Tommy Keegan and Mayor Gallo cut the ribbon. (Photo by Dan Barton)
Keegan Ales has spent the last decade or so building a reputation for its tasty craft-brewed beer that may be Kingston’s most popular export since the demise of the brick industry. Now, the Midtown brewery is putting their stamp on a new venture which will allow anybody with a kitchen and a little patience to create their own suds.
On Tuesday, Aug. 14 Keegan’s Home Brew and Mercantile opened with some fanfare among the local chamber of commerce crowd and a lot of enthusiasm among home brewers. The store, which stands across the parking lot from the Keegan Ales brewery and tap room on St. James Street, will serve as a homebrew supply store as well as a showcase for Keegan Ales merchandise and local gourmet food products.
“I just couldn’t stand to see another vacant Midtown store,” brewery owner Tommy Keegan said at the ribbon-cutting, joined by Mayor Shayne Gallo, Ulster chamber President Ward Todd and about a dozen other friends and supporters.
Inside the store, sacks of grain and tubs of malt share space with Keegan Ales T-shirts and pint glasses as well as food products, and even soap made with Keegan beer. There were some bourbon barrels too — Keegan Ales teamed up with the Culinary Institute of America for the limited edition American Bounty Anniversary Ale. As part of the 30th birthday of the CIA’s famed restaurant, Keegan’s has combined two of its mainstay brews, but with a twist. “This blend of Keegan’s [golden ale] Old Capital and their dark and creamy Mother’s Milk is aged in American whiskey barrels,” said Noelle Guagliardo, the CIA’s beverage manager. “The result is a delicious medium-bodied ale with hints of oatmeal, chocolate, caramel and smoke.”
According to Tommy Keegan, the store’s product line hews to his belief in locally grown, locally produced products. As an example, Keegan cites the Joe Mama’s Milk soap combines Keegan’s own coffee-infused stout beer, coffee from locally based Monkey Joe’s and soap from the Edelweiss Soap Company on Wall Street.
“That little five ounce bar of soap represents three companies within a mile of each other in Kingston,” said Keegan. “That’s a local product.”
But the heat of the new venture is home brewing. Making one’s own beer is a millennia-old occupation that returned to this land in 1978 when President Jimmy Carter signed a law lifting taxes on beer brewed for personal consumption. Since then, home brewing has grown from a clandestine hobby into a major industry with what is estimated to be a million adherents and hundreds of competitive events held each year across the country —except in Mississippi and Alabama, the only states where home beer brewing remains illegal.
‘Anyone can do it’
Home brewing techniques range from the simple and straightforward to the mind-bogglingly complex (most professional brewers have a background in microbiology). Would-be home brewers typically start out “extract brewing” using pre-made malt extract as a base combined with hops and grain for flavor, then move on to making their own mash and generating beer from scratch. A starter kit and everything you need to make about five gallons of homebrew will run you about $100, according to Keegan’s home brewing consultant, Pat Sylvester.
“It seems impossible at first,” said Sylvester, who has been home-brewing for the past year and a half. “But with extract brewing, it’s almost foolproof. Anyone can do it.”
Keegan’s homebrew store stocks a wide array of supplies, from $75 starter kits to 20 different varieties of grain and Keegan Ales’ own brewing yeast. According to Sylvester, the shop is able to offer brewing supplies at much lower prices than other brew stores or online retailers since they can piggyback on the bulk purchases of the brewery next door. The close proximity to the brewery also offers a ready source of expert advice on brewing techniques.
“We have actual brewers right next door,” said Sylvester, who has been home brewing for about a year and half. “If there’s something we don’t know, we can walk across the parking lot and find out. What we do as a hobby, they do professionally.”
And while one of the joys of home brewing is experimenting with different ingredients and flavor combinations, those looking for a tried and true recipe will soon be able to brew Keegan Ales’ favorite products at home. Sylvester said the store’s staff was working on “clone kits” which include the recipe and all the ingredients necessary to brew Keegan Ales favorites, like Hurricane Kitty or Old Capital, at home.
“It’s really a glorious thing when you can brew your own craft beer, give it to your friends and tell them, ‘I made this,’” said Sylvester. “You’ll make a lot of friends.”