In 2018, Blue Corn Brewery seemed like quite the dark horse when it won the New Mexico IPA Challenge. To many, it was a win that seemed to come out of nowhere. Seemed, being the operative word. But, why wasn’t it thought of as a major contender?
Perhaps it’s because Blue Corn is mostly known as that cozy little neighborhood staple (at their Southside location), keeping things just safe enough for the steady stream of regulars to come back every week. Or, perhaps that statement is entirely wrong, and we’ve just forgotten that Blue Corn has been making great IPAs (and other beer styles) for years.
Blue Corn has always kept talent working on the brewhouse. Brewers like John Bullard (Bosque Brewing Co.) and James Warren (Santa Fe Brewing Co.), to name a couple Blue Corn alumni, are fine examples of that. Even Marble Brewery president/brewmaster Ted Rice started at Blue Corn as an assistant brewer back in the late 90s. But, it’s because Blue Corn has consistently stacked the deck, and it’s because these talented brewers are given room to grow, and carte blanche on the brewhouse, that they’re able to produce big, great, and award-winning beers on the regular, hitting all the hoppy high notes that the beer-geek-favorite breweries do. And, in turn, Blue Corn makes great brewers out of newcomers and incoming assistants.
Blue Corn regularly sees a changing of the guard, be it in management, or even with chefs and brewers. But, instead of having to overcome huge obstacles associated with change, this time, the transitions were smooth. And, with Paul Mallory still in charge of the tanks, BCBC seems to be hitting its stride and cruising into the new year with higher hopes than before.
In order to get the story on what Blue Corn Brewery’s been up to and what direction they’ll be headed in for 2019, I sat down with Paul and brand-new assistant brewer Dominic Crandall.
As mentioned, Blue Corn had a solid 2018, punctuated by a big win at the IPA Challenge.
“(This year) we had a little bit of increased popularity, increased sales,” Mallory said. “As far as making exciting beer styles, we tried our best.”
Winning the IPA Challenge is definitely the highlight of the year for Blue Corn, he said.
“I think it really had a lot of people re-visit Blue Corn,” Mallory said. “A lot of people have already made up their mind about Blue Corn, so it was nice to have people feel compelled to come in and try our beer once again.”
Back in July, Blue Corn beat out the competition with Gatekeeper IPA at the culmination of the Brewers Guild IPA Challenge at the brand-new Bosque North facility in Bernalillo.
Riding the Gatekeeper wave, Blue Corn didn’t have too many low points in 2018. If it could in fact be called a low point, it might have been when assistant brewer Andy Lane moved on to Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery. But, Mallory only calls it a personal low-point, as he quite enjoyed working with Lane.
“He and I felt like he had outgrown the space here, which I’m really proud that we were able to sort of push him out,” Mallory said. “I think he’s ready for bigger and better things. So it’s (still) a bit bittersweet to lose him.”
Together, Lane and Mallory worked on a lot of interesting beers and styles in 2018.
“For most of the beers I made for the first time, a lot of the one-off batches, I think I’d still like to tweak one or two things,” Mallory said. “But, generally I’m happy with them. But, then every once in a while I did feel like I hit it right on the head on the first try. Like with this beer.”
Mallory gestured to the Scotch Ale in front of me.
“I’m pretty excited about that one,” he said. “We almost treated it like a bock. We added a lot of Munich malt, so it almost has a bock flavor to it, and of course we added the caramel that makes the Scotch Ale a Scotch Ale. It was kind of a merging of two styles. And, that technique worked out pretty well.”
Blue Corn also did a series of three different goses this year — Blueberry Gose, Pineapple Gose, and Pomegranate Gose.
“I thought they turned out well,” Mallory recalled. “We took a little lighter approach to the sourness, lighter on the salt to make them more drinkable. Those are beers I’m really trying to make for the customer. We notice they sell really well with fruit in there. I’m curious to see if we make them a little more tart next year, (if) they’ll sell faster or slower.”
Mallory’s kettle sours were among some of his favorite to make (and drink) this year.
“I also really liked the Oktoberfest,” he said. “I went on the lighter side with the color, kind of like a Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, which might even be more like a Dortmunder, something like that.”
I was fortunate enough to make it in for most of those beers, but I really wanted to talk about some of the stranger brewing trends and styles that he’d worked on. In line with the rest of the industry, this year, Blue Corn brewed a Brut IPA, a sort of champagne-meets-IPA, a style I’m still trying and failing to understand.
“I just did a little research,” he explained. “I found that people were using the enzyme on the hot side, which kind of left it with some residual sweetness. And, I’m glad I took that approach because it was dry, but not bone-dry. It’s all aroma. It kind of drinks more like a pale ale, and it’s nice and effervescent.”
Mallory explained that each new trending style is just a challenge to him. If there’s a new style, whatever it is, he simply wants to make a good, drinkable version of it.
Blue Corn also brewed a hazy IPA this year.
“We have one in the tank right now,” Mallory said. “It should be out soon. It will definitely be on the menu at the beer dinner.”
At the interview Mallory thinks it’s a bit young yet, but he’s happy with the direction it’s going in. For a while Mallory resisted brewing one, but in the end, it was the challenge of the brewing process that ultimately intrigued him to make one.
They’ll also be making their Apparition again this year, which is their white stout with coffee, cocoa nibs, and lactose. This should also be available at the Winter is Here beer dinner, scheduled for tonight at 6:30.
Blue Corn is still gaining a reputation for making great beer, but the brewery is already well-known in Santa Fe for its beer dinners. I asked Mallory how attendance was for 2018.
