As we inch closer to March, we find ourselves nearing the end of our Look Back/Look Ahead Series, but the Dark Side is not quite finished yet. For this edition, I seized upon the rare opportunity to meet with the men still making the magic at Blue Corn Brewery all the way up here in Santa Fe. As you can imagine, brewers and banker’s schedules don’t pair half as well as Chef Josh’s food and brewers Paul and Dom’s beer, but with a little scheduling magic, we were able to make it happen at long last.
Last Friday, I sat down with head brewer Paul Mallory and assistant brewer Dominic Crandall to talk about the creative vibes flowing through the taps in 2019, and find out what they have in store for us in 2020, as well as get the low-down on a couple big upcoming events that you should definitely not miss.
“2019 was good. I think we brewed a lot of interesting and exciting styles,” Mallory said. “It’s always nice to see an increase in production, too. It kind of corroborates that your customers are responding to what you’re doing.”
In 2019, Blue Corn saw a 10-percent increase in production, meaning they had to fill tanks frequently drained by thirsty, happy customers that much faster. 2019 was another year of good, steady growth, both on the brewhouse and beyond for Mallory and Crandall. They brewed a lot of the styles on their list, as well as hitting a few major personal goals along the way.
In the brewhouse, it was all about the beer styles that Mallory and Crandall got to brew and experiment with.
“It was nice that we got to do some more ‘hazies’ this year, explore that a bit more, and get our haze to actually stay in there, and really get the flavors we were looking for,” Mallory said.
Another brewing highlight for Mallory was his Whiteout Stout. It’s a beer he’s been refining every year since he came up with it. In 2019, it came in third at the Stout Invitational up in Los Alamos, something which must have been quite a feat, given it’s less-than-traditional, shall-we-say, coloration. Think pale ale in color, but rich, roasty, and coffee-forward in flavor. Mallory assured us that Whiteout Stout will be back on tap soon for you to enjoy.
For Crandall, he was very pleased to brew a couple different styles in 2019 as well.
“I was really happy with Fustercluck Orange Hibiscus Wheat,” Crandall said. “That one turned out pretty well. I think it sold fairly well. I just think it’s kind of a different style, and people are sort of creatures of habit as far as Blue Corn goes, but everyone liked it.”
Crandall also recalled making a Simcoe SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) IPA that he enjoyed, but it came out a little bit different than how he’d originally envisioned.
“I was hoping to showcase the Simcoe hop more, but the Vienna (malt) kind of overpowered it with its white grape ester,” Crandall said. “But, I’m coming to learn that Vienna just has that (ester), and I can taste it whenever I brew with it.”
But, that’s part of the ongoing experience and training that he’s been receiving from Mallory since joining the team just over a year and a half ago. In that time, Crandall has been able to brew a ton of different styles with Mallory. Fortunately for him, that’s just how their brewing schedule works at Blue Corn.
“Every two weeks we get to come out with a new beer, and that’s a good rate. Any crazy ideas, we get to put into play pretty quickly,” Mallory explained.
Another highlight for Mallory in 2019 was a big collaboration Blue Corn did with Ghost Town Brewing, from West Oakland, California. Mallory told us that he used to work for Ghost Town back in the day, and he’s still maintained some of his friendships.
In 2019 ,three of Ghost Town’s brewers came to Santa Fe and brewed a batch with Mallory and Crandall, and Mallory made a trip out to Oakland to return the flavor. They brewed two IPAs, more New Mexico style, so we’ll say more hop-forward, and out in Oakland, they brewed an IPA that was more San Francisco style, meaning juicy and not at all bitter, which would not go unappreciated by the fans of that style out in the Bay Area.
Other beer highlights of 2019 worth mentioning were Blue Corn’s Scotch Ale, Barley Rye Wine, and Black Thought IPA, all big bold beers that warmed the coldest of hearts. And, the Russian Imperial Stout is currently brooding away in a brite tank, just waiting for a tap to free up. I offered to help that process along after work, of course.
“We’ll probably tap it next week,” Mallory added. “I think it’s tasting really nice, and that’s the one we entered in the Stout Invitational this year, and it got a good amount of votes. I think we got fifth, which isn’t really anything to write home about, but at least people are giving it some votes and responding to it.”
On the record, Blue Corn also experimented with some of that batch, imperializing the Imperial Stout. Say what!?
