Del Norte – the gateway to the San Luis Valley. For most travelers headed east it’s a crossroads, where you decide if you’re clinging to U.S. 160 all the way to the Front Range or turning north and taking the Gunbarrel (U.S. 285) up to wherever you’re going. But, before choosing your path, there may be places in Del Norte that make this town worth a stop.
On my recent trip east, a friend of mine highly recommended stopping at Three Barrel Brewing Co. I’d driven past it many times but had never thought to drop in. After all, Del Norte typically finds me halfway between the Arkansas Valley craft beer triangle of Buena Vista, Poncha Springs, and Salida (featuring Eddyline Brewery, Elevation Beer Co., and Soulcraft Brewing, among others) and home sweet home. But my friend extolled Three Barrel’s pizza, so I made a point of trying it out.
Taking a seat at the bar, I ordered the “Bob-B-Que” pizza and the brewery’s Espin Bock beer.
Before coming to Southwest Colorado, I spent a bit of time within spitting distance of Kansas City, where I developed a deep love of barbecue pizzas. Now, whenever I see one on a pizzeria’s menu, I have to taste it. Three Barrel’s version was pretty decent. The brewery’s 10-inch pizzas are baked in a wood-fired stove, and the Bob-B-Que had Cattlemen’s BBQ sauce, red onions, pulled chicken and 50/50 cheese.
The sauce, a McCormick product like French’s mustard, wasn’t anything new – you’ve probably had it before; it’s not too sweet, but has a relatively tangy flavor. The pulled chicken, onions, and cheese were good, but not necessarily anything to write home about, in and of themselves. Where the pizza shined, though, was its crust. It was right at that sweet spot where it was neither too oily nor too dry, and the mixture of herbs hit my nose and tongue simultaneously in a very pleasant way.
I need to try more of their pizzas (perhaps one featuring Gosar Sausage from Monte Vista), but I suspect that the things I liked about the Bob-B-Que are true of all of them. Three Barrel also makes calzones, paninis, and strombolis.
As for the beers, the Espin Bock was malty and toasty like you’d expect from a traditional bock.
A collaboration with Colorado Malting Company, down the highway in Alamosa, I expected the beer to be more bitter than it actually was. In addition to the Munich and Chocolate malts, which gave it a bit of a caramel flavor, the beer is bittered with Rocky Mountain Aspen leaves. I don’t know what aspen leaves taste like – that guy you see licking aspen trees up on Coal Bank Pass isn’t me – so for some reason I thought they’d be stronger than they are. If the beer has any sort of woodsy aroma, it isn’t overpowering.
For a second beer, I tried Savvy, the brewery’s rum barrel-aged coconut brown lager – a seasonal variation of its Thursday special coconut brown lager. I’m no stranger to coconut beers ... Oskar Blues’ Death by Coconut Irish porter might be one of my favorite beers on this planet. To the best of my knowledge, every coconut beer I’d previously had was either a porter or a barleywine – strong, bold beers. As such, I was thrown for a bit of a loop by tasting the same flavors on a weaker beer, one more reminiscent of a dunkel. This is not to say that it was bad ... just different. The hints of rum and coconut made for an interesting dark lager, even if it wasn’t as heavy as my eyes told me it might be.
Ultimately, Three Barrel was worth my stop and is perfectly placed as a dinner break for someone making the drive back to Durango from the Front Range.