guest enjoying a fresh-brewed pint and a fire on the patio at Coldwater Brewery in Tahoe

Building Sandboxes: Loving from-scratch at Coldwater Brewery

By Rae and Troy Matthews


We at Elevation Eats feel a special connection to Coldwater Brewery. Coldwater opened its doors the same week we moved to Tahoe, in the fall of 2014. We were one of Coldwater’s first customers. We didn’t know too many people in town yet, but Coldwater felt like home for us. Delicious “California comfort” food? Check. Craft beer selection made in-house? Check. Giant TV on the wall? Check. Coldwater is everything you want in a local brewery restaurant. Owner Debbie Brown, Executive Chef Justin Kaplan, Brewmaster Ryan Parker, and their stellar staff have picked up the banner of South Shore cuisine and are leading it forward ever fearlessly. We had the chance to sit down with Debbie Brown to find out what makes Coldwater flow.

“I’m that girl with the dream,” says Brown. “I have been waiting and wanting for over 21 years to open my own business.” Debbie Brown moved to Tahoe 23 years ago and has been involved in Tahoe’s food industry ever since, working everywhere from Sierra-at-Tahoe to Camp Richardson. She has witnessed first-hand as the Tahoe food scene has struggled to take root. But as many have noticed, the last couple of years have seen a new wave of innovative restaurants and, of course, breweries. “I’d like to consider ourselves to be the forerunners of [the brew scene],” says Brown. “I think for me, it was about the scratch element. It was about being all-grains. We’re an all-grains brewery.”

Working from scratch is what Coldwater is all about. The food and the beer are created side by side (the fermenters are actually in the kitchen) from their raw ingredients up. There are no frozen food bags. “Opening up a bag and pouring it into a pot, that’s…that’s just not it… There had to be something richer. There had to be something that we could celebrate.” Brown and Kaplan rotate the menu twice a year. Their winter menu, which debuted this past December, has 16 new menu items. This allows for constant creativity in the kitchen. Brown believes is giving credit where credit is due, “I mean what Justin Kaplan has brought from a food standpoint …he’s won [Sample The Sierra] two years in a row … and he’s asking everyone to raise their bar… And what makes Ryan an amazing brewer… It’s really about balance. It’s about that whole glass filling up and being rich all the way through, right? And I really believe that Ryan’s got balance.”

But Brown doesn’t let them have all the fun. “I get to be the orchestrator.” Everything in the restaurant has her personal touch, including the tables. “I built all the tables,” she says, laughing. “Yeah, I didn’t have enough money to buy tables so every table in the restaurant I built in my driveway.”

We got a chance to sample some of the new cuisine from the winter menu. Brown was all too happy to show it off. “We’ve got a really beautiful flatbread spiced apple brie dish that’s really fun. It’s an appetizer dish. The beet salad that we’re doing, it’s a winter beet salad. It’s different than our summer. It’s more classic. It’s a beautiful dish,” says Brown. “The exciting thing is we are doing a house-made veggie burger that is beyond incredible. It is rice, black beans, and quinoa that goes through a robot coupe, and then we’re adding a sautéed bell pepper and artichokes… and then it’s going to have tzatziki sauce with fresh cucumbers on it.”

guest enjoying a fresh-brewed pint and a fire on the patio at Coldwater Brewery in Tahoe
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