Triple Aces: Sourdough pizza + suds + sun to soothe us
When Robert Regan became head chef at Aspen Tap last November, his first order of business was to bring in reinforcements. He installed a pizza oven that runs around 600 degrees Fahrenheit and, with help from sous chef Billy Nick, began feeding a sourdough starter daily to launch a streamlined menu of sourdough pizza from the taproom’s notoriously small kitchen.
Four months later, when the novel coronavirus hit Aspen, pizza would save the day.
Though restaurants were ordered to close for dine-in service in mid-March, Aspen Tap started selling pizza (plus six-packs and growlers of Aspen Brewing Company beer) for takeaway. Taster’s Pizza had closed in August 2019; Domino’s skipped town as soon as the crisis hit. Once establishments serving food were allowed to reopen in May, Aspen Tap became a breezy, boozy destination for comfort fare. Because really, what’s more reassuring during tough times than the classic American combo of pizza and beer?
“We sold 2,600 pizzas in July versus 1,200 in January, which was a record-breaking month at the time,” Regan explains. “Of course, the pizza concept was new, but January (with X Games) was the busiest month this place had ever seen. July crushed it.”
Aspen Tap’s corner location on Galena Street and Hopkins Avenue, with ample patio seating and a wall of windows for sunshine to reach diners sitting indoors on a nearly 2,000-square-foot footprint, allows patrons to stay distanced while socializing. That it takes just five minutes to prep and cook each 12-inch pie helps, too. September, as it turned out, was the gastropub’s second-busiest month.
“We make dough every single morning, about 10 batches or 150 pizzas per day,” Regan continues. “It’s 70 to 80 degrees, even on the far side of the kitchen, a perfect environment for growth, so (dough) fermentation occurs very quickly. The tricky part: Making sure that when guys are making the dough they are instantly refilling ‘the mother.’”
Now 11 months into serving sourdough, Aspen Tap features about five classic pies plus a few seasonal selections, as well as vegan and dessert pizzas; three salads (one with house-made Caesar dressing, “one of my favorite recipes,” Regan quips); and signature snacks including roasted red pepper bruschetta and spiced nuts. A Pennsylvania native who worked in Italian restaurants during his formative years, Regan brings that East Coast influence here. For instance, he layers vodka sauce on his bestselling pepperoni pizza.
Meanwhile, Aspen Brewing Company head brewer Scott Kimball, who has run production at the Aspen Business Center facility for about a year, anticipates more seasonal launches poured exclusively at Aspen Tap. In a tourist mecca, Kimball enjoys hearing how customers relate ABC beer to that of other brewers across the country.
“We’ve been doing a lot of fun, hoppy stuff and it’s been selling pretty quick,” says Kimball, who was the founding brewmaster of Triple C Brewing Company in Charlotte, North Carolina, for seven years before moving to Eddyline Brewery in Buena Vista, Colorado. Currently he’s working on combining ABC’s bestselling Ajax Pilsner and hazy Excess in Moderation brew to create a 5.3% lager flavored with “hearty malt, a citrusy aroma, very low bitterness…I think we’re gonna call it ‘Locals’ Lager,’” he adds. “It’s one that, as a brewer, I’m excited to drink.”
Until then, try these primary pairings at Aspen Tap:
Pepperoni + Independence Pass Ale IPA
Layered with spicy vodka sauce and fresh mozzarella, chef Regan’s pepperoni pie represents about 1 in every 4 pizzas sold. Alongside ABC’s flagship brew—a staple since the company launched in 2008—it’s the ultimate introduction. “Classic is the exact word for it, it’s a more traditional IPA,” Kimball says of the beer. “Full body and caramel sweetness pairs well with the pepperoni, though it’s 7 percent (ABV), which can catch up on ya.”
The Aspenite + Excess in Moderation
Even the names together sound like perfection in paradise. “My go-to is definitely our Excess in Moderation hazy IPA—I’m sipping on one right now,” says Kimball, who pairs this “new age” juicy brew with Regan’s signature pie topped with Hatch green chile, house-seasoned sausage and freshly made ricotta, and a drizzle of chile-infused olive oil on a red-sauce base. “Hoppy beer can actually make food (seem) even spicier.”
Sopriza + Moon Eyes Juicy IPA
Chef Regan’s fall favorite combines roasted mushrooms, pork soppressata, rosemary, and arugula on a base of garlic cream in “a foresty-flavored kind of pizza.”
According to Kimball, 8% ABV double IPA Moon Eyes “is the heaviest-hopped beer that I’ve made in my year here in Aspen.” It’s got a lip-smacking mouthfeel and haze from the residual oils in the Mosaic, Simcoe, and El Dorado hops, plus a mildly sweet finish. “I get a lot of pineapple,” Kimball notes, “but there’s no actual fruit in there.”
Salad + Ajax Pilsner
“If you’re not looking for a big, hearty pizza and a double IPA, this is at the opposite end of the spectrum,” Kimball explains. Try Aspen Tap’s creamy house Caesar salad or seasonal “Brewduh Bowl,” now with quinoa, yams, black beans, pumpkin hummus, arugula, apple, and maple dressing with “super light, refreshing, and crisp” 5.6 percent ABV pilsner.