“We did two mashes, a long boil, got our gravity way up there. We also mashed a little bit higher, that way the finishing gravity was high. It’s a beer that’s completely undrinkable (for now),” Mallory said.
They plan to put this beer in barrels with the idea that the tannins in the oak will balance out the extreme sweetness with a little time. That beer very well could be out by the time I do next year’s Look Back/Look Ahead.
In 2019, Blue Corn Brewery didn’t hit any major storms, but they sure felt a few strong gusts from above, as there were some major changes in direction at Santa Fe Dining, like CEO and Vice President.
“We kind of just kept going, rolled with the punches,” Mallory said. “Santa Fe Dining always has change; they’re always opening and closing things. I feel like our job is just to keep the ship afloat, beer-wise. At the very least, we just keep the beer consistent, so people know what they’re going to get.”
So far the new Santa Fe Dining team has been supportive of the brewery, and that’s pretty much all we can hope for as beer fans.
Blue Corn has a lot of projects currently in the works. A lot of it is currently pre-spring cleaning, which may not be the glamorous side of brewing, but it is necessary, especially when this particular type of cleaning is making room for Blue Corn’s biggest news of 2020.
In 2020, Blue Corn’s biggest project upping their capacity with more fermenters. As you know by now, more available tank space means more new beers, more often, and more opportunities for Mallory and Crandall to try more of their crazy ideas like imperializing the already imperialized.
“Blue Corn’s brand is stronger than it used to be,” Mallory said. “I think we’ve done some good things to get people excited about Blue Corn again, like our marketing and new tap handles, other things (like the availability of crowlers!) to sort of revive the brand, and that’s led us into the ability to increase production. More fermenters will give us the ability to brew what we want and maybe not sell out of our lager in the summer.” (Laughs)
Blue Corn has plenty of fresh and a few funky ideas for 2020. If you’re wondering what they have in the big copper brites out front, they’ve currently got a sour and a farmhouse ale that will be tapping in no time.
For 2020, Blue Corn already has a few events they’re excited about. The closest one is coming up in a couple of days!
The End of Winter is Near … Beer Dinner!
This Thursday, Blue Corn is hosting its first beer dinner of the year at the Southside location. This four-course event will showcase some of Chef Josh Ortiz’s most delicious creations. It is always a bit more amped-up cuisinal artistry than the typical pub grub menu, with items like Patagonian pink shrimp, BBQ bison brisket, and chocolate-covered coconut custard paired with some of Mallory and Crandall’s best winter warming beers. The dinner is $45 per person in advance, $50 day of. You can still make reservations at (505) 438-1800.
Annual Cask Festival
Coming up in March, Blue Corn is once again hosting its annual Cask Festival. The event is from noon to 4 p.m. and will feature nine of our local breweries all from north of La Bajada hill. Your ticket will get you samples of all the breweries’ beers, discounts on Blue Corn’s special food menu, and you’ll have access to all the brewers that make the beer. You’ll be able to chat them up, ask them questions … even make suggestions if you so feel inclined. As always, we’ll have more on the event like brewery and beer lists as we get closer to it. Save the date for Saturday, March 21.
On the personal side, 2019 felt like a landmark year for the duo.
“Fulfilling most of my goals for in-house work was a big accomplishment this year,” Crandall said. “Last year, I talked about recipe formulation and just prepping to take this profession to the next level, and Paul has really nailed it on getting that information in my head. I think, as of right now, I’m ready to take it on.”
Quite outside the brewhouse, Crandall, made a huge move in 2019. He moved out of Santa Fe to a cabin in the Jemez Mountains. And, although the commute isn’t what either would call the most ideal, Mallory said, Crandall never misses a day, and is never late.
For Mallory, 2019 was the year he got permitting for and broke ground on the new 1,200-square-foot casita he’s building in his back of his property.
“It’s going to be a passive solar house, built out of adobe bricks. We’re about done with the foundation, and the bricks should be going up probably around early summer. I’ve never done anything like it, so every step of the way has been a really big win,” he said.
There may not be any earth-shattering revelations for Blue Corn in 2020 like new taprooms or distribution, but you can bet with a few more fermenters, there will be plenty of ground-breaking news coming from Blue Corn Brewery and its production team. Blue Corn is making around 800 barrels a year and growing.
To Blue Corn’s continual growth, success, and great beer, cheers!
Luke is a Santa Fe beer writer covering the Santa Fe area and northern part of New Mexico whenever he can get away from work.