Only a few days into the year, Blue Corn Brewery announced to the public that they were re-opening for the first time since August. They also announced that they were re-opening not as Blue Corn Brewery, but as Hidden Mountain Brewing Company. In 2020, both Blue Corn locations packed up their belongings for good, and now in 2021, a brand-new smokehouse (under the same management) is settling into the Southside location.
I recently had a pleasant, COVID-safe, socially-distanced dinner with head brewer Paul Mallory and his partner Shannon, over some delicious local Papusas and a pint of Paul’s new hazy IPA. We caught up to chat about a very weird, wild ride of a year, and he told me all about how he got through 2020, and what was in-store for his longtime beer fans under the new brewery name.
But first, Mallory was also kind enough to put me in contact with the president of Santa Fe Dining, Rick Pedram, to answer some questions I had, we all had, like why the big change?
DSBC: Why the complete rebrand of Blue Corn Brewery to Hidden Mountain Brewing Co.?
Pedram: We thought the name Blue Corn, which has been around since 1993, needed to be put away. Also, the menu seemed outdated. With our full-service liquor license as well as the brewery, we thought an upscale BBQ would “pair” itself very nicely with the brewery and the pub.
DSBC: What’s the timing of the rebrand? (Why now?)
Pedram: The pandemic had such a profound effect on the fundamentals of our business that we simply needed to revisit and rethink everything about our reopening.
DSBC: What was behind the decision to change from a long-time New Mexican cuisine restaurant to a smokehouse just yards away from the existing BBQ restaurant, The Ranch House?
Pedram: We will have nothing in common with the Ranch House. We are a brewery that serves BBQ, and we consider the Ranch House an institution that has proven itself in Santa Fe, and just wanted to offer an alternative.
DSBC: Why was the downtown location closed?
Pedram: Logistically, the Downtown location does not seem very feasible to open right now. Lack of tourists and almost zero out-of-state traffic was also a major contributing factor.
DSBC: Are there any plans for the location to be reopened under Santa Fe Dining ownership?
Pedram: We are still contemplating different possibilities.
DSBC: Where did the name Hidden Mountain come from?
Pedram: The credit goes to Erica Peters and Michael Markowitz & Associates (a brand development consultant firm).
DSBC: What was the inspiration behind it?
Pedram: The New Mexico Northern Rio Grande Valley.
DSBC: What will the biggest changes coming to the new brewery/smokehouse be in terms of events like beer pairing dinners, and specials like cask and ramen, etc.?
Pedram: Beer pairing dinners, an outdoor live entertainment venue, beer garden (no more ramen), outdoor large full animal smoked/BBQ events, etc. The identity will remain true to smoked meats, BBQ, American outdoor foods avoiding any identity confusion.
DSBC: Will the food menu evolve as dining restrictions are lifted?
Pedram: Yes, and it will also expand in the number of dishes we carry. Our days/hours of operation will go back to seven days a week. We will also be doing a brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays.
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Change in the industry is inevitable. Re-brands happen to most of our longtime veterans at some point. Think Marble Brewery, Santa Fe Brewing, or Canteen Brewhouse, just to name a few. Re-brands are usually for the better. They bring major upgrades to service, fresh polish to the pine, and new and exciting things to menus. They refresh the business.
And we welcome ‘refreshments’ as much as the next bearded beer journalists. What worried us, however, with the change-up, was whether the same quality of the beer our dare-we-say spoiled palates have come to enjoy and perhaps expect from Blue Corn might suffer.
Thankfully, that is not the case. The same award-winning beer which had consistently ‘put the public in this old public house,’ is not going anywhere, anytime soon, no matter what else is on the table.
A Quick Glance Back
Though Blue Corn Brewery was closed for half of 2020, being Blue Corn head brewer remained a full-time job. When last we caught up with Mallory, he had shared with us that he’s had to wear plenty of the hats left hanging on the hooks by some of the unfortunately furloughed employees.
When he wasn’t brewing, he was making sales, cleaning lines, cleaning kegs, and answering phones when the restaurant was still taking orders. Unfortunately, he wasn’t brewing half as much as he was doing everything else.
