As we bask in the splendor that is the glorious New Mexico beer scene, it can be easy to forget about the great breweries that exist outside of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Oh, there are many others out there. MANY. Do yourself a favor and grab a brewery map from the NM Brewers Guild so that you can find a new place to stop in during your next day trip or weekend away. I did just that a few weeks ago, back at the end of January when I spent some time at Three Rivers Brewery in Farmington on my way to Durango. I got the chance to sit down with head brewer Brandon Beard, and assistant brewers Patrick Liessmann and Austin Jacobs.
First of all, for those who are not familiar with Three Rivers, its website tells the story of how it all started as a corner brewery and restaurant in 1997, and has grown to consume almost an entire block of Main Street in downtown Farmington. It now includes a taproom, game room, pizzeria, and soon a tasting room (don’t worry we will get to that). All of the locations offer delicious Three Rivers brews. Being somewhat isolated in the northwest part of the state has made it challenging for Three Rivers to project their name out into the statewide scene but they have been working diligently to evolve.
“The last like year and a half we’ve been doing a lot of changes like doing different yeast,” Patrick said. “We started messing a lot more with the water, and really dialing in our water chemistry. And then, we started messing with barrels and souring, so over the last year and a half we have really been trying to push what the place has been doing.
“All of our standard beers, we have been trying to slowly tweak those down. We changed the IPA entirely. We scrapped the old IPA because we just felt it wasn’t up to today’s standards of IPAs, so we completely re-did that one.”
The hard work seems to be paying off as the re-engineered IPA (IPAC Nugs) took third place in the New Mexico IPA Challenge this past summer.
Three Rivers also recently scored some great feedback from their showing at WinterBrew in Santa Fe. I was not present in SF, however I was fortunate that they had saved some of the Double Stuffed Truffle Butter that was all the rage. It was good stuff. (Decadent stuff. — S) It boasts an in-your-face peanut butter aroma and flavor without being overpowering. It is still a beer, and an easy-to-drink beer at that. Patrick described how they took their standard Truffle Butter (as he handed me a bottle of it) and turned it into the double-stuffed variant.
“So here’s the Truffle Butter right here,” Patrick said. “We took the base beer for that and pretty much just went crazy with the peanut butter. Because we didn’t really get the peanut butter that we wanted out of this one, but we thought it was OK. It’s definitely more on the stout side with all the peanut butter. But, it really … we wanted to go over the top, and we took some of the leftovers that we had and went over the top and took it to Santa Fe.”
Beyond that they also had their Framboise, a sour blonde that is oak-barrel-aged with raspberries, Cerberus, an imperial stout aged in Malbec wine barrels, and a malt liquor aged in a cabernet sauvignon barrel called Brass Monkey. To top it all off, they also brought El Coco Negro, which required the use of the pizzeria.
“We hand toast coconut at the pizzeria, in the big ovens over there, and then we hand add it to the beer and then as it’s done fermenting we will let it sit on the beer,” Austin said. “It’s a really amazing beer. It’s one of my favorites.”
I was happy to hear that WinterBrew was just as much fun for the guys at Three Rivers as it was for the guests at the event. Brandon suggested that they want to make the trip south more often.
“We are so far north that we have really never gone down south to show to people what we’re making, so that has kind of … we are kind of being oriented this year with that,” Brandon said. “We are going to try to do as many festivals down there (in Central New Mexico) as possible.”
In the midst of all of this, the upcoming addition to the Three Rivers block should help carry the momentum, if any additional help is even needed. Included in my tour was a walk-through of the as-yet-unopened tasting room, which was already quite impressive in every little detail, a true display of craftsmanship and creativity but with a genuine feel of sophistication and class.
“A construction supply went out of business, so (we picked up) a lot of old lumber from there and another old lumber yard,” Austin said. “All of that stuff is made out of old military ammunition crates and stuff like that, like the seats, and some of the chairs, and the lining of the bar, and all of the metal they found, and it’s all recycled … like the only thing new in there is the floor.”
The plan is to have plenty of Three Rivers’ beer flowing, along with many other top-notch beer options, but the crown jewel will be the offering of cocktails crafted from Three Rivers’ own in-house products from their new on-site distillery. Patrick gave me the lowdown on when we can expect everything to happen.
“We’re hoping March and it’s going to be just in-house pretty much, there will be bottles to go,” Patrick said. “There’s going to be spiced rum, regular rum, (and) white whisky for now, until we start aging in barrels to make bourbon. We’ll have gin and we’re going to be making our own tonic and our own sodas, and hand-making everything for the cocktails.”
The tasting room will have its own menu, too.
“We’re really trying to up the game here to really try and draw (customers) in and draw a different crowd is the whole idea,” Patrick said. “And offer things that aren’t available (in the eatery) or the taproom or the pizzeria.”
“They are going to have their own artisan dishes,” Austin added. “And they’ll pair maybe some beer pairings and some cocktail pairings.”
If that wasn’t enough, Three Rivers is looking ahead to its 20th anniversary party this summer. Preparations are already underway. Austin struggled not to grin while explaining what is already in the works.
“We have our 20th anniversary, which will be in July of this year, and what we are going to release there is imperial stout aged in Woodford Reserve double oak barrels, and that is kind of the higher end Woodford Reserve,” Austin said, “and then we have two Mount Gay Rum barrels that we are also aging the same base stout beer in, and then one of each of those barrels is going to be aged with coconut as well. So, in a sense there’s going to be four different variants of that beer. We’ll release those (in) bottle only. Then, we have a hopscotch ale aged in a Malbec wine barrel that we’re aging right now, and another stout that we’re aging in … I believe a (Cabernet Sauvignon) barrel … and I’m not sure what’s in the other one … it’s a surprise I guess.”
I had to wipe the drool off of my chin after he finished talking.
The Brew Crew looks forward to hearing and seeing more of Three Rivers Brewery. We also encourage our followers to stop in. Whether it is on the way to Durango, or elsewhere in the region, it is well worth your time. The truth is that Farmington would make a very good base camp for visiting some great sites. Places to check out nearby that I have enjoyed include Mesa Verde National Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Salmon Ruins, and Chaco Canyon National Historic Park. Others that Austin insisted are great include Canyon de Chelle National Monument and Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness.
Lastly, I can’t forget to mention that the food in the eatery was excellent, and that the same quality can be expected on the whole block as all of the food programs are managed by the same chef.
We wish Three Rivers Brewing the best of luck with the opening of their tasting room and congratulate them on their upcoming 20th anniversary.