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AZTEC — Homebrewing hobbyists Mike Paschall and his two sons like a good beer and now they're going pro.

The trio started homebrewing craft beer in the garage beside their Aztec home just west of Hart Canyon five years ago. On Saturday, the Paschalls received their off-site brewing license from the state, and their latest family business — 550 Brewing — officially became the first commercial brewery in Aztec and the second in San Juan County.

While breweries abound in neighboring Colorado, and Albuquerque sports its own brewery district, Farmington's Three Rivers Brewery is the only other commercial brewery in the county.

The Paschall family own and operate three other Aztec businesses — The Hiway Grill, Main Street Music and Main Street Spirit.

When Robert Paschall took over The Hiway Grill four years ago, the desire to offer craft beer on tap at the eatery pushed the family to take up brewing.

On Monday, they sold seven pints to diners at the grill, a humble start they all agreed was a "soft sell" to get out the message that Aztec not only has the county seat but now has its own craft brews.

"Honestly, we wanted someone else to do it, so we wouldn't have to work so hard," Robert Paschall said. "It never really panned out. It was kind of goofing around at first and then just escalated. Hey, we like beer. We enjoy a good brew and it just started there."

Sean and Mike Paschall began brewing five gallon batches with equipment they purchased from Ubru in Farmington. Today, they said they are now brewing 31 gallons, or one barrel, at a time, despite holding full-time jobs in the oil field.

Last year they finished upgrading their test brewery at their home — installing electric components and brewing equipment themselves. The converted two-car garage is piled high with kegs, hops and grains where cars might otherwise be parked atop a mesa about four miles east of downtown Aztec.

"Baseball, guns and beer. We're Americans. We're men. We like to shoot guns," Robert Paschall joked, adding, "We still cry, and we have a soft side."

Besides the tap at The Hiway Grill, the beer will also be for sale during races at Aztec Speedway's "Beer Shack" beginning on Mar. 27.

The Aztec brewery currently offers around 10 beer varieties, including S.M.A.S.H,. a single malt beer; X-Over Ale, a light beer for beginners; Mike's 4Eye IPA, an India Pale Ale; Karabou, a brown ale; and Das Bier, a golden ale. More are planned for St. Patrick's Day.

"The hoppier the beer, the better the beer," Mike Paschall said.

Keeping the new enterprise as local as possible is the new startup's mission, Sean Paschall said.

550 Brewing is making some beers with a hop variety called Cascade, which is grown on test plots at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry south of Farmington, Sean Paschall said.

In the near future, he said the family might consider opening a storefront taproom and larger brewery on Main Avenue in Aztec's historic downtown.

For years, opening a brewery has been part of the city's economic development plan.

Commissioner Katee McClure doesn't drink beer — she said she prefers tequila — but she thinks a new business in Aztec is good news.

"It's an excellent thing. It's business. It's something people like," McClure said. "Like, obviously, I'll never have a beer (at the The Hiway Grill), but I'm glad they're there. But if they start brewing tequila, I'm going to go down there pronto."

For more information, call The Hiway Grill at 505-334-6533 or go to www.550brew.com.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.

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