Checking in with Blue Corn Brewery during the era of COVID-19

Things have been quiet of late for one of Santa Fe’s older brewpubs.

What’s up with Blue Corn Brewery? That’s been the gist of many of the questions I’ve received lately about one of Santa Fe’s elder breweries. For a while, during the thick of the pandemic, they had remained open at their south side location for takeout only, forgoing the chance to open up their large dining rooms and patio spaces to the public at the various percentages as allowed by public health order.

For a good while, you could get your Blue Corn fix of food and beer to go, but toward the beginning of August, it seemed like almost all at once, their doors had closed for good, all social media went dark, and kegs were drying up at various off-site accounts. The website merely said, “Closed for renovations.”

Well, OK, I suppose what better time to close the brewpub for renovations than a time like this? It wasn’t worrisome, until someone in the industry asked me if Blue Corn was still going to be a brewery when they opened up again. It sounded a little paranoid to me, but it sparked a question I couldn’t extinguish so easily. Blue Corn is owned by the large restaurant group, Santa Fe Dining, and it’s fair for a beer geek to worry that a major renovation could change the business to something a board of directors deem more profitable post-pandemic than, say, a brewery.

Perhaps it was paranoia, but I had questions. Santa Fe had questions. Why was all the beer gone? Was head brewer Paul Mallory still brewing? We knew they planned to open again, but when they do, will beer still be their thing? And, of course, when will they reopen?

A few weeks ago I bumped into Mallory at Susan’s Fine Wine and Spirits as he put the last of his then-fresh kegs on tap. We talked a little bit, and the both of us agreed it was time for the Dark Side Brew Crew to catch up with Blue Corn Brewery, and find out what exactly was up. This past week, via email, I traded a few questions for some highly sought-after answers.

DSBC: With indoor capacity restrictions back up to 25 percent, why has Santa Fe Dining upper-management chosen to keep the doors closed? 

Mallory: Actually, the decision was made to keep the doors closed because of remodeling, rebranding and required repairs. The “dine-in” restrictions and small patio were also contributing factors.

DSBC: Will there be another rebranding effort for Blue Corn Brewery?

Mallory: Yes, there will be another rebranding effort coming up before we open.

DSBC: Will the old Blue Corn Brewery continue to be a brewery when the doors open again to the public?

Mallory: Yes, and with even more focus and emphasis on the brewery.

DSBC: When did you start brewing again?

Mallory: I started brewing again in early August after not brewing for about five months due to COVID.

DSBC:  Which beers did you brew first?

Mallory: I started by brewing our New Mexican Lager. I also brewed a Berliner Weisse, our NM IPA Challenge entry, and a fresh batch of the Road Runner IPA.

DSBC: What does your brewing schedule look like now?

Mallory: Our sales are still quite a bit lower than usual, so I’m not brewing as often as I was. Also, since it is only me in the brewery.

DSBC: And when you’re not brewing? What else are you doing for Blue Corn?

Mallory: I’m acting as brewer, salesmen, delivery guy, everything really.

DSBC: Can you tell us about the core beers, seasonals, and specialities?

Mallory: I used the break due to COVID to rearrange my beer offerings. For core beers we’ll have the Road Runner IPA, Berliner Weisse, Mexican Lager (which is very similar to what we previously called the Atomic Blonde), and the Oatmeal Stout. We may have a hazy IPA we call Hoppy Bunches of Oats as a core coming up, as well. The Gatekeeper, Honey Wheat, and Brown Ale may be brewed seasonally.

As for seasonal beers, we currently have the Parapraxis IPA (our IPA Challenge entry), Round Midnight Imperial Stout, Honey Ginger Kolsch, and Whiteout Stout. We’ll be releasing our Oktoberfest very soon, as well.

For specialties, we have a few beers aging currently for later release dates. We have a 12-percent ABV huge imperial stout aging in whisky barrels, and we have a mango lime saison aging on a mixed brettanomyces culture. Those both should be released early next year.

DSBC: Where did you get inspiration for the beers?

Mallory: I think my inspiration for the new beers is just a backlog of a few beers I had been wanting to brew ever since COVID hit. My Berliner Weisse was the one I was most excited about. I was inspired by the German tradition of adding flavoring to the beer at the bar. So, I brewed a base sour and didn’t add any flavorings to the fermenter. When someone orders a beer, they get to choose which puree to add to the beer. We add a squirt of the flavoring to the glass, then top it up with the sour, just like in Berlin. But, of course, I ran with the idea and have much larger variety of flavorings than traditionally seen in Berlin. Also, I soured the beer in the fermenter and never pasteurized it, so it has all the probiotics. It is a live beer. I had never done that before, but it turned out really nice.

DSBC: Are you making any changes to the cores?

Mallory: We chose to makes some changes to the core. We are brewing the Honey Wheat, Brown Ale, and the Gatekeeper IPA less often than before. We’ll be brewing certain beers seasonally or semi-seasonally. This will allow us to focus on what styles are in season. Maybe we’ll have a winter lager each year, or a seasonal IPA on at all times. We’re using this time to reinvent our menu and see how customers react. Everything will come down to how our customers respond. We’ll make adjustments from there.

DSBC: The IPA Challenge just went down. Tell us about your IPA Challenge beer. How did you come up with this one?

Mallory: We’re calling this year’s entry to the IPA Challenge the Parapraxis IPA. It is a super hoppy, but well balanced IPA, weighing in at 7.7-percent (ABV). We brewed with a bunch of Simcoe and Mosaic. I’m really excited about it. People who enjoyed the Gatekeeper, our entry from the last few years, will really enjoy this one, as well. It is similar in hop profile, alcohol, bitterness, etc.

DSBC: With the renovation to the building, can we expect to see any renovations to the menu as well?

Mallory: Yes, major changes — it is going to be a wonderful addition to Santa Fe community and outskirts.

DSBC: And when Blue Corn opens up again, will there be any changes to brewery staff?

Mallory: I’m hoping we can increase our sales enough to justify bringing back an assistant and delivery driver.

The brewpub will reopen in phases, starting in late October/early November.

DSBC: Is there anything Santa Fe Dining would like the public to know about the effects COVID-19 has had on its business practices or future plans?

Mallory: Like all businesses in America, and restaurants/bars/breweries in particular, we have had to alter, reshuffle, and learned not to take anything for granted. Taking a “one day at a time” approach, trying to maneuver around all the new constraints, most of all putting our team members’ and patrons’ safety above all by taking every precaution possible.

DSBC: And finally, when can we expect the brewery/cafe to reopen?

Mallory: We plan to reopen the brewery in phases, and phase one of our operation is expected to reopen by late October, early November.

* * * * *

Blue Corn Brewery will be back soon. In the meantime  you can pick up a growler fill or crowler of their latest offerings at Susan’s Fine Wine and Spirits, and they’re on draft at New Mexico Hard Cider, Fire and Hops, Rooftop Pizza, and La Casa Seña as well. To more good news from the Santa Fe craft brew scene, and to your health, cheers!

— Luke

IPA Challenge 2020. Yeah, I don’t know either…

For more @NMDarkSideBC news and unfiltered Untappd beer reviews, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro.

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