A look inside Steamboat Whiskey Company | SteamboatToday.com

A look inside Steamboat Whiskey Company

This story originally ran in Steamboat Living magazine. 

Ski Town Vodka, Sleeping Giant Gin, Sly Eye Rye, Steamboat Moonshine…yep, Steamboat finally has a craft distillery, and naming rights, like runs at the ski area, come with the territory.

Steamboat Whiskey Company, a distilling dream come true for founders Nathan and Jessica Newhall, opened this fall at 55 11th Street, bringing craft liquor a cork's pop from Lincoln Avenue.

"We make high-quality spirits by hand, batch by batch, using traditional methods in our American-made pot still," Nathan says. "We're a distillery and a pub, one of just a handful in the state."

The Newhalls moved here from the Midwest in 2015 after an epiphany on their honeymoon. Already making spirits for three years, Nathan — who had skied Steamboat since he was a child — thought why not do so in Steamboat?

In January of 2015 they began looking for a location. "We needed somewhere with headspace, character and history," he says. They found it in a building that used to house Rummagers, built in 1947 as Steamboat's first ranching co-op. "It was one of few in downtown that had the head space we needed while retaining its original industrial look," Nathan says.

With fellow Navy veteran Albert Rayle coming on as a partner, this spring they began casking their first American whiskey, a 100-proof bourbon and rye blend, as well as distilling Ski Town Vodka. With its retail space opening in September, and its cocktail bar opening in early October, by ski season it plans to have its moonshine, gin and a honey-based spirit available (it also served 1,500 Ski Town Mules at Oktoberwest.)

"Our whole goal is to have something for everyone, not just the whiskey buffs," he says, touting Steamboat's straight-from-the-Continental-Divide water as the perfect ingredient. "We're excited to bring our hand-crafted spirits to Steamboat."



Best of the Boat: Best Farm-to-Table Cuisine — Cloverdale Restaurant

Life while running a farm can hinge on any number of weather-related factors, and life running a restaurant supplied by a farm can be even more complicated.

That's among the lessons Patrick Ayres has learned in the first few months of Cloverdale Restaurant, the downtown establishment that's kept an intentionally low profile since its opening, and, also intentionally, been eating up rave reviews.

Cloverdale, which opened July 1, is inconspicuously located off Steamboat's main drags and most prominent restaurant clusters, on the corner of Ninth and Oak streets. The building — the house, that is — that it's located in spent most of its life as a residence. That, combined with an understated sign out front, almost makes it feel like Cloverdale is hiding.

"That's what we want it to be," Ayres says. "We don't want it to be something glaring, but something people learn about, that we're here. And that's worked."

It's worked well enough than in its short life the restaurant has already climbed near the top of the Steamboat dining world, high enough to earn the Best of the Boat designation among town's farm-to-table options.

Ayres, owner and chef, has spent much of his life working in kitchens, but Cloverdale is the first business he's owned himself. Among the complications, he says, is the farm-to-table schedule.

Much of the restaurant's produce is brought in from Cloverdale Restaurant Farm, south of town on Colorado Highway 131. Ayres says the farm grows more than 200 varieties of veggies and fruits. Some grow better than others, and that yield has dictated some of what ends up on the menu. For instance, greens took off early this summer in a big way.

"So, we had lettuce sorbets, lettuce sops, meats wrapped in lettuce, lettuce every way possible," Ayres says.

More recently the summer squash has been coming up big.

Plenty is getting preserved for the looming winter months, but the abundance also pushes Ayres to dig deep and find ways to use his fresh produce creatively and deliciously in his restaurant.


Best of the Boat: Best Bar — Sunpie’s Bistro

Maybe it's the Hurricanes. Maybe it's the riverside tables. Maybe it's even that confounded Ring Toss game where you try to swing and hook a metal circle on the far wall. Whatever it is, people like it, which is why Sunpie’s Bistro, at 735 Yampa St., took this year's Best Bar honors.

