The last time I interviewed Paul Mallory, head brewer at Blue Corn, it was about his entrance into the New Mexico brewing scene. For this entry in the Look Back/Look Ahead series, Paul and I sat down to discuss some of his new creations and chat about how his first year (six months to be exact) went, and what he wants to accomplish at Blue Corn in the coming year.
Thursdays always seem like the best time to catch the head brewers at Blue Corn. Usually I head over after work, sit down at the bar, and start on a beer before they finish cleaning up from a brew day. Well, this was no different, except that I’m more excited to get back to tracking down stories for the Dark Side Brew Crew after surviving festival season for Santa Fe Brewing, and taking what I felt was a much deserved month off from all but work-related duties for November. (You earned it. — S) It’s good to be back, though. I definitely missed hunting down stories, writing up questions, talking to brewers, and geeking out on their new beers. Glad to be back, indeed!
Walking in, I said hi to my pals who work there, and took a comfy corner spot at the big copper-topped bar. Glancing around, I saw some locals, who, from second glance, could be considered regulars at most of the brewery taprooms around town. It’s always good to see them with a pint glass, no matter where they are. They’re a big part of our great craft beer community here in Santa Fe, and a big percentage of the folks for whom we write these stories, and as always, I’m proud to share the rail with them.
Paul came out from the back after a few sips of my beer, and we found a table close to where I sat recently for another excellent beer dinner put on by Blue Corn in November. Resisting the urge to gush about how much I enjoyed the food and beer at that event, I launched straight into my questions.
DSBC: How was Blue Corn’s year?
Mallory: It seems like we had a good year. We had a bit of personnel change. We got some medals at a few competitions, and I feel we continue to push the boundaries with a lot of our seasonal beers.
DSBC: Sounds like it was a good one. How about for you, personally? Was it nice coming home?
Mallory: Yeah, I really enjoyed coming home. I got a warm welcome from friends and family, of course, but also, in such a short time, the New Mexico beer industry was really welcoming, so that was really nice. I also had to make the transition from production brewery to brewpub, so that was really interesting. It took me a little while to adjust, but in the end, I’m really enjoying it. I really like the amount of new seasonal beers that we have to come out with at a brewpub. It’s really something! All of the ideas that I’ve had for a while … I got done with those pretty quickly. I had to dig a little bit deeper into my idea book.
DSBC: And, you’ve come up with some great stuff! What were some of the highlights for Blue Corn this year?
Mallory: Right around the time I started, we got some medals at the North American Brewers Association Awards. We got a gold medal for the Oatmeal Stout (Category), and a silver for the American Style Brown Ale. We didn’t get an award at the New Mexico IPA Challenge, but we did pretty well with the number of votes. And, I just had a really good time making the beer, having friends and family come out to support, not only my beer, but everybody’s. So, I just had a blast doing it. I had heard about this competition, but I had never participated, so it was just a blast, and it was maybe a month or two into the job. It was really cool, because it was the most hops I’ve ever used in a beer. I think I told you that, (in) the first interview. You know, a month in, and they’re like, “Please, use twice as many hops as you’ve ever used in a beer.” I said, “Yes. Done.”
We also got a bronze medal for our Russian Imperial Stout, which you tried at the dinner, last week.
DSBC: Yeah, that was certainly medal worthy.
Mallory: We got a bronze at the Santa Fe Open, for that.
DSBC: All these competitions, whether big or small, make better brewers.
Mallory: For sure, and you know, I think we really want those bigger medals, too. And, I have no doubt we’ll get them eventually. We got good notes back from GABF. It’s just a matter of time. We’ll keep knocking at the door.
DSBC: Personal highlights?
Mallory: One thing was I got to make more lagers. At the production facility I was at before, we didn’t have a lager (yeast) strain. We didn’t have much tank space to do lagering.
DSBC: That was at Black Diamond and Ghosttown in Oakland?
Mallory: Yeah. We didn’t do any lagers there, and we did a few at Black Diamond. I think I’ve already got to do maybe three or four here now, and I love it. Anything new to me, that I have to learn, is really exciting for me.
DSBC: It was your first time at a brewpub, as opposed to the production facility, and you took over as head brewer, were there any struggles or obstacles in that six months?
