Hayden, Colorado (pop. 1,800), in the heart of coal country, neighbors its big brother, Craig, (pop 9,000), which lies 16 miles to the west where business windows host signs that say “Coal: It keeps our lights on” and simply “We support coal.”

A third the way to the liberal mecca that is Steamboat Springs and host to the nearest airport to the famous slopes there, Hayden differs in character from each its siblings.

Or so I learned this week when I heeded the sign stating simply “Brewery” with a subtle red arrow pointing north.

I drove past the liquor store and its connected garage. I found myself immediately in the sort of neighborhood retired farmers move into to get out of their kids’ way.

I had missed it.

I turned awkwardly in an intersection and headed the one block back to the main drag, scanning the one business building where the brewery could be, the garage attached to the liquor store. Four letters, cut from wood and stained brown, hung above a single kitchen-type door, adjacent to a roll-up garage door: “YVBC”

Yampa Valley Brewing Company?” I guessed.

A jagged line of muddy pickups, one propped at the end of the storefront’s apron two tires high on a snowdrift, confirmed it.

When my friend, who we’ll call “Ed,” stepped through the door he instinctively reached to grab the dog who greeted us, to prevent it from escaping to the street.

The soft, white and honey-colored mutt would spend most of the evening sitting atop one of the vacant picnic tables, right next to a set of coasters. But every time the door opened, “Willie” would leap to greet customers in a way more friendly than humanly possible.

Ed shook hands with an acquaintance, a man wearing a dark green Carhartt jacket who, seated at the bar, introduced a curly-haired man sitting next to him as “J.R.”

We talked about the elk of the same name we had seen at the Wyman Museum en route to Craig. The elk J.R., penned cruelly in a sloping corral with nothing but barbed wire, a tub of water, a pile of hay, several feet of snow and a well-dented plastic barrel, spent the day rolling the barrel up the hill with its enormous antlers then watching it roll down.

We scraped metal stools and I stared at the chalkboard behind the bar listing the names of beers made on site and their alcohol content listed as percentages as well as IBU (International Bitterness Units).

The man in the Carhartt jacket works at the wastewater plant in Craig, having left his home in Biloxi, Mississippi after Katrina flooded his home with seven feet of water. An elevation of 6,000 feet sounded good, I surmised.

I wanted him to talk some more, his soft accent going down as easy as the pint of “Drink Till Your Pale Ale”(sic) in front of me. Remarkably good, the IPA I’d chosen was too hoppy for Ed so first he tried the Brown, then the double (9.2 % alcohol.) Soon we were fingering a menu from the pizza place across the street and I was attempting to make a call. Alas, the metal garage was impenetrable by Sprint. I have never actually ordered a pizza from across the street from the pizza place, but that’s exactly what I did. Standing outside in the snow, staring across at the restaurant’s neon signs.

It felt a little funny. But it got worse.
“Your name?”

I was paying for the beer, Ed was paying for the pizza.

“Edward.”

The restaurant woman did not hesitate, telling me my pizza would be ready in 20 minutes.

So Hayden’s score is currently at least one-third not trans-phobe, whew.