Editor’s note: Ever have some serious issues with a particular website? Yeah, Luke feels your pain. After battling with WordPress for the better part of a week, we finally got everything working again for him. Thus, at last, we have his recap of a recent event a little later than planned. — S
Recently, James Warren celebrated his second year at Blue Corn Brewery in style. At one of Blue Corn’s famous Thursdays at the Brewer’s Table, 57 souls sat around the dining room in his honor. These brewery folks, home brewers, and beer enthusiasts came together to celebrate the brains behind Santa Fe Dining’s beer, or as he was recently named, Director of Brewing Operations. Yes, the Dark Lord of Fermentation came to us two years ago, fresh off the boat from New England Brewing Co., and since has enjoyed a lot of success brandishing the (mash) paddle for BCB.
I sat down with James just before his event to taste some of his new beers and chat about his experience in the brewhouse and out of it.
DSBC: James, it’s been two years. Congratulations.
Warren: They haven’t fired me yet. (Laughs)
DSBC: No, they haven’t. Since you’ve been here, what’s changed here at Blue Corn?
Warren: I think we’ve tried a lot of different styles of beers over these two years. We’ve had a lot of management changes. I think that Blue Corn has finally found its niche and what it is in the Santa Fe beer community. I don’t think a whole lot has changed. I hope it’s gotten better. It’s made its progression.
DSBC: In those two years, what sorts of wild things have you seen? Anything come to mind?
Warren: I’ve seen two assistant brewers covered in dry-hop, after the fermenters exploded on them. We’ve seen a lot of kettle-soured beers, which always freaks me out when I look in the kettle. It’s always one of the weirdest things you’ll see. You can probably think back. What kind of weird things have you seen around here? (Laughs)
DSBC: It was weird to see a sour program start up here. Pretty weird to see an award-winning malt liquor come out of here. It was weird to see so many aggressive and challenging beers start popping up on the chalkboard, when that wasn’t really Blue Corn’s thing in the past. With you here, we’ve seen a bit more diversity.
Warren: The sour beers have gone over well. So have the high-alcohol beers.
DSBC: Any beers that haven’t gone over so well?
Warren: I would have to say that the Cranberry Cream Ale was probably a failure of a beer. It was a lot of fun to make. It was an interesting concept, but they don’t all work. You learn what works and what doesn’t over time. We made some pretty good beers, and we made some not so good. (Laughs)
DSBC: Every brewer has mishaps with beer and the fermentation process. Did you have any that you had to save, turn around?
Warren: Well, we had the Imperial Gose, which was supposed to be a failure of a beer, but we pulled that out of nowhere.
DSBC: And, it won an award, didn’t it?
Warren: Yeah, at the North American Beer Awards. I think it won a gold or a silver in the Experimental Ale category. That was actually going to be my anniversary beer last year, when the kettle misfired and it failed. Yeah, that was a year ago, man!
DSBC: You came from New England Brewing Co., and since then, you’ve gotten to know New Mexico and our own unique brewery scene. What sort of changes have you seen in the New Mexico beer industry?
Warren: Just overall, the number of breweries out there, and the number that are finding their niche market. They’re focusing on Belgian beers and cask-conditioned beers. Everyone’s kind of finding their own thing. We’ve seen that the hop trend, I think it’s still going on in New Mexico, but I think it’s kind of plateaued. And, I see more people liking sour beers, more lagers taking shape around the state, although they’re mostly hoppy lagers, but it’s a step in the right direction of trying new things.
DSBC: And, how do you feel about the direction of our burgeoning industry?
Warren: I think our industry is taking a turn, oddly enough, towards all these taprooms. We’re deciding not to distribute a whole lot of beer. We’re deciding to open a lot of taprooms, although we’re starting to see a lot of canning coming up in the New Mexico beer industry, which I think is wonderful. The more canned beers, the better. I’m more likely to put your beer in my refrigerator if it’s in a can.
DSBC: Take note, NM beer industry. So, you’ve been working in the industry for six years, where you started at the Bru Rm at BAR in New Haven, Connecticut. How do you feel about the whole craft beer industry from what you’ve seen and what you’re seeing?
Warren: It’s exciting! There’s always new things being tried by people. We’re seeing that the really good brewers are climbing their way to the top, and the people who are struggling are separating out toward the bottom a little bit. We’re already starting to see that. It’s always fun to see what other people are up to in the industry as a whole. I’m excited to see what the next few years holds.
DSBC: You were recently elected to one of the chairs on the New Mexico Brewers Guild. Congratulations on that. What would you like to see happen within the guild?
Warren: I just want to see us create a bigger community here. We’re already pretty close to each other, but as we’re growing out into more cities in New Mexico, for instance with the Guild’s Blazin’ Brewfest down in Las Cruces (on May 7). Everything that’s happening, just making sure we all stay in touch with each other, and that we’re not afraid to ask questions from each other, and that we’re not afraid to learn from each other’s mistakes and our successes, and making sure that we’re open to share those things.