Mallory: Yeah, you know, I think the adjustment of going from production to brewpub is actually easier than the other way around, because it’s almost like you’re slowing down a bit. So, the adjustment wasn’t that difficult. And then, having James (Warren) there for support has been nothing but good. Can’t say I have many complaints about the job here.
The biggest difficulty has been changes in management, and keeping everyone on the same page. But, with each new rotating manager (which is how Santa Fe dining cross-trains their employees), it becomes the head brewer’s job to make sure that the managers are on the same page when it comes to maintain the all-important craft beer culture at the brewpub. Mallory told us that his assistant brewer, Braden Oehler, has spearheaded the task of educating the employees about beer, as many assistant brewers have traditionally done in the past.
Mallory: Another big challenge is building a beer culture in Santa Fe. I feel like most people want to drink margaritas and wine, here in Santa Fe.
DSBC: That just means we have work to do. To the Batmobile, Paul! It seems like you’ve done a good job of keeping the craft beer culture alive with the beers you’ve done this year. How’s business currently? Are you keeping up with the demand from the Draft Stations?
Mallory: Yeah, it seems like early in the year, in the summertime, we were running out of one of our house beers every once in a while. And, that’s just how it is. We just have so many tanks, and that’s how it is. Right now, we’re in probably the slowest time of year, and it might be like that for a month. And then, it might be slow in January or February, so we’re kind of using that as an excuse to take on other projects. So, I have some sour critters going in the back, cropping up in some 5-gallon carboys.
DSBC: Let’s talk about those in a minute. Blue Corn’s had a good year. I remember in previous interviews, there were hints, maybe rumors at expansion, but it sounds like Santa Fe Dining has their hands full with Kellys at the moment. Can you comment on any expansion in Blue Corn Brewery’s near future?
Mallory: I think most of the expansion is with Kellys and Chama River. I can kinda comment on that, but that’s more James’ realm. All of our exciting news here at the brewpub is more beer-related.
DSBC: And, there’s nothing wrong with that! Do you have any big beer events coming up that the readers should know about?
Mallory: One big thing that’s coming up is our 20th anniversary in February.
DSBC: How about some details?
Mallory: I don’t know the day exactly, but it’s in mid-to-late February. We’re going to do two beers for it. So, we’re going to do a Parti Gyle. And what that is, is that we’re going to do one big mash and do two runnings off of that same mash. So, the first runnings are going to be really high gravity, meaning a high-alcohol beer, and the second runnings coming off are going to be a lot lower in gravity, so, a lower-alcohol beer. It’s going to be pale colored malts for the grain bill. We’re going to do a Belgian-style tripel as well as a Belgian-style table beer or a dubbel-style pale ale, something like that. And, we’re going to make a big event out of it, invite some brewers from Albuquerque to come up for brew day, just to hang out and talk shop. It’s going to be fun, but I’m a little nervous about it, because I’ve never done it before. I’m going to have to be watching all the gravities on the runnings, and do all these things I’ve never done before, and then also have people watching me possibly screw it all up.
DSBC: No pressure. By the way, how did you decide on the Parti Gyle for the anniversary beer?
Mallory: It’s interesting because we wanted to go big for the anniversary, but the president of Santa Fe Dining, said, “Well, what about … doesn’t anyone ever make an anniversary beer that’s drinkable?” And, I said, why don’t we do both from the same mash?
DSBC: I dig it. Since Blue Corn’s news is more beer related, what do you guys have for us? You mentioned sours.
Mallory: Yeah, definitely. So, we have the organisms cropping up in the back. We have some Brettanomyces and some Lactobacillus, and I think I would like to get some nice clean sours without any acidic acids or pedeo or diacetyl, stuff like that. So, the other thing that we have going for us is we have these big brite tanks in the front that you see. And, a lot of times, we try not to use them. They’re more hassle than they’re worth, to clean them, to transfer. It works out though, if we want to put sours in there, because we move it, and then we let it sit, so we don’t have to move beer in and out constantly. And then, it makes sense. And, we don’t have any risk up there of getting contamination from a barrel that we don’t know what organisms are living in there. So, hopefully we can control it, and get a nice, clean, predictable sour, and they’ll be out of the way, so I think we’ll get some good age on them, and we’ll release them when they taste good.
DSBC: I resisting the urge to call it a brite idea. It’s tough, though. I like bad puns, that’s why I work in the beer industry.
DSBC: What sort of sours are you thinking about making — lambics, framboises, American wilds, krieks? Maybe a Flanders Red?
