Hidden Mountain Brewing reveals a new direction for 2022

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Brewmaster Paul Mallory is still cranking out the finest ales and lagers.

Hidden Mountain opened in January 2021 as a major rebrand of long-time local favorite Blue Corn Brewery. Now, one year later, I sat down with brewmaster Paul Mallory to see how the new business is faring, what has changed, what has stayed the same, and what’s in store for the Southside’s newest BBQ/Mexican fusion brewpub in 2022.

With the business closing for renovations in 2020, Hidden Mountain’s brewhouse had significantly slowed its production. At the time, any beer in the tanks was reserved for offsite accounts such as other Santa Fe Dining-owned operations, and the handful of other restaurants around town still serving through the shut-down.

“We were brewing two or three times a week before (the Pandemic),” Mallory explained. “Since then, it’s been more like once a week.”

It got to the point that Mallory had to strategically space out the brews to keep the yeast alive.

And, with lay-offs happening across the restaurant and brewing industry, Mallory’s assistant was one of the many let go, with his return to-be-determined.

When Hidden Mountain did open its doors to the public, they were only offering outdoor patio and take-out service, but the barbecue pit was smoking, the patio fireplaces were crackling, and Mallory’s full beer lineup was flowing for anyone willing to brave the down-jacket weather.

Since then, business for the rebranded brewery has steadily picked up, Mallory told us. But, they still haven’t seen nearly the same kind of numbers, both in sales, and in-house service, since before the Pandemic. But, then again, who has?

Still, the Hidden Mountain team is hopeful for 2022, especially Mallory.

“With the weather warming up, I think we’ll get close to where we were before,” he said.

The bar area is usually more crowded than this, but is still not back to its pre-pandemic level.

Though Hidden Mountain is not quite there yet, there is indeed still plenty to be optimistic about for us beer fans and foodies, as well. The restaurant is back to being open seven days a week. They are making enough beer to facilitate the need for an assistant back on the brewhouse, and there is a whole new side of the menu that most of us haven’t sampled before. And, I’m not talking just the small addition of a few more sides either, but a portion large enough that we might need to add the word fusion to Hidden Mountain’s description.

You heard correct. You see, early in the year, Hidden Mountain made the decision to make a major change to the menu, not exactly reverting to New Mexican cuisine like the Blue Corn of old, but instead moving forward with a more traditional Mexican style.

“We have street tacos, Mexican street tacos, salsas and sauces that are more old Mexican than New Mexican, molé (MO-lay), elote,” Mallory listed. “We’re definitely going with a little more Mexican style. But, we also have some New Mexican and brewery pub foods, as well.”

You’ll see everything from birria tacos, tortas, and chilaquiles, to chicken wings and green chile enchiladas on the new menu, so it’s worth bringing an appetite along for Friday night drinks.

In order to get a little more info on the new menu change, I reached out to president and CEO of Santa Fe Dining, Rick Pedram.

DSBC: Hidden Mountain has recently added a whole new section to its menu. Though it is more on the old Mexico side of the border, it feels very at home and familiar. What spurred the change in the menu back to more traditional Mexican offerings?

Pedram: We were able to survive this last couple of years through the pandemic because of our dedicated team of managers and workers. The general manager (GM) Lucy Primero, assistant GM Javier Lozoya and master brewer Paul Mallory literally put so much blood, sweat, and tears into rejuvenating and rebranding this operation. They have their lives vested in this operation. It just seemed like the right thing to do to listen to their recommendation and how they would run the business if they owned it. We wanted to celebrate the Mexican culture and its influence on the local foods, and how wonderful it would be to bring back some of the old favorites and enhance the menu by adding fresh exciting authentic Mexican dishes to their BBQ adventure.

DSBC: I understand you have a new chef. What happened to the previous chef?

Pedram: Actually, the current kitchen manager (Joel Hernandez) has worked under previous chefs and worked with the operation when it was Blue Corn. The way our menu and customers demand evolved over this last year, (and) it encouraged us to go back to our roots and incorporate our team’s heritage and culture in the newly evolved cuisine, paying homage to the Mexican influence of barbacoa and cooking proteins to explode with fresh and exciting flavors.

DSBC: How was the menu created?

Pedram: We asked for assistance from one of the top chefs in New Mexico, who also happens to be Mexican and travels back and forth to Mexico several times a year. Chef Jose Rodrigues, who has been the executive chef of our sister property “La casa Sena” for many years now, was very instrumental in designing and planning the menu. He also took a few weeks off from La casa Sena downtown to spend time with Joel and his team training and testing the new food. It has been a wonderful collaboration and celebrated effort from all involved. We have also changed our logo and website to also mention our name in Spanish: “La Montana Escondida Cerveceria” making our location more welcoming to all. 

The old copper tanks still greet you upon entering.

DSBC: When did the menu officially change?

Pedram: As we approached our one-year anniversary of our brand change, we thought it was a good idea to reevaluate our menu, food, and overall approach. So, starting back in December, we put a plan in place and got the entire team on board and excited about the changes so that we could implement them by our anniversary (January 20).

DSBC: How has the customer base responded to it?

Pedram: The response has been so amazing, and it has been so encouraging for the team to see all of our old regulars back, as well as so many of our local neighbors who just love authentic Mexican food being prepared by our proud Mexican team.

DSBC: The former Blue Corn menu was very New Mexican in its style. Is the menu change a means of appeasing the old crowd that maybe misses that menu? Bring them back in? Or, is something else at play here?

Pedram: Yes (to bringing them back in). No hidden agenda, only trying to grow our customer base while celebrating the influence of the Mexican culture.

