How to Start a Brewery: Vizsla Brewing, From Homebrewer to Professional

“If people don’t know you exist, you won’t be in business long.”

Award-Winning Brewmaster Shares His Thoughts on Moving from Homebrewer to Professional in Havre Montana

Raymond Miller was a homebrewer before he and his wife, Maria Naranjo moved to Havre Montana in 2015.  In 2018, the couple realized their dream by graduating from homebrewer to professional when they opened Vizsla Brewing in the local Holiday Village Mall.  Havre is a small town of fewer than 10,000 people that is also home to three breweries, all within the same two-mile stretch of Highway 2, the town’s main drag.  With the competition so close, quality is even more important.  The brewery’s website homepage proudly states that “Vizsla Brewing uses only American-made stainless steel equipment to brew”, as well as “we have three 5 bbl stainless steel fermenters on site to give the yeast the cleanest and most sanitary environment available to work.

Their emphasis on quality paid off when Vizsla Brewing was recently awarded “Brewery of the Year” at Montana Brew Fest 2019.  Maria attended the event and posted the following on Vizsla Brewing’s Facebook page on June 9, 2019:

“Saturday ended with a BANG at the Montana Brew Fest… We submitted three beers (Bichon Saison, Winter Red Ale and Brown Lab) into the Beer and Cider Judging competition and all three of our beers won GOLD medals in their respective categories!!!! In addition, the brew fest awards the “Montana Brewery of The Year” trophy to the brewery or cidery with the highest cumulative score for all beers or ciders submitted. This is a traveling trophy and will reside at the winning brewery or cidery’s establishment until June of 2020.

We have the honor of bringing the trophy to Havre, MT!!!!!

I can’t begin to express how proud I am of my husband and all the hard work, dedication and heart he has put into brewing and into the business while also holding a 10 hr “day” job. The only thing that could have made this moment more sweet is if he had actually been present to receive the recognition himself of all his hard work.

Congratulations Honey you are amazing!!!!”

Maria Naranjo, Vizsla Co-Owner with Trophy and Medals

Maria Naranjo, Vizsla Co-Owner, poses with their well-deserved trophy and their three gold medals.

Portland Kettle works recently talked with Raymond and he provided the following thoughts on starting this award-winning brewery and making the move from homebrewer to professional brewer.

PKW: Where did you find the courage and inspiration to move from homebrewer to professional?

VB: This was going to be our retirement job and project, but because breweries are opening so fast, we decided to open one now in order to be relevant and not be completely left behind.

PKW: What was the biggest challenge moving from homebrewer to professional and how did you overcome it?

VB: The biggest challenge was finding a location.  In a small town, there are only so many buildings available at any one time.  When you can’t find a place to open, you can’t have a business.

PKW: Now that you’ve gone through the process, what would you do differently?

VB: We would have prepared more for the construction cost and focused more on advertisement.  No matter how good your product is, if people don’t know you exist, you won’t be in business long.

PKW: What has brought you the most success in your business?

VB: My wife has been the biggest contributor and successful part of the business.  She does all the back of the house requirements, plus managing staff and creating specialty drinks and food platters.  She even built the furniture in our taproom. 

PKW: What’s your funniest/most memorable moment as you moved from homebrewer to professional?

VB: Probably telling my wife she could be a “stay at home wife” when we started.  After about 20 minutes into the project, I had to ask for help and I haven’t stopped asking since.  Second, participating in our first judged brew fest and winning [Montana Brew Fest 2019].  Maria had to do everything herself because I was sent out of state by my other job.  Maria did everything we needed to be done that weekend, and we were rewarded for her hard work with 3 gold medals and the title “Brewery of the Year” in Montana for 2019 [see picture above].

Vizsla Brewing Equipment Loaded for Shipment

Vizsla Brewing’s equipment loaded and ready for its trip from Portland OR to Havre MT.

Vizsla Brewing’s trophy (pictured above) is a traveling trophy and will be on display in the brewery’s taproom for the next year.  Stop by and congratulate Raymond and Maria, and while you’re there, stay for a delicious beer and a platter of local food offerings. Congratulations Vizsla Brewing!

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