DSBC: Now, I understand that you’ve been a big proponent of the Guild, you’ve only done Guild events, as a rule.
DSBC: How would you, specifically, like to improve the Brewers Guild and the community surrounding it?
Warren: One of the things we’re looking at, with me in the Technical Chair, is coming up with a quarterly newsletter written by other New Mexico brewers about what they’re doing, how they’ve changed. You know, we’ve got some really good, seasoned brewers around this state. We got John Seabrooks at Rio Bravo, who has so many years of experience. We have Bert Boyce at Santa Fe. All these guys with a lot of experience, and I would like them to help us write little articles to share with each other. So, I want to get a technical newsletter going for the Guild. And, also trying to consolidate some of the festivals that go on, just to make the festivals we do put on bigger and better.
DSBC: For those who don’t know, what exactly is the Technical Chair, and what is your role?
Warren: People come to the Guild with any questions that they have, different things on a technical level. I will either give them the best answer I can, or put them in touch with the people they need so they could get those questions solved.
DSBC: And, will you help even home brewers with their questions?
DSBC: Let’s talk about your big anniversary dinner. You guys always do something amazing.
Warren: Chocolate pie!
DSBC: Chocolate pie! You guys have a lot of stuff on tap for tonight. Let’s talk about the beers. What are we having?
Warren: We got the Apricot Sour. So, we took the Apple Brandy barrel left over from the Barleywine when it was emptied. We took the Drone Wars Braggot from a while back and put that in there. And, we shoved in several buckets worth of local apricots and peaches, and we just let whatever was on those skins do their thing, work their magic.
DSBC: Awesome. How about the Imperial Smoked Cherry Ale?
Warren: That’s a beer that I home-brewed, probably four years ago, maybe, and I’ll give the credit to a little company called the Brooklyn Brew Shop. It was sort of a recipe they started in one of their books, thought it was crazy, dialed it up and dialed it in a little bit. Yeah, it’s kind of fun! It’s not overly smokey. It’s not overly cherry. You just get that whiff of smoke. It’s not like some of these ashtray kind of beers. And, then the cherry just comes in on that finish. Subtlety is the key to this beer.
DSBC: You’re pairing up your Roadrunner IPA with a Virginia cassoulet. Sounds like a good match.
Warren: Yeah, I always like to make sure we have one house beer on the menu. And, it’s the bread and butter of what we do. It’s the best-selling beer, and so we put it on there with the cassoulet. It’s going to be a real nice dish. It’s even got some fried chicken in there. IPA and fried chicken. Oh, yeah! Good to go!
DSBC: Tell us about the Burnt Brown Sugar Cask Stout.
Warren: Chef was the one who wanted to do the burnt brown sugar. He came up with that idea. I said that sounds wonderful, threw it in the back of my head, and walked away. Then, it actually came down to filling the cask. I was like, Chef we have a major problem. (Laughs) All the brewers out there are probably going, “Yeah, you have a major problem.” So, he’s got this pound of brown sugar, and I was like, wait a second, we can’t put that in a cask. Normally we use two ounces of sugar to prime a cask. He’s looking at a pound. So, I sat in my chair for a while and thought about it — going, I don’t know. Then it came to me, and I ran over to Jamie over at the home-brew shop, bought a pound of lacto sugar, which isn’t fermentable by brewer’s yeast, and had Chef burn that. I thought, that’ll caramelize it down real nice, so we could add that to the cask, and then I could still add normal priming sugar to it. I haven’t tapped it yet but here’s to hoping it carbonated and it tastes okay!
DSBC: James, you’ve had two fantastic years at the brewery. Let’s look ahead at another two. What do you hope for in the next two years?
Warren: Well, I’d love to see Santa Fe Dining keep growing. I’d love to see more sour beers come out of this place. I honestly don’t know what the next two years hold for me at this company.
DSBC: And, what about the next two years in the New Mexico brewing scene? What would you like to see?
Warren: Oh, man, there are a lot of things in the works. I want to see more people do what John Rowley is attempting. More small breweries that are focusing on themselves, not necessarily these nano-breweries, but ones that could just focus on their location, and their customers, and the type of beer they want to make. They know, going in, what it is. I hate to say it, but there’s only so many IPAs that can be out there. I’d love to see an all-lager brewery come to this state. I think that would be the most wonderful thing that ever happened. And, like I said before, more people canning. Let’s get some cans!
DSBC: James, any parting shots, as a two-year veteran in our craft beer industry?
Warren: Go out and try new things. Be adventurous. Show your brewers you can be more adventurous, so we can be more adventurous in our brewhouses, too.
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Congratulations, James. You’re a tremendous brewer, wise beyond your years. You’re a creative visionary, a smart businessman, and a good friend to us in the community. Thanks for the beer. To many more years of fermenting the good stuff in New Mexico, cheers!