A century ago, Kingston was home to several breweries, a tradition that continues today with Kingston Ales, located at 20 St. James. Since 2003, after taking over a defunct facility that formerly belonged to the Woodstock Brewery, Tommy Keegan and his 14 employees have been making award-winning specialty brews, sold to distributors from Saratoga to New York City and Long Island (and, as of this month, northern New Jersey). Currently the volume is 3,500 barrels (a barrel equals 31 gallons), up substantially from the initial run of 600 barrels and likely to increase to 5,000 to 6,000 barrels this year, according to owner Tommy Keegan, who holds a BS in biochemistry and a masters in brewery science.
Keegan’s produces Old Capital, Mother’s Milk, and Hurricane Kitty, along with seasonal and specialty brews, such as Jo Mama’s Milk, which is flavored with coffee from Monkey Joe Roasting Company. From the get-go, the beers have been lauded for their superior quality: Old Capital won the Best of show and People’s Choice awards at the Hudson Valley Micro-Brew Festival in fall 2003, and in 2009, Jo Mama’s Milk won Best Beer of New York State at the TAP NY competition (Keegan’s also snared the award for Best Brewery).
Locals have the special privilege of being able to stop by the bar and sample a new crafted beer every Tuesday. Keegan’s also is one of the favorite places around town for hearing top musicians, be they jazz, rock or folk, who perform five days a week—and there’s no cover, just lots of free peanuts to snack on.
But it’s in the cavernous space behind a set of doors just past the entrance, which houses four enormous, shiny metal fermenters and other mysterious tanks, where the real action takes place. Two batches of beer will be run through the initial mixing process twice in a nine-hour day. The brewing process starts at the far end of the room, with the delivery of big sacks of malted barley, blended with other grains, according to Keegan’s special instructions.
The grain is thrown into a chute to be milled, then conveyed through a long pipe into the mash tun, where it is crushed and mixed with hot water, a process that leaches out the color and flavor and converts the starches into simple sugars. The mixture is then pumped into the brewing kettle, where the “wort” is boiled. Hops are added to the liquid, to give the beer its distinctive bitterness and other flavors. It then is transferred to the fermenters, where the brew is mixed with yeast and the sugars transformed into alcohol and carbon dioxide (the beer’s fizziness). After fermenting for a total of three weeks, it’s filtered into two tanks and packed into bottles or kegs.
Keegan said the trickiest aspect of making beer is ensuring its consistency. “It’s a matter of making sure every single step is the same each time,” said Keegan. The small amounts of a special home brew that is produced each week for the premises are made in a miniature “pilot” brewery, he said. Come by and have a taste of this unique Kingston product! —Lynn Woods