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.