Founded by former owners Mike and Colleen Miller, who gave it its New Orleans spin, the bar was purchased in 2012 by brothers John and Jarett Duty, along with partners Chad and Sarah Gagliano.

"We always liked what they had done with it," John says, touting its relaxed and simple atmosphere. "It seems to work, and it didn't seem prudent to really change anything. It reminds me of some of the places we used to go to in Texas."

Chad says its success owes itself to its employees, outdoor, riverside setting and evenhanded prices. "We're for everybody — we accept all ages young and old," he says. "Our prices are reasonable and the staff is the best in town. It's for people looking for a casual fun time."

That fun time is often fueled by its trademark Hurricanes, a 20-ounce mixture of rum and juices. Offsetting its effects is Sunpie’s food, including its best-selling Cochon de lait, Shrimp Po Boy and Gumbo.

"I believe our overall success comes from our staff and local patrons," he says.

Indeed, many a customer has equated it to Cheers of television fame, where everyone knows your name.


Steamboat Ski Resort places takeout order for Vail restaurant exec

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Ski industry veteran and hospitality executive Rob Spence has been named Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s new vice president of food and beverage.

Rob Spence is Steamboat Ski Resort’s new VP of food and beverage.

Before joining the Steamboat Springs team, Spence was the vice president of mountain dining for Vail Resorts, based in Broomfield. But Spence, who will oversee 20 restaurant outlets on, and around Mount Werner,  knows Steamboat pretty well — he previously worked as the head of food and beverage for Intrawest.

"Rob's previous experience with Steamboat and his tremendous knowledge in the ski industry are assets we are excited to bring to the resort team," Rob Perlman, president and chief operating officer of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. said in a news release. "His proven leadership in the Colorado market and understanding of changing industry trends will help Steamboat set new standards for exceptional mountain town dining."

 As a member of Steamboat's senior management team, Spence will be responsible for all aspects of the resort's food and beverage operations, including on-mountain dining, which features Ragnar's, Hazie's and Four Points fine dining rooms, as well as cafeterias.

"Calling Steamboat home and working with some of the best in the industry has me ecstatic for the opportunities ahead," Spence said. "Steamboat has long been known for its iconic brand and stellar customer service, and it will be my duty to help our team create memorable food and beverage experiences while staying true to what makes the resort unique."

He will also be responsible for base area restaurants and the Haymaker Clubhouse and Steamboat Grand Hotel outlets.

Spence will be tasked with strategic planning, finding growth opportunities for the department and overseeing nearly 20 restaurant outlets, as well as warehouse, banquet and wedding operations.

 Spence's industry background began in 1993, when he served as director of food and beverage for Panorama Resort in Canada. In 1998, he moved to Copper Mountain.

Spence was promoted to vice president of food and beverage for the Intrawest Colorado team (Copper, Steamboat and Winter Park, at the time) and ultimately oversaw all Intrawest food and beverage departments across 10 resorts and 2,800 staff members.

After leaving Intrawest, Spence worked as director of food and beverage and resort building maintenance for Keystone Resort for five years. In 2014, he was promoted to vice president of mountain dining for Vail Resorts, where he oversaw operations at 12 resorts and more than 160 restaurants across the U.S. and Canada.

Spence has a Bachelor of Arts in hospitality and tourism management from Ryerson University in Canada. He will relocate to Steamboat from Colorado's Front Range and begin his new executive role with Steamboat Ski Resort effective Monday, Oct. 16.

Cooking with: Steamboat Whiskey Company

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There's something about the low-lit, dark wood décor, accented by exposed pipes and a full selection of bourbons, ryes and other whiskeys behind the bar, that gives Steamboat Whiskey Company a speakeasy feel.

One could imagine Winston Churchill savoring a cigar in a discreet corner and swirling a single-malt scotch – or in this case the Warrior Whiskey.

"We make high-quality spirits by hand, batch by batch, using traditional methods in our American-made pot still," said Nathan Newhall, head distiller who co-owns Steamboat Whiskey Company with his wife, Jessica Newhall, and partner Albert Rayle.

