The California Common ale recipe that Tommy Keegan created for a new, high-end home brewing kit brings his beer-making career full circle.
It was buying a brewing kit for his father that set Keegan, owner of Kingston’s Keegan Ales, on course to become a brewer.
“I just thought it was a cool hobby, so I got my dad a home brew kit, and then went back and got myself the same home brew kit a week later,” said Keegan. “I was hooked, I was really hooked with the process and the reward.”
At that time Keegan was a biochemistry major, focused on genetics, but he switched courses and wound up getting a master’s degree in brewing science.
“I saw people work for years and years in genetics to figure out one tiny little thing. It’s very rewarding, because it’s groundbreaking stuff, but it’s very isolated stuff too. With beer I make something and people come in and love it. You see that enjoyment on their faces and it’s an immediate reward; it’s a lot like being a cook.”
After college Keegan worked as a head brewer at a Long Island company. As his family grew, he considered taking a more profitable, stable job in the pharmaceutical industry. While preparing to make the transition, his career path veered sharply. He heard about a brewery for sale in Kingston. The building was proving hard to sell because of all the brewing equipment it contained. The former Woodstock Brewing Company was a “diamond in the rough” that he could not resist.
“I left a low-paying, not-very-secure job for a way-less-paying, way-less-secure lifestyle, packed my family up and moved to Kingston.”
After buying the brewery in 2003, he created three distinctive craft beers and never looked back.
“We were the only local brewery between New York City and Albany, so there was really a demand for that. I was selling a lot of beer in Kingston right off the bat, but I was also selling a lot of beer all over the Hudson Valley, because there was no other local competition. By the time we opened up this bar a couple of years later, I already had pretty good brand recognition, so the bar automatically became a draw.”
Keegan Ale produced three flagship brews: Old Capital, a golden ale named in honor of Kingston’s history as New York State’s capitol; Hurricane Kitty, a coppery IPA named after Keegan’s grandmother, whose driving habits inspired earned her a nickname from the police; and Mother’s Milk, which is an Irish pet name for Guinness. It’s Keegan’s favorite brewery, and also located on a St. James Street.
Keegan’s new, brewing kit recipe was created for his good friend, Kingston resident Nat Collins, who launched the new company, brewmates, in January 2018. Collins and Keegan have been friends since 2003, when Collins sold him the brewery that is now Keegan Ales.
“Since then Tommy has been a good friend,” said Collins. “And he’s a great supporter of TAP, New York’s largest gathering of craft brewers.”
Collins, who is co-founder of the annual TAP-NY Craft Beer and Fine Food Festival described brewmates as a company that sells high-end brewing kits with recipes created by craft brewers. While there are many companies selling home brewing kits, Collins says his is the only one that works together with craft brewers and delivers exactly measured ingredients,and everything you need to create that beer, as well as a video introduction to the brewery presenting it. Naturally he turned to Keegan for the first recipe and launched his business with Keegan’s California Common ale inspired by the Gold Rush.
“All these people ran out west to strike it rich in the Gold Rush and brewers followed behind because the miners were thirsty and the brewers probably made more money than the Gold Rush guys,” said Keegan. “But the brewers were all Germans and they brought their yeast out there, which was lager yeast, which is generally brewed at cold temperatures. When they got out there with this yeast, which is what they knew, and they didn’t have any refrigeration in California, they had to brew ale style beers with lager style yeast. It’s a kind of a hybrid.”
Tommy Keegan with brewmates founder Nat Collins
So far Collins has lined up a few craft brewers to provide recipes and he won’t have to work hard to find an audience. According to the American Brewers Association, 1.2 million Americans brew beer at home.
“The growth of craft beer industry is so enormous,” said Collins. “We want to give someone who doesn’t want to buy all the equipment or buy grain in bulk, or only has a small kitchen, the opportunity to see what it’s like to make craft beer at home that is specially formulated by a brewer.”
While brewmates’ marketing efforts may generate business for breweries who participate, Keegan provided his brew mate with a recipe for free.
“Brewers in general have a strong sense of community, not just Keegan Ales,” said Keegan, who is known for his community involvement. “It’s a trait that is common throughout the craft brewing community. If it brings awareness of that to wherever your local brewery is, that’s great.”