DSBC: In your opinion, do you think the Mexican/BBQ fusion is a good fit for the location?

Pedram: Time will show, but so far it has been received very well.

DSBC: Is there any truth to the rumor that Blue Corn is coming back to the downtown location?

Pedram: Not at this time. No.

DSBC: Is the current menu at Hidden Mountain possibly a peek at what we can expect from future endeavors and events from Hidden Mountain?

Pedram: Yes — we will be bring on seasonal and cultural celebrations periodically with live music. We want to keep the operation exciting and create an environment where our team members look forward to come to work. We will always be looking for potential opportunities to keep the excitement going while growing our customer base.

*****

In order to keep up with the many changes in the menu, brand, and client base, Mallory has continued to adapt.

“It’s been a moving target, as you can imagine. Now that we’re going with more Mexican-inspired food, management has asked me to bring in more beers that can pair with that. I said, ‘Well, I already have two Mexican lagers on, what else am I going to do, you know?’” he joked. “But, today I brewed a beer (and) I’m going to call it something like Cerveza Fresca. And, it’ll be like an agua fresca, but in beer form.”

This Cerveza Fresca will be a nice, refreshing hibiscus lime lager that will be released just as the weather warms up, and Mallory said he is sure it’ll pair perfectly with Hidden Mountain’s new flavors.

After a year of brewing for Hidden Mountain, Mallory has learned plenty from the local base and visiting customers about what they want and what they’re willing to try. But, in that time he’s also learned a lot about himself — that even though it’s important to keep the regulars happy, and the visitors interested — he’s solidified the importance of remaining true to himself, to brew the kind of beer he wants to brew every once in a while, in order to keep the creative taps from running dry.

From that creative font came beers like Without a Trace Imperial Stout, aged 18 months in a whisky barrel from Susan’s Fine Wine and Spirits.

“During the thick of the pandemic, there was no rush to take it out, because there wasn’t anyone to drink it,” Mallory told us. “So I just left it in there for 18 months. It had a really nice whiskey flavor when it came out. We bottled a bunch of it by hand. That’s the biggest beer I think I’ve ever done or very close to it at 12-percent (ABV).”

Though Mallory does produce plenty of bigger beers like his double IPA, Gatekeeper (7.7% ABV), or his recently-released imperial red ale, Apocalipstick Red, hitting heavily at 9 percent, most of the beers he prefers to make are of the easy-drinking variety.

Apocalipstick Red is now on tap.

On the beer horizon for Hidden Mountain, Mallory told us that, in addition to the previously mentioned Cerveza Fresca, he’s got a 9.5-to-10-percent Scotch ale all ready to go. He also just recently came into possession of some used whisky barrels from the very generous people at the awesome new distillery, Altar Spirits, so we should look forward to another big, beautiful barrel-aged baddie from that partnership. And, we can expect to see a tangerine cream wheat beer with lactose and whole vanilla beans, kind of like an Orange Julius or maybe more in the vein of what mom used to call Dreamsicles.

In addition to the cores and the fan favorites like Feather’s Brown Ale (renamed for a longtime fan of the beer and celebrated regular), Mallory vowed to keep a sour on the menu, with his Berliner Weisse mostly because it’s something he wants to drink. The variety of syrups keep the beer style fresh and in demand even when the style’s out of season.

Finally, Mallory said he just collaborated with the folks at Broken Spoke bicycle shop on a beer that will release at the end of March. After a visit to Hidden Mountain, a few of the Broken Spoke folks had noticed a medal Blue Corn had once won for a beer called “Broken Spoke Ale,” not a collaboration in past years. But, once they reached out to Mallory, the homebrewers at the shop along with Mallory agreed it was time to revive the beer. So, the folks at Broken Spoke headed in to Hidden Mountain this past week to brew up a pilsner that will be the golden gleaming reward at the end of a lazy Sunday bike ride, beginning from downtown on the Chamisa Trail and ending at Hidden Mountain. Mallory said he anticipates the open-air event could see more than 100 people. Part of the proceeds will go to the Santa Fe Fat Tire society, an organization which Mallory told us helps educate people about mountain biking, and helps build and maintain the mountain biking trails around Santa Fe.

This will mark the beginning of the return of events to Hidden Mountain, such as our favorite in the Crew, the beer-pairing dinners of old. And, don’t forget the cask tappings are already happening, like today (Friday) at 4 p.m.

Things are about to get a whole lot busier at Hidden Mountain with the return of some special events.

I asked Mallory what he was looking forward to the most in 2022, whether it be in the within brewhouse or without, and he said it would be finishing the house on his property. It’s something he’d been building from the ground up and has been working on for a little over two years, which, for Mallory, has been a powerful labor of love and lesson.

For 2022, Mallory said he feels invigorated by the many changes around him, and the direction that they’re taking.

“I think we’re all very excited here,” Mallory said. “All the people working here are very excited to present the new food menu. Also, in the brewery, and I think this carries over into the food side of things, too, we’re trying to do a better job of telling the story of why and how we make things. And so, I’m trying to do a lot more collaboration with other people in the community to help tell a better story of why I’m brewing, not just what I’m brewing.”

A huge thank you to Paul Mallory and Rick Pedram for their hospitality, for always answering my many questions, and for continuing to provide a great place to enjoy a meal with family or friends along with a fine beer while watching the football game, or just unwinding after a rough week. To a long-standing tradition of producing quality food and beer, and to all the new positive changes for the business’ future, cheers!

— Luke

For more craftbeer news and @nmdarksidebc stories, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro. Untappd: SantaFeLuke

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