Tap into this: Aspen Brewing Co.’s steady expansion feeds wider appetites
IF YOU GO ...What: Aspen Tap Where: 121 South Galena St. Winter menu: 12 to 10 p.m. daily More info: aspentaproom.com; @aspenbrewingcompany
BITES + BREWSAspen Brewing Co. founder Duncan Clauss suggests these prime pairings at Aspen Tap: Croque Monsieur + Cloud 9 Saison “A Belgian-style beer, the unique clove and coriander flavors pair well with funky cheese, specifically Gruyère on top of the Croque Monsieur.” Bacon Mushroom Swiss Burger + Brown BearAle “Brown Bear has a sweet and roasty flavor but finishes light and refreshing.” Aspen Street Tacos + Silver City Ale “Light, crisp, lemony—almost like a craft version of Corona with a lime.” Ahi Sliders + Conundrum Red Ale “Conundrum’s big, rich flavor stands up to the grilling spice on the ahi tuna and cucumber-orange soy sauce in the slaw. And it’s Aspen, we had to put sliders on there somewhere!”
When Aspen Brewing Co. founder Duncan Clauss talks about the art of crafting beer, he describes…lasagna.
“If you and I had the same ingredients—tomatoes, onion, garlic—our lasagnas are going to taste different because you’re gonna add and sauté things at different times and temperatures,” Clauss explains. “Brewing has a lot in common with cooking; it’s all about layering and structuring, each process done right. Even if a brewery down the street stole our IPA recipe, they’re not gonna know the details, the nuances, how (we) prepare it to come together to a final product.”
Considering this culinary mindset, it follows that Aspen Tap, the new-and-improved downtown tasting room under license agreement with Aspen Brewing Co., expanded into a full-on gastropub. When Clauss moved ABC’s frills-free upstairs tap room on Hopkins Avenue from the Monarch Street intersection to the corner of Galena Street a year ago in December, the venue grew in size nearly threefold. Now the drinking den comprises a light-filled 2,000 square feet with indoor seating for 65 and even more tables on the sunny, south-facing patio.
The former home of Peach’s Corner Café, its back wall knocked down to a salon next door, had a complete kitchen in place already; equipment was ready to fire up following dining room renovations. Now ordering a pizza to the bar or walking in with a dozen wings to pair with cold ABC pints is but a fuzzy memory from two blocks away.
Expanding to a restaurant was a natural next step for Clauss, who as a brewer has a very specific vision for Aspen Tap’s simple menu of all-day fare: “Alpine gastropub, winter food for après-ski.”
That means solid eats to soak up 14 beers on draught—four more tap lines than the old spot, some pouring exclusive ABC microbrews not served or sold elsewhere. It’s bar food made with good Colorado ingredients when possible: a classic Croque Monsieur paired with tomato soup; mac and cheese with country ham and mushroom Duxelles; a sourdough club sandwich; and a grass-fed beef burger topped with bacon, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese. Street tacos stuffed with pulled chicken on Tortilleria La Roca corn shells have been one of the most popular orders since day one, but Clauss ended up nixing a beer marinade to turn them gluten-free.
Winter thus far has been all about refinement: Clauss added an enormous nachos platter; a winter salad with Asian pear, blood orange and goat cheese; ahi tuna sliders (pictured above) to swap out for a popular summertime tuna poke bowl; and the option to add oven-roasted truffle fries to any sandwich. Year-round staples include a cheese and charcuterie board, house-made soft pretzel batons, seasonal grilled Portobello sandwich, and Mediterranean tapenade and hummus crostini (inset photo).
Aspen Tap also offers eight wines by the glass, a selection of whiskey, classic cocktails, coffee, kombucha and other nonalcoholic beverages—a crucial draw for folks who might have avoided the original tap room for lack of options aside from beer and water. Aspen Tap’s sheer size provides ample room for group gatherings, events such as ski-industry parties and gear/art showcases, stand-up performances (The Brewery Comedy Tour on Feb. 13), and live music, plus plenty of wall space for local photography.
“This was a big step for Aspen Brewing Co. in terms of location and presence in town,” Clauss says. “We’re trying to build on the community focus: a casual, warm, and inviting place.”
Last year, Clauss celebrated a full decade as the driving force behind ABC, which maintains an 8,000-square-foot production facility in the Aspen Business Center about 4 miles west of Aspen Tap. Made by a crew of five full-time employees, ABC’s portfolio has racked up numerous awards since 2008, including Gold medals at the World Beer Cup for Cloud 9 Saison in 2014 and super-hopped Independence Pass Ale IPA in 2016.
In recent years ABC has experimented with barrel-aged beer, including imperial stout aged in Breckenridge bourbon barrels and red ale aged in Woody Creek Distillers rye barrels.
“It’s been fun for us to expand the beer program,” Clauss says. “We’ve increased production, (are) growing with distribution throughout Colorado, and expanded our specialty beer passion projects. You can come in (to Aspen Tap) and have anything that we’re making. At least half the beers here you can’t have anywhere else.”
While running a restaurant has certainly created new challenges—Aspen Tap has drawn a couple of head chefs over the past year, though they have helped distill the menu available today—Clauss is confident in his team of seven cooks who have made dishes their own.
“It’s fun to work with these guys because all of the staff has worked in kitchens and restaurants around town,” Clauss notes. “We have a consistent team.”
With big beer-drinking crowds dropping in this weekend, and plans to host parties with Aspen-favorite mountain brands in the works, Aspen Tap is settled comfortably into its sophomore winter.
“X Games is nuts,” quips Clauss, who welcomes revelers from Buttermilk during winter’s busiest sporting event. “It’s like Christmas and New Year’s all over again.”
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