The challenge to Blue Corn’s future (Part 2)

Posted: October 29, 2015 by Luke in Beer in Santa Fe, Interviews, News
Tags:
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Things are still looking good for Blue Corn.

A couple months ago, I posted an article about the Challenge to Blue Corn’s Future. I wrote about a great craft beer-centric manager leaving the restaurant/brewery, and the huge void that would remain, unless his replacement was up to the task of keeping craft beer a priority. In the restaurant and brewery business, sometimes food sales can take precedence, and even beer brewed in-house can take a backseat to the bottom line. A manager has a lot of influence on beer’s prominence, and ultimately its place in the brewpub. I wanted to know exactly what was in store for the future of craft beer at one of my favorite local haunts, and so I sat down and had a beer with Randy Ropek, the new manager of Blue Corn Brewery.

DSBC: Where did you work before Blue Corn?

Ropek: I’ve worked eight years with Santa Fe Dining. I spent eight years at Rio Chama, and then I left for about 3 and a half years where I worked for Vinaigrette, but I’ve been back for about 5 months now.

DSBC: What is your craft beer background?

Ropek: I’ve spent a lot of time at Rio Chama; it wasn’t necessarily about the beer program there. They’re wine-centric, a little more, but I took the time to study and take the sommelier level 2 exam. And beer and wine, you’ll see a lot of similarities in the sales, the marketing, and the pairings. But, I like beer. It’s funny, whenever I’m out, even with the sommelier certification, I drink more beer than I do wine. A lot of that comes from personal experience. I just enjoy beer; I think it’s really food-friendly. And then, coming back to Blue Corn, after being away from the company for such a long time, I’m seeing and meeting the new brewer and seeing what he’s doing, I’ve taken kind of a renewed interest and started to do a little bit of studying again, just so I can be up on my beer knowledge.

DSBC: How do you keep in the beer game? Do you sit down with James, taste his beers?

Ropek: Absolutely, James, frequently, will jam a beer in your face at 8:05 a.m., and we’ll talk about the profile of the beer, if it needs anything, if it needs more carbonation, less carbonation, or how it rests on the palate. With the experience that I’ve had and the language, we talk well. And so he does come to me, whenever he’s got something new coming out. We usually sit down once every two weeks and talk about what’s coming up. With the beer events that we’ve been doing on Thursdays, we try to start talking about food with those, and that’s when we get Chef involved. We’ll talk about pricing, what’s good for the consumer, levels of alcohol, serving vessels. You’re always surrounded by beer around here. It’s a constant. You’re immersed, daily, here. Beer is such a big part of our culture.

DSBC: When you hear about a 10-percent triple IPA, what goes through your head as a manager?

Ropek: We try to keep a good balance. If you look at the specialty board, you’ll see lights, you’ll see darks, you’ll see heavies, you’ll see easy-drinking, lower alcohol beers, higher alcohol beers, and also seasonal. So when something like that comes up, we know it’s going to be a short run, and we start talking about it again, you know, how are we going to feature this? How are we going to promote this particular beer? When we have something like that, during our dinners, we only do something like a 4-ounce pour because it’ll scorch your palate.

DSBC: Yeah, and then you’re not really tasting anything for the evening.

Ropek: Right, so when something like that comes on, we just try to find the right place for it. How’s it gonna fit? What’s the right concept? How are people going to enjoy it the most? How is this beer going to promote beer culture and the food at Blue Corn? That’s what we talk about when I see 10 percent.

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McLeonards Single Malt. This big, bad, near Wee Heavy is certainly a sipper! 10.1% ABV.

DSBC: What else are you doing to keep the craft beer culture alive here, and to keep this a craft-beer-centric establishment?

Ropek: There’s the beer dinners, of course, which are more formal sit-downs. Those are one thing. The patio promotions are another. We’ll do special pricing or beer releases where we’ll save a beer to be released on that day.

DSBC: Pint night is still Wednesdays.

Ropek: That’s right. And we have a marketing woman named Nicole Kuller who works up at Santa Fe Dining for us. She’s in constant communication with us about what’s going on. She’ll take the pictures and throw them up on social media.

DSBC: That’s new. And she collaborates with James on that?

Ropek: Yeah, we also have someone in-house who takes the pictures and sends them up to Nicole for her to post.

DSBC: Kind of a social media team. Nice, I always wonder how that works.

Ropek: It seems like it’s different every week, depending on what we’re trying to achieve.

DSBC: Is there anything you’d like to add about the Blue Corn team, as manager?

Ropek: James is so easy to work with. He’s so laid back, but he’s also got a great work ethic. It’s a great combination. He’s got great ideas. We like to have fun with the beers. Brown Paper Bag, that was fun. It was our first Malt Liquor.

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Brewer James Warren with his Brown Paper Bag Malt Liquor.

It’s that balance of making things that are financially conducive. And Malt Liquor was fairly inexpensive to produce because you’re using malt. He was like, “Do you think we can do it?” and I said, “Absolutely!” And so we have fun with the names. Kyle, the new assistant brewer, is starting to spread his wings a little bit. He’s been introducing more hops into the beers. He’s also worked on his fresh hops beer, the Wet N’ Wild. That was kind of his first venture, which did very well.

DSBC: That beer was delicious.

Ropek: It was! And now that we’ve got two people back there, it’s all about quality and consistency in collaboration with each other. So, I think they’re working well together. I have a great rapport with them. And Chef works very tightly with them. You see us all swinging around the restaurant all the time, they’re in the kitchen; we’re in the brewery. We just keep the lines of communication open and that just helps in every aspect.

DSBC: Regarding the future here, what can we say to the real craft beer enthusiasts, who’ve recently become excited about craft beer at Blue Corn?

Ropek: I think you can expect beers that are going to be a little bit different, stylistically true, but a little bit different. You can also see James’ character come out a lot in his beers. I would say that this is a place to come, where we of course have our five staples, sound beers that represent the styles perfectly, and then you can come and look at the four or five featured beers and really start to goof around and have some fun, and they’re all food-friendly beers, and they’re always going to change. That’s the thing is that we have such a small brewing facility back there. When you can only brew so much of something, it forces them to change it up, which is good. And James, after being here for a year, he’s only reproduced one or two beers more than once. He’s been constantly trying new things and flexing a little bit. But, if something works, he might bring it back with a few tweaks. The specialty beers will always be interesting and always be fun at Blue Corn.

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One of the current beers on tap is Blood Brothers Berliner Weisse. It’s tart and refreshing when paired with Schnitzel!

* * * * *

From what I’ve seen, Blue Corn seems to have a good system in place. The restaurant speaks to the kitchen and the kitchen speaks to the brewhouse and back and forth. They keep in constant communication and they keep the beer flowing throughout the whole process. Ropek is a more than competent replacement as manager, but what’s important is that he gets it. He sees the bigger picture and understands why beer is important to Blue Corn, and that’s what matters in his role at the brewery. Blue Corn, in my opinion, is in no danger of losing its beer-centric status, no matter who’s at the helm. From beer-friendly food, to special promotions, pint nights, and beer dinners, Blue Corn will always be about the beer first. Worry not, my craft beer friends.

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That just looks spooky. Spooky good.

Speaking of beer dinners, coming up tonight (Thursday), Blue Corn Brewery’s Southside location will be hosting a special High Gravity Dinner with four Halloween-themed courses paired with monstrous beers such as James’ Imperial Red, Good Guys Triple IPA, 2014 Russian Imperial Stout, and a Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. The dinner starts at 6:30 p.m. and it’s $40 per ghost, er, guest. Prizes will be awarded for best costumes and best beer-themed costumes. I’ll see you there!

Cheers!

— Luke

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