“I think they did well,” he said. “I think we had better attendance than last year. There seems to be a lot of excitement for them. We have a great time with them.”
Speaking of which …
Blue Corn is hosting its Winter is Here Beer Dinner. Hope you got your tickets! Here’s all the info you need if you’re headed out to join us tonight (even Stoutmeister will be there).
One major development that occurred this year that bears mentioning is the hiring of new assistant brewer Dominic Crandall back in the fall. Mallory headed to the back to finish up part of the brew they’ve been working on sporadically throughout the interview so we could talk to his new assistant.
DSBC: Where are you from Dominic?
Crandall: Originally, Southern California.
DSBC: Paul was from California. Did you know him? California must have been a tiny place, you know, like Santa Fe.
Crandall: (Laughs) I didn’t. It’s kind of a weird story coming in here. We’re both from California, have the same birthday, same goals, our girlfriends are very similar.
DSBC: You’re both very tall.
Crandall: Same size clothes. (Laughs) I was in California until about ’15, then moved to Los Alamos, graduated high school there. Right after that, moved to Kansas, learned how to machine weld, had two kids. Came back to New Mexico and started working for Bathtub Row Brewery in Los Alamos.
DSBC: Where did you start brewing? Were you a homebrewer?
Crandall: So, I started homebrewing, but I didn’t love it by any means. I actually started at Bathtub Row as a bartender. Then the brewer just got up and left. So they kind of just pushed me back there in the brewery. I wasn’t too excited about it at first, but then I started learning how it was really done, and it was completely different than a homebrew scale. And, I just fell in love with it. There’s the repetition of the brewing and the science behind it, which I love. And, now that I’m here, and it’s a little more professional, it’s even better.
DSBC: What are your favorite beers to brew, or how about drink?
Crandall: Now that I’ve been brewing with Paul, my spectrum has definitely changed. Favorite beers to drink though? Simple wheats, then probably the browns. Definitely the wheat and the complexity. People say, oh, this is light and easy drinking, but there’s a lot of stuff behind it.
DSBC: And, favorite ones to brew?
Crandall: Probably the IPAs, more technical, lot of hops. And, probably these new seasonals we’ve done, (like) the Scotch.
DSBC: What’s been your favorite beer you’ve worked on while you’ve been here?
Crandall: Probably our Black Rye (Black By Popular Demand), because we did pull all the aged-water out of the barrels and use it in the mash.
DSBC: What’s the biggest thing you hope to learn at Blue Corn and from Paul?
Crandall: I struggle with repetition, creating a good schedule, so that’s something I want to see myself get better at. But, in the long run, I would like to become a head brewer and/or start my own brewery. That’s like the big dream.
* * * * *
When Mallory returned, I asked him if he could sum up the year for us. He paused for a moment and then said, “We have a new management team, a great new chef, Chef Josh Ortiz, and I think we’re hitting our stride in the brewery. I think people are starting to notice. We’re all just excited to be in a rhythm here.”
Things are looking bright for Blue Corn as the staff heads into 2019. They’re going to keep their beer dinners going strong. In the immediate future, Mallory said they’ll be doing some bigger beers. On the docket will be … drum roll please … an imperial stout and a barleywine. They’ll be aging some more sours, not kettle sours this time around, but aged sours in the copper tanks (up front). For those, they’ll be experimenting with more Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces.
Blue Corn is also aiming to do more collaborations in 2019.
“We did a few this last year, but not as many as I typically do, so I think we’re going to ramp that up a bit more,” Mallory said.
They are also in the market for more tap handles in Albuquerque.
As far out as this summer, they’ll aim to do more goses due to their popularity. And, for similar reasons, they’ll also be working on Mexican Lagers, both amber and light. So be sure to look for those as they come out.
On a personal level, Mallory said he is looking forward to do more of the brewers’ gatherings such as the P.O.E.T.S. (Piss Off Early Tomorrow’s Saturday) meetings, which are once-a-month opportunities for the Santa Fe beer and distilling industry members to get together to hang out, talk shop, and of course, drink beer. He’ll be doing more bike brewery crawls with friends. And, Mallory said he will definitely be adding onto his Santa Fe home and working on his shed as the weather improves, something he takes a lot of pride in.
When Stan Hieronymus spoke at the technical conference in Albuquerque, he said a few things about hops and brewing IPAs that stuck with Mallory.
“I pretty much do only bittering hops and knockout hops,” Mallory said. “I don’t do any 5-, 15-, 30-minute hop additions. And, I also boil at a lower volume and then top up with cold water so I’m putting all my ‘into boil’ hops at, I don’t know, 185-188 degrees. So I do that with all my IPAs, pale ales, all my hoppy beers.”
Those tips came before the IPA Challenge.
2018 was a great year to reaffirm that Blue Corn is still headed in the right direction. You should make 2019 your year to get to know them better, or get reacquainted with them. If you haven’t made the trip out to the brewery, there’s no better time than now. Gatekeeper IPA is back on tap (while supplies last), and there are definitely some exciting brews flowing down the pipeline.
For me, Blue Corn Brewery is definitely one of my go-tos here in Santa Fe, as there’s always something new to try on the rapidly-rotating menu. And, if that doesn’t give you the beer-geek-goose-bumps, well, I don’t know how I can help anymore. One thing is for certain, after the IPA Challenge win, they should definitely be on Burqueños radars for next year’s competition.
To a great year of success for the brewery, and to what the future holds for Mallory and crew, cheers!
For more @nmdarksidebc info and #CraftBeer news, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro.