While national beer sales are on a downward trend, craft beer is on the rise, according to the Brewers Association. The craft beer market is a $26 billion industry, an 8 percent increase from previous years. It accounts for 23 percent of a $111.4 billion U.S. beer market.

In 2011, Montana had 33 breweries. That number has more than doubled. Montana now has 75 breweries, a $417 million craft beer market that ranks second only to Vermont in breweries per capita. With 764 craft breweries, California has the most but ranks 22nd per capita.

The top five states with the most breweries per capita are Vermont, Montana, Maine, Oregon, and Colorado. (406) 262-7778
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