They say timing is everything; that perfect parking spot right in front of where you want to be, an unknown sale on an item you’ve been coveting for months, a tapping of a rare and hard to get beer just when you happen to stop in at your favorite watering hole, all can make your day if the stars align and you’re in the right place at the right time. Our multiple trys at visiting Three Barrel Brewing Company have illustrated that idiom perfectly.
Located in the town of Del Norte, Colorado, the brewery has sat in the back of a insurance office since it was founded in 2005; until last year that is. We had stopped by on a southwestern Colorado road trip a few years ago, only to be greeted by a dark storefront. A thirsty, longing glance through the windows revealed shadows of desks and maybe something larger in the back, but no one there to greet us. The town itself almost seemed deserted on that cold, overcast Autumn day back in 2009. With only about 10 blocks lining the highway, and a population under 2,000, it’s close to being a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ kind of town.
In the years that followed, there was never enough time to try and stop by again when we’d travel through the region, and to be honest, that dark storefront the first time deterred us. There were other breweries to stop in at, ones where we’d knew they’d be open, with doors wide open and a golden light beckoning us in. But Three Barrel stayed in our minds, a ghostly call as we’d slow for the in town speed limit, on our way to somewhere else.
Then, late last year, the planets moved into conjunction, the doors were thrown open, the pizza baked, and the beer flowed.
After years of procrastination, we had finally committed to attending one of Ska Brewing’s much lauded anniversary parties, a can’t miss bash that draws craft beer revelers from all of the four corners states. The plan was, like it usually is when having to drive to the region, to take a three day weekend; a leisurely drive down Friday, stopping in for a beer somewhere along the way, and then a near non-stop slog to get back on Sunday. Right before we left, I ran across an article highlighting Three Barrel’s new taproom, complete with pizza oven. The good juju spoke forth from the page, the beer gods were smiling, the itinerary complete.
When we pulled up on that warm, early September morning, a completely different tableau unfolded before our eyes. Where once was an unmistakable feeling of living a real life episode of the Twilight Zone, complete with tumbleweeds rolling down an empty street, now the sun shone, people walked the sidewalks, and music came from an open doorway.
We had traveled straight through from Denver, not once stopping for the Wife’s notoriously small bladder. Even so, I had barely pulled the parking brake before she had leapt out, making a beeline for the restrooms. With the public humiliation crisis averted, the warm smile from Jaime, our server for the day, welcomed us.
Jaime’s cheerful disposition made the day that much more laid back as we sampled the beers, and devoured our strombolis. My initial Hop Trash IPA went well with my Meat Roll stromboli, its luscious hop bouquet balancing out the spicy wood-fired doughy goodness of a meat lovers dream. The Wife made a good choice in her liquid accompaniment also, her Pemba Sherpa Saison had a creaminess that coated the palate nicely, its coriander complimenting the meal.
As we ate, the clientele in the taproom came and went, quite a few dropping by for to-go orders. Their waits were relatively short thanks to the efficient efforts of Sam the cook, manning the oven that day. Any extended delays were made that much more bearable by a quick pint, casually sipped in the inviting taproom. Earthtone washed walls, raw wood paneling, and stone accents envelop the space, lulling the unsuspecting into whiling away the day with sips and tastes.
And what you sip satisfies and entices. Every beer we sampled in our after lunch flight had its merits, and then some.The lightly bodied Bad Phil Pale Ale contains just enough hop punch to make interesting, without leaving you wondering where the taste was as many pales do. The Trashy Blonde Ale continued with the taste fiesta, malty and sweet, the Wife really enjoyed it. I was surprised by how much I liked the Burnt Toast Brown Ale, a style I’m usually on the fence about, it’s earthy hoppiness made it much more than your father’s brown. The flight was rounded out with the Black Copter Stout, smooth and lush with less toastiness than many stouts, the rest of its malt load made it complex nonetheless.
Continuing a trend that’s become the rule, rather than the exception, Jaime related that she’s been helping out in the brewhouse for the past two and a half years, joining a growing sisterhood of female brewers. It won’t be long before the boy’s club of craft brewing becomes an equal mix of male and female; many of the breweries we’ve visited in recent times have had a woman somehow engaged in the brewhouse, mixing it up with the guys.
The six barrel system she helps with is beautifully complimented by lustrous copper fermenters that fill the relatively small brewhouse. But the space is used efficiently since they also bottle in the room for a growing distribution.
The morning slowly changed over to the early afternoon as we sipped and talked. The shadows changing angles whenever we glanced out the storefront, eventually lengthening to the point where we couldn’t avoid the need to move on. With still two hours to get to Durango, we said our goodbyes and hit the road.
We now know, without a doubt, that we can stop in Del Norte for fresh and tasty craft beer whenever we’re passing through. We also know that our hunger will be satisfied, and that we’ll feel welcome when we pass through Three Barrel’s doors, a golden light beckoning us in.