"We're a distillery pub," added Jessica, "giving us the unique opportunity to sell beer, wine, food and self distribute. It also gives us a chance to really have something for everyone — even for that person who says they would never drink whiskey."

The new distillery, which officially opened Friday, is located at 55 11th St. in downtown Steamboat. And even though the business specializes in whiskey, it also offers specialty cocktails like the "Autumn Smash," "Wet and Sandy" and "Mountain Smoke Manhattan" along with desserts like salted caramel cake infused with their Warrior Whiskey.

“Whiskey has been at the center of social gatherings for millenniums,” Jessica said. “We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. We just want to showcase some great whiskey using as many locally-sourced items as possible.”

Warrior Whiskey blends a Tennessee rye with a wheat bourbon, which is then aged for about three months in newly emptied Cruzan Rum casks and bottled at Navy strength — 100 proof.

"This combines the two tastes of rye and bourbon to create a malty, layered profile," Nathan said. "I've been a big fan of Tennessee-styled rye for awhile, and it's taken some experimentation to get the blend right, but I think we've really nailed it."

The Newhalls’ goal is to eventually make whiskey from scratch, but they started with a blend – what most distilleries do – so that their homemade product has time to age, which takes about two year before they can offer it to the public.

"All spirit that comes out of the still is clear," Nathan said. "But it's the wood from the barrel that makes it brown and gives it those flavors. Through condensation and evaporation, the barrel breathes, essentially, and an extraction of the wood occurs with the transfer between the atmosphere and liquid."

Each barrel makes about 500 bottles of whiskey, but before it's bottled and watered down to 100 proof, it comes out of the barrel at 120 proof with flecks of char from the inside of the barrel.

"That char is from the inside of the barrel burning due to the spirit creating a release in the tannins and pores of the wood that in turn gives whiskey its unique flavor," Nathan said.

In the next few months, the Newhalls will experiment using casks from La Montanya Distillers based in Crested Butte, and by Christmas, they plan to offer their Sleeping Giant Gin and Steamboat Moonshine.

"We want to be a place of experimentation, which also gives us an opportunity to create smaller batches for specialty cocktails at the bar and then sell a couple hundred bottles right away," said Nathan, who grew up skiing at Steamboat Ski Area, spent time in the Navy and then became enamored with the distilling business, eventually completing an apprenticeship at Chicago's Quincy St. Distillery.

"People drink when times are good, and people drink when times are bad," said Jessica. "It's a career that's somewhat recession proof, and we are excited to bring something new to Steamboat."

Steamboat Whiskey Distillery is open from 4 to 11 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@steamboattoday.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer.


Wet ‘n Sandy

(a deconstructed, reconstructed old-fashioned)


  • 2 oz. Warrior whiskey
  • 1 oz. orange juice
  • 2 to 3 dashes angostura bitters
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 2 dashes cherry juice


Rim rocks glass with turbinado sugar, fill shaker with ice and add Warrior Whiskey, bitters, OJ and cherry juice and stir. Add ice, orange wheel and cherry to glass and pour in shaker contents.

Mountain Smoke Manhattan


  • 2 oz. Warrior whiskey
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Fee Brothers orange bitters
  • 1 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
  • Thin lemon twist garnish.


Chill martini glass with ice. Add Warrior Whiskey, bitters, sweet vermouth and ice in shaker and stir. Empty ice from martini glass and strain contents of shaker into glass; smoke the cocktail with hickory wood chips using a culinary smoker like the smoking gun. Cover with coop glass (about 10 seconds) while prepping the lemon twist garnish.






10 best bets for Steamboat Restaurant Week

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Spice up the typical dining routine and discover what Steamboat's eateries have to offer by taking advantage of the second annual mouth-watering Restaurant Week starting on Friday and continuing through Oct. 8.

