Pine benches and tables now fill the bays where the Yampa Valley Electric Association’s fleet of service trucks once parked, and a row of shiny fermentation tanks supplies the beers for Mountain Tap, the newest of several brewpubs to have opened in this ski town over the past few years. This one has the requisite fun factor: There’s a loft with boxes of Legos for the kids; a glittering, glass-tiled wood oven for baking pizzas and roasting chickens; and a wall of massive garage doors that blurs the line between indoors and out. But there’s something else that sets it apart: Mountain Tap’s brewer, Rich Tucciarone, is already one of the most respected names in the business.
By the time he opened Mountain Tap in July 2016, Tucciarone had logged nearly 25 years of brewing experience and earned a reputation for technical mastery. “When you apply good brewing science and maintain control over the technique, you can produce a sublime product,” says brewer John Mallett of Michigan’s legendary Bell’s Brewery. “Rich has that ability.”
Tucciarone’s training began in 1993 when he signed on to help establish Breckenridge Brewery in Denver. Though he had no brewing background—just a degree in food science and several years’ experience as a Steamboat ski bum—it took him just two years to advance to head brewer. Tucciarone moved west in 1999 to Hawaii’s Kona Brewing, where he grew the operation from 1,600 barrels to 200,000 barrels in 12 years across four different breweries. And he created Kona’s trademark flavored beers, novelties at the time, which inspired a host of imitators. “Now, there must be 20 passion fruit beers on the market,” Tucciarone says.`
Tucciarone relishes his return to hands-on brewing at Mountain Tap. “In a production brewery, you get locked into making the 10 beers you’re known for, so you really can’t experiment,” he says. Now he’s got more flexibility, and his Mountain Tap recipes range from classic to quirky. His Locals’ Lager is a German-style Pilsner, which “a lot of American brewers are scared of because they take more time,” he explains. The Current IPA is a session brew (six percent ABV) that balances hoppiness with a solid malt backbone; the Passionate Pedal is an unfiltered wheat beer with a zingy hit of tropical passion fruit.
But don’t look for the brews in cans or bottles anytime soon. Mountain Tap is so popular that drinkers are finishing off everything Tucciarone makes, leaving no surplus for broader distribution. In which case, you can consider Mountain Tap just another great reason to visit Steamboat. 910 Yampa St., Steamboat Springs, 970-879-6646