Mallory: I guess I haven’t thought that far ahead. But, we have three tanks up there, so we could do a little bit of everything. I could envision one with both Brett and Lacto. I could also see a Berliner Weisse with just Lacto, but yeah, you’re right. The sky’s the limit. And, I’m not afraid of adding fruit to those, so we’ll see.
DSBC: So, the beer that I’m drinking right now is the Lobo Rojo. I know this beer will be available in Albuquerque at the Lobo games. How’d it get the name? Tell us a little bit about this beer.
Mallory: This is sort of a beer that we’re thinking could replace our amber, if we’re thinking of replacing our house beers. We are thinking about … should we replace one or two of our house beers? And so, this is kind of a prototype. We wanted something a little hoppier than our amber. So, the idea was to get as much malt and hop flavor into a beer that’s still low in alcohol, that you could drink a lot of. So, we have some really nice malts in there, some Maris Otter, and we also used a bunch of American hops like Mosaic and Citra. So, it has a really nice dry-hop aroma, and hopefully a really nice malty backbone as well.
DSBC: I like it. It works very well. I think it’s a little scary to hear that you may replace some of the old house beers, which have been around for a long time, but it’s exciting too, to know that you’re willing to do so. Any word on what other beer you might replace?
Mallory: Yeah, we pretty much look at our two lowest selling beers, and that is our brown and our amber. If we do anything, we would replace our amber with our red, and would replace the brown with a pale ale. We brewed a prototype for that, as well. It’s in the back; I’ll pour you off a little sample of that. And again, kind of the same idea, make it really drinkable and pack it full of flavor.
DSBC: I remember when we spoke last time, pale ales were your thing, and you wanted to make something happen with them.
Mallory: Yeah, pale ale is kind of my (stranded on a) desert island beer.
DSBC: Anything you’d like to add for the beer-drinking public of New Mexico?
Mallory: We’re going to keep pushing the boundaries with IPAs in all different ways — the malt bill, the hops, type of hops, the technique that we put the hops in. We’d also like to do some barrels, too. I think we’re shopping around to see what we can do, try to get some barrels from local sources, possibly do some collaborations, and possibly doing some collaborations with other breweries, or other local suppliers of ingredients of all sorts. Yeah, pretty much keep it interesting. Look for a little bit of everything. We’re not afraid to do big beers in the middle of the summer. We’re going to do sours, barrel-aged beers, IPAs. We’re going to really do a little bit of everything. As the beer-drinking public, we want you to come in and just trust that we’ll have something new and interesting almost every time you come in here.
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Blue Corn has been a longtime staple in Santa Fe’s craft beer community. With their long line of talented brewers that have come and gone, they’ve helped shape what craft beer is in our small town. Blue Corn’s solid list of house beers can be credited with teaching many Santa Feans and visitors what good craft beer is.
It’s no secret that the house beers have remained the same for many years now. Some have done very well both in sales and garnering medals from major competitions. This list of core beers is one that regulars do not want to see messed with, or at least, not by much. But, as the craft beer drinker has changed, and the industry has changed, perhaps it’s time for the old brewpub to change its list of ‘tried and true.’
The big news at Blue Corn next year is not expansion of brew space, but more an expansion of imagination and possibility. Most of those house beers have been on the menu for a very long time, a couple, at least, since the days of the first head brewer, Laure Pomianowski. But, with the possibility of changing two core beers that have been around quite a while, the sky is the limit on what can happen at Blue Corn, now.
What Blue Corn has done right over the years, is that they have allowed their brewers to explore and to experiment with whichever brews they want. Santa Fe Dining may be a careful parent company, but they have always trusted the brewer to do what they think is best, and in turn, that has made for more of a craft-beer-centric establishment than anything else. Aside from the two possible new house beers, it’s the new seasonals we tend to get more excited about with each visit, because there is never a shortage of them.
“Out of five fermenters right now, four of them are seasonals,” Mallory said. And, after trying Lobo Rojo, and the prototype pale ale, as well as another specialty, Apparition, a pale coffee beer (similar to La Cumbre’s Mind Phoc), I understand just why you trust the brewer, or why you choose a brewer you can trust to explore and experiment. With Paul Mallory, Blue Corn’s beer is in good hands, and I can’t wait for another great year, full of exciting seasonals to stop in and try.
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