"We wanted to give locals a chance to sample some restaurants that they may not normally be able to afford,” said Lisa Popovich, executive director of Main Street Steamboat Springs. "And as we move into the ski season, guests often ask for suggestions, where to eat or shop, what to do in town. And if we as a community can try the food at several places, we can give more personal recommendations."

An estimated 45 participating restaurants had the option to offer a special or create a special menu for the week ranging in price and dining or drink options. Popovich said upon arrival at each restaurant, let your host or hostess know you are there for Restaurant Week and try something new.

To keep you in the know on where to go, we asked a few of the participating restaurants what foodies should be on the lookout for. (Fair warning: uncontrollable drooling could occur).

10 things to know before you go:

New to the list this year:


Give this a try: Chef’s Choice menu for 2, $60.

The deets: The five-course menu includes a meat and cheese board, artichoke hearts, shrimp pow pow, kale salad and the Colorado Cut. There will also be creative drink pairings to go along with the courses.


Give this a try: As Steamboat's newest farm-to-table, fine dining eatery, Cloverdale will offer their five-course menu with wine pairing for $90.

Local tip: This menu option typically costs $120.

The deets: The Restaurant Week menu will be the same fluctuating menu Cloverdale usually has featuring their simple farm salad, poached egg with potato and brussel sprouts, local chicken with potato gnocchi and turnips, beef tenderloin with winter squash and a dessert of roasted apples and wild currants.

The Rusted Porch

Give this a try: Schnitzel for $12.99

The deets: The chicken or pork schnitzel will be served with Jaeger gravy, roasted potatoes and seasonal veggies.


Give this a try: Yampy's one-person breakfast option features their Horchata Latte accompanied by the Pumpkin Pie Crepe. The evening pairing for two includes two of the restaurant’s most popular martinis — the Horchata Martini and Blackberry Cobbler Martini paired with the Spinach Dip Crepe and Swedish Crepe, which is topped with wild lingonberries, lemon and powdered sugar.

Local tip: Warm up with their new Caramel Apple Martini or Spiked Hot Apple Cider cocktail or try the decadent chocolate cake with raspberry sauce.

Yama Kawa

Give this a try: three-course meal for $35 and $15 for a wine pairing

The deets: Courses include house salad or miso soup, spicy tuna or salmon maki roll and the third is chef’s choice.

Seasoned favorites:

Carl's Tavern

Give this a try: Their three-course meal for $20.17

The deets: The courses will feature the Carl's pork green chili, their select American Wagyu Burger cooked on the char broiler, specialty sandwiches and salads like the Caesar, Tavern or Wedge. Leave room for the sweets with their apple cobbler or the ice cream sandwich.


Give this a try: A special menu with three courses for $30

The deets: A few items on the menu include the Braised Borlotti Bean Crostini or the House Made Tagliatelle with brisket ragu.


Give this a try: Their three-course meal for $36

The deets: Items on the menu include the smoked Prime Mountain Farms lamb ribs, pork ragu and the chocolate orange panna cotta with biscotti.


Give this a try: Their Cajun-inspired gumbo for just $7

Big House Burgers

Give this a try: A burger and beer for $11.99

To see the full list of participating restaurants and offerings visit mainstreetsteamboat.com.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@steamboattoday.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.


Cooking With: Yampy’s, Steamboat’s new craft cocktail bar, coffee shop and crêperie

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Craving a traditional Spanish Spanish cortado? What about a Vietnamese cà phê đá?

At Yampy’s, Steamboat Springs’ newest craft cocktail bar, coffee shop and crêperie,  you can have all that and more.

"We've pulled coffees from all over the globe and are offering them in one spot," said Michaela Kosmis, who, with her husband, Janner Kosmis, owns and operates Yampy’s. "Because we both lived and visited so many countries all over world, we wanted this to be a place where, no matter where you're from or where you've been, you can find that certain flavor you've been searching for."