“I was just trying to do my best to see how much I could sell and justify brewing,” Mallory said.
But, with bars and restaurants closed, BCB’s offsite draft accounts had dried up all over town, and being the only brewing company left in Santa Fe without a canning line, it wasn’t always easy to justify making another batch.
“When things shut down for indoor seating, it was just really tough,” he said.
But, Mallory persisted. In fact, he started to do really well by mid-October, getting a few more accounts, selling enough beer to find some kind of rhythm on the brewhouse. Unfortunately, November happened, and everything shut down again, and for Mallory it was back to square one.
As it was for many others, it was a frustrating year for Mallory, business-wise.
Personally for Mallory, making it through 2020 wasn’t an easy journey either. “I’m not entirely sure I made it through unscathed,” he joked.
“It has been quite a ride,” he added. “But, working helped. I kept my job, and I’m lucky and thankful for that.”
The major project that he’s been working on for quite some time now made a lot of difference in keeping his spirits up as well.
If you haven’t read one of my Blue Corn stories in the last couple of years, Mallory and his partner Shannon are building a little casita in the back of his property.
“That kept our minds off of not being able to see friends and being isolated,” he said. “And, just being able to hunker down with my best friend and partner Shannon — that helped me get through it all.”
Heading into 2021, we in Santa Fe find ourselves with a new brewery, with a new menu. My first question certainly was, well, what’s on the menu?
To answer that we dip back about a month and a half before the brewery opened again. Mallory and the rest of the staff were just briefed about the full extent of changes that would take place before Hidden Mountain would open to the public.
Though he didn’t have much time, Mallory knew he needed to have full tanks ready for the patio opening.
“I took that as an opportunity to take out some of our older beers (styles), and replace them with some newer, more new exciting ones,” he said.
Take a look for yourself as to what was available on day one:
I asked Mallory what the future beer list looked like for Hidden Mountain Brewing Co., but he was excited for a little uncertainty.
“Actually, I don’t know what it’s going to be. I have all these ideas in my head of what I want it to look like, or taste like, but I think it really comes down to what the customers want,” he said.
Mallory will certainly be taking advantage of the brewery turning over a new leaf, as he plans to brew more hazy IPAs, and at least keep a couple in the rotation at any given time. He wants to be able to keep the customers on their toes.
“And, I want to have a few IPAs on at a time,” he said. “I think that’s my specialty, still. So maybe a hazy, a West Coast IPA like Road Runner, and something like Gate Keeper. I really like brewing IPAs, and I don’t think brewers can ever get in trouble for having too many IPAs on.”
He also plans to keep one or two lagers on tap at all times, the flavored Berliner Weisse on all year, as well as always keeping something dark in the tank, whether it be a porter or a stout.
Either way, Mallory wants to experiment with the idea of a few less house beers, at least while the brewery is getting to know its new customer base.
If you’re wondering about the food, the Hidden Mountain menu is in the capable hands of Chef Joey Rogers. Mallory told us that Rogers is a Culinary Institute of American graduate who has worked in 10 different states at many different types of restaurants like BBQ, Italian, Mexican restaurants, and casinos, just to mention a few.
“Before Hidden Mountain he was the chef at Isleta Casino Resort for three years,” Mallory said. “Since he has arrived in New Mexico with his family, he has fallen in love with it and plans to stay put.”
Even with so much ‘new’ to bring to the table, the staff is just excited to be open and have customers again.
“We spent so much time renovating the inside of the building,” Mallory said. “A lot of that renovation was the staff there, the few managers we kept, sanding stuff, painting, cleaning, deep cleaning, scrubbing the inside of ovens, the bottoms of pots, everything. We had contractors doing bigger stuff like upgrading equipment, and we also got some of the Plexiglas barriers in anticipation of having people inside, so we can be as safe as possible when we can open.”
And, now that they’re open, my mom’s biggest question is, “Will there be nachos again?”
Hidden Mountain Brewing Co. is currently open for takeout, curbside pick-up, and outdoor dining, Wednesday through Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
To the success of the new brewery, to Paul Mallory’s continued health and success, and to yours, friends and readers, cheers!
For more @nmdarksidebc news and more unfiltered Untappd reviews, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro.