The blank spots on the map continue to fill up with breweries and taprooms.
Turquoise Trail Brewing is the latest addition to the East Central corridor, landing at 11016 Central SE, a short drive east of Bombs Away and west of the Tractor Four Hills Taproom. The new brewery has quietly opened, as its own beers are not on tap yet, but owner/brewer Sean Lawson said he needed to start making some money back on a property that he has been leasing for a calendar year now.
“I’m really hoping to have the brewery up and operating in four to six weeks,” Scott said. “I’ll have my own beer on tap in two months. I think that’s pretty realistic.”
For now, there is a wide range of guest taps, many from breweries far, far from the location next door to the Dion’s at Elizabeth and Central. I grabbed a pint of Dialogue’s Nugget to the Rack imperial amber and sat down to find out just what in the world possessed Sean to open Albuquerque’s 35th brewery.
“Well, I’ll go back a ways,” he said. “About 10 years ago, my in-laws bought me one of those homebrew kits. It might have been even more than 10 years ago. It sat in the closet for two years, and finally my wife wanted to get rid of it. She said I’m going to brew this thing and clear it out of here. I hadn’t done it. I was a little intimidated, I hadn’t brewed before, (and) I thought it was going to be a very long process, very difficult.”
In the end, Sean did help his wife make a Guinness-style stout, which he said probably tasted better in his memory than it actually did. Still, he was hooked from that point forward, and has been brewing for around eight years now.
“During this whole period I’d been working in the corporate world, 9-to-5 jobs,” Sean said. “I actually still do consulting for my old work, but I was the chief compliance officer with investments and securities firms for a long time, making good money, but I just hated what I did. Extremely boring, just a lot of tedium, (and) as a compliance officer you’re generally not the good guy.
“I got to a point where I decided I wanted to do something I’d enjoy. I probably won’t make as much money at it at least for the foreseeable future, but I want to do something where I love going to work every day. And so, a little over a year ago I was winding down with the companies I’d been working with in Utah. I made the decision that I wanted to move back to New Mexico, and I felt like this would be a great time to make this split and just go for it. I had some money saved up, not a lot, but by no means a big-budget startup.”
That decision led Sean back to his hometown.
“I just decided to go for it, opened the LLC, moved here, started looking around at buildings, (and then) signed a lease for this building last August, so it’s been a full year,” he said. “Started the licensing process and bought the equipment. I picked up a 3-barrel brewing system, seven vessels, three on the hot side and four fermenters, from a brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They listed on Pro Brewer they sold a seven-vessel system for $11,500. It seemed like a good deal. I wasn’t ready to spend $100k on a new system. It seemed like a pretty good deal. I jumped on a plane, rented a U-Haul when I got there, bought it, and drove it back to Albuquerque.”
Sean also seemed to have done his homework when he realized that just being a homebrewer does not instantly qualify someone to own a brewery in this day and age.
“During this period in the past year I’ve done some understudying and some brewing with commercial breweries,” he said. “Primarily High and Dry; I’ve probably brewed with Andrew (Kalemba) 30 times. And then, I’ve also brewed four or five times with Truth or Consequences Brewing. That’s been really enlightening, learning how to do it on a commercial basis. … I’ve learned how to do all that, CIP systems, glycol chillers, all of that good stuff.”
Sean said his to-do list includes finishing running a gas line, installing a floor drain, running glycol chiller lines, and assembling a walk-in cooler. That sounds like a lot, but he is sticking to his projection of four-to-six weeks to start brewing.
The taproom and the brewery are actually in separate buildings on the property. The brewery building is in the back, currently adorned with a sign that reads Boss. Sean said he has 650 square feet to work with, complete with 10-foot ceilings, which should be more than enough space for his 3-barrel system. He added that one piece of equipment that he still wants is a bright tank. Otherwise, carbonating will be done in kegs.
For now, Turquoise Trail is a modest operation, aiming to be a comfortable neighborhood pub both for residents in the area, and anyone driving up and down Central who wants a beer. Customers can bring in food from Dion’s next door, and Sean said he is working on getting to know his famous neighbor and possibly working on some special deals in the future.
The parking lot seems to be just about the right size for the taproom, which has a small, colorful bar (turquoise, natch), and a handful of tables. The views of the Sandias are quite nice this far up Central.
For his own beers, Sean said patrons can expect a lot of San Diego/California influence. He plans to have an IPA and a Double IPA on tap at all times, along with an imperial amber that will have a unique name, Audrey’s Red, named for his daughter.
“I know a lot of people here have done chile beers,” Sean added. “There was one that I home brewed a number of times that I really enjoyed. It was basically an imperial pale ale somewhat modeled after Ballast Point’s Yellow Tail Ale with red chile in it. It usually came in at about 9 percent alcohol. I think having a really big beer paired better with the chile than say a lager. I like chile in lagers, but you get a lot of chile, I think. You get a big beer it’s more marrying those two.”
Sean also said he has plans for Belgian-style beers, drawing influence from Russian River’s Damnation for one.
”It’s a little drier, a little bit more peppery than (Marble’s) Double White,” he said. ”It’s really, really good, though. It’s hard to find anymore.”
Sean is also a huge soccer fan, so all New Mexico United games will be shown, along with other big games from around the world.
Overall, Turquoise Trail is open, but far from complete. Sean certainly seems to have the enthusiasm and the desire to make this project work, but there are no guarantees for a smaller brewing operation in such a crowded craft beer marketplace. When he does have some of those beers ready in two months or so, the Crew will make another visit to try them out. Until then, we thank him for the interview and the guest pint.
If you are in the area this weekend, stop by to check out Turquoise Trail. The taproom is open 1 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 to 9 on Sunday.