Walk into Yampa Street's newest venue next door to Mountain Tap at 910 Yampa St, and Western meets modern-chic. A chandelier and 8-by-8-foot painting by Eric Otte will greet your arrival as you take a seat at the bar across from the antique mirrors, outlined by a repurposed Wyoming snow fence.

What started as an idea for the couple — who have traveled the world collecting worldly labels of alcohol, mixers and ideas — turned into a reality Wednesday, when they officially opened Yampy's doors. The business is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

Not only a crêperie or breakfast spot, Yampy’s a place one can grab a quick bite to eat or a morning coffee, or sit and stay for awhile, sipping a drink such as the horchata or gorchata latte, drunken affogato or birthday cake martini.

"We wanted to provide a place where people could visit and feel good, be happy and just feed off of our positive energy, because we are generally happy people," Kosmis said. "We love to entertain, and we have found a niche doing that by making these unique coffee drinks and delicious crepes."

For each of their coffee drinks, they use the same base espresso – made with 2016 Roasters of the Year: Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea and Propeller Coffee Co. beans – but prepare it the authentic way, based on the region it's from.

"This has been such a longtime dream, and it's come together in a way that's more than what we anticipated," Kosmis said. "I love being able to create these fun drinks and serve people something that makes them feel good and puts a smile on their face or see their eyes light up with surprise.”

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@ExploreSteamboat.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.

Spicing things up at the Main Street Steamboat 13th annual Chili Challenge

Briskets are roasted, tomatoes diced and chilies sliced as the finishing touches are made to recipes in the running to win the 13th annual Chili Challenge.

Whether passed down from family memory or crafted on a whim, this year's Chili Challenge recipes will feature 15 varieties, ranging in style and flavor from red, green, white and even vegetarian.

Arrive hungry, as the tasting will be open to the public at 11 a.m. and continue until the chili is gone. Judging for the People's Choice award ends at 2:30 p.m., with awards starting at 2:45 p.m. The event will take place on Yampa Street adjacent to the Farmers Market. Sampler kits are $10, with proceeds benefiting Main Street Steamboat and funding Christmas events, such as Light up the Night, Santa's Study and more.

Live music will be provided by Trevor G. Potter, Walt and the 'Ol 37s and Worried Men.

"It's such a nice way to ring in the fall season, and it's about celebrating the community we live in while supporting your favorite chili recipes or restaurant," said Lisa Popovich, executive director of Main Street Steamboat.

Competitors had to apply to be in the challenge and specify which category they wanted to be in. For the challenge, competitors are required to bring their own materials to set up the booths and food. Speaking of food, each competitor faces the challenge of preparing about 15 gallons of chili.

Though competitors were reluctant to share any secrets, they did reveal what patrons should prepare their taste buds for.

Steamboat Smokehouse

Recipe: Matt's Red Brisket Chili and Kyle's Roasted Poblano Pork Green Chili

Prepare taste buds for: The flavors in each made-from-scratch recipe cause heat to dissipate in the mouth after taking a bite.

Recipe factoid: "These recipes have some heat but one that doesn't stick around to the point where it would wreck your taste buds," said Kyle Love, owner of Steamboat Smokehouse. "You want it to have a nice pairing with whatever else you're having."

Steamboat BräuHaus

Recipe: All My EX's Live in Texas, a red chili, and the famous BräuHaus Cornbread

Prepare taste buds for: The Texas red chili is protein-packed, with 30 pounds of beef brisket, eight pounds of bacon and a smattering of tomatoes and seasoning. The cornbread is prepared from a sweet-styled f Southern recipe that Alan Koermer said pairs well with the hearty Texas chili.

Recipe factoid: "This is my personal favorite that I've been making for my family for years," said Barry Gruis, owner of the BräuHaus. "It pays homage to Texas but also melds a German influence from the Oktoberfest beer we use in it."

What you won't expect: "The chili has a nice kick to it — sprinkle the cornbread on top or bottom to compliment both tastes," Koermer said.

Dude and Dan's

Recipe: Smoked Brisket Red Chili, Pulled Pork Green Chili and Olathe Corn Salsa

Prepare taste buds for: "Natural quality ingredients," said Brandon Pfaff, owner of Dude and Dan's. "These recipes are made from years of recipe testing."

Recipe factoid: The pulled pork for the green chili is prepared through the course of a three-day process with New Mexico chilies, and the red chili adds a balance of flavors from the slow-cooked beer, coffee and smoked brisket. The salsa features herbs such as Mexican sage and Colorado sweet corn.

Routt County Cattlewomen

Recipe: Champions Red Chili and Great Beef Red Chili

Recipe factoid: "We mixed all the chilies that our members make, mix them together and then add ingredients and taste until we feel we have it right," said Mary Kay Monger, of the Routt County Cattlewomen.

What you won't expect: The recipe is different each year. It's close, Monger said, but they usually try a new ingredient each year.

Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill

Recipe: Colorado Bison Red Chili

Prepare taste buds for: Fresh dried chilies, including oaxaca, guajillo and ancho. There will also be a taste of the brewery's brown ale.

 Recipe factoid: Instead of using chili powder or chipotle powder, chef Jason Salisbury said they use the fresh chilies and smoked chilies for flavor.

 What you won't expect: The recipe is made with ground bison meat, which is a leaner meat than beef.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@steamboattoday.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.

Cooking With: Yama’s new head chef Jeff Pandolfe

To fully experience a sushi restaurant, just say the word "Omakase" — a word that translates to "chef's choice" in Japanese.

"People like surprises," said Jeff Pandolfe, the new sushi chef at Yama Kawa in downtown Steamboat Springs. "The correct etiquette is to put a tip in the tip jar and say, 'Chef, take care of me.' You don't even have to look at the menu because the meal will be customized to your likes and dislikes. I want people to have a sushi experience here."

With a career that spans across several continents from Alaska to the Carribean and even Africa, Pandolfe is a self-taught chef who has worked the gamut of restaurants, some his own, and he's been a chef to celebrities including Shania Twain, Lenny Kravitz, Joe Pesci, Justin Bieber and David Guetta.

"What really made me turn to sushi was the creativity component," Pandolfe said. "When you're in a kitchen cooking the same dishes over and over, it kind of puts a damper on you. But at a sushi bar, every customer who walks through the door is different."

This month, he moved to Steamboat with his family to be the new head chef at Yama Kawa's new location at 11th and Yampa streets.

A new sushi menu will be released Monday with items inspired by a combination of Pandolfe's past menus and experience under the watchful eye of renowned Masaharu Morimoto, a Japanese chef, known as an Iron Chef on the TV cooking show "Iron Chef America." Morimoto also opened Nobu, the most popular chain of Japanese restaurants on the West Coast, with co-owner Robert De Niro.

"I love feeding people," said Pandolfe, who was born in New Jersey, raised in California and learned how to cook from his Italian mother. "I'm Italian ethnically, and I like family-style dishes. It makes me feel good to do that one little thing for a customer or to make something special just for them."

Soon after high school, Pandolfe passed on two full-ride football scholarships to pursue a life in Homer, Alaska. There he lived on a fishing boat for months at a time, fishing all day and cooking at night.

"That's how I got my foot in the door with cooking," he said. "I started at the bottom and worked my way to the top."

But it wasn't easy. After 12 years working as a chef and then an executive sushi chef on the Jersey Shore and also in Los Angeles, he then interned with Morimoto.

"I got to work and learn from the best and see the best fish in the world come in and how to handle it," Pandolfe said.

"I was in the basement for three months just washing rice before they realized I could cut fish better than most of them," Pandolfe said of his time under Morimoto's tutelage. "They didn't want to show me their techniques at first because they were afraid of the fact that I wasn't Japanese. But that made me want it more and to show them that I could do it even better than them."

Pandolfe said he has always loved fresh fish and vegetables for a lighter fare and likes a more traditional sushi with a taste that is not drowned out with sauces.

"The vision for Yama is to have mountain-friendly food where you can find a great sushi bar but also a variety of steak and seafood options that are locally sourced as well," he said.

The new menu will feature 12 different options of fish compared to the previous four. While he kept a few of the popular rolls like the Red Dragon, Pandolfe added a few new ones.

"My rolls really specialize in the fish," said Pandolfe about newer rolls like the "Alaskan King" with salmon, "Wicked Tuna" with a spicy tuna and the "Steamboat Mobster" with a yellowtail Hamachi whitefish.

Yama will also offer a 12-course meal, the "Sushimon Omakasa," at the sushi bar that will feature small plate items like soups, salads, rolls and a variety of tasting specialties. This option allows patrons to have a customized, surprise dinner. In which it will be customized to each customer's likes and dislikes.

"My hope was to bring my worldly tastes and cuisines along with my fresh approach to ingredients and the culinary experience to this mountain town," Pandolfe said.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@steamboattoday.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.

Cooking With: Mountain Tap Brewery on Yampa Street in Steamboat Springs

Upon first glance, Mountain Tap Brewery may seem like the typical biker-hiker-watering-hole with fresh IPAs and mouthwatering pizzas, but wait. There's more.

The taste at this particular watering hole is calculated down to a science.

Brewmaster and owner Rich Tucciarone utilizes his food science and fermentation degree in the brewhouse, while chef Chereen Leong Schwarz puts her food science and Culinary Institute degrees to work overseeing wood-fired cooking in the kitchen.

"I find that I most utilize my science background when troubleshooting," said Leong Schwarz, who also did a stage (cooking internship) with the "the wood-fire oven king" chef at Basta in Boulder. "I try to think critically and figure out why things happen from a scientific perspective."

Equipped with a wood-fired oven – that's bordered in colorful tiles burning between 700 to 1000 degrees in various zones – Leong Schwarz said this is the primary vessel each dish on the menu is designed for. Mountain Tap doesn't even have a grill or fryer.

Wood-fired cooking with its incredibly high heat can provide challenges for a chef. The coals, Leong Schwarz explained, need to maintain the floor heat of the oven. But, there also needs to be convection heat coming from the frame, because if not, the heat from above won't melt the cheese and the bottom will be burnt.

"It's about finding the right balance with the fire, coals and distribution of heat," she said. "It's always interesting."

One item on the menu that was added this winter, the Rocky Mountain Trout entree, has quickly become a local favorite, according to Mountain Tap co-owner Wendy Tucciarone.

"The idea for this dish emerged when I was thinking about wanting to combine a protein that emphasized the Rocky Mountains," she said. "This dish works really well in the wood fire and is quick, only 3 to 4 minutes in the oven. It's fresh, light but still hearty enough to be a meal.”

Mountain Tap also focuses on trying to locally source anything not house-made.

To go along with the trout dish, Rich Tucciarone recommends the "Get Out" beer, which offers complementary flavors and also has palate-quenching acidity that cuts through some of the oils to reset taste buds for the next bite.

When it comes to the recipes, this brewmaster said it's a science and art form to come up with creative recipes that can be realistically executed.

"Brewing is all about science," said Tucciarone, who earned his food science and fermentation degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and attended the Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology. "It is critical to know where your raw materials are coming from and as much as possible about them and the growing conditions. Water, malted barley, hops and yeast all work together to make beer, but how we work with them and control the process is the difference between 'just beer' and 'great beer.' The scientist in me comes out when I start to talk about beer. I could go on and on."

Typically, Mountain Tap has about 12 brews on tap featuring a wide variety of everything from a crisp hoppy German-style pilsner to a Lager and even a "Passionate Pedal," a crisp refreshing wheat beer.

In celebration of its one-year anniversary, Mountain Tap will feature the specially brewed Anniversary IPA brewed with seven grains, seven hops and 7 percent alcohol to celebrate the fact they opened on July 17, 2016.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@steamboattoday.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1