Get Your Beer Here
Hudson Valley Brewers fill our cups with some of the freshest, tastiest beers in the country — bar none
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The ever-popular Mother’s Milk at Keegan Ales is a dark and creamy stout
Stomp some grapes and put them in a barrel, and they will turn into something like wine all of their own devices. Beer, however, requires a guiding hand. In fact, there is some archeological argument about whether wheat was first cultivated by humans in order to make bread or beer.
“For grain to turn into an ale or lager, it has to be malted, cooked, strained, cooked, strained, fermented in a barrel, and sometimes again in a bottle,” Burkhard Bilger wrote in The New Yorker. That alchemy of biology, chemistry, and mechanical engineering (see sidebar) can be so captivating, it causes otherwise sane men and women to utterly change their lives. Indeed, the best way to become a brewer, one learns by talking to them, is to be something else first. Along with photographer, flight attendant, and casino executive, some Hudson Valley brewers once held the title of biochemist, health care manager, state worker, and knockabout.
Tommy Keegan, proprietor of Keegan Ales in Kingston, studied biochemistry at San Francisco State and worked in a lab. He was home brewing on the side, and found a master’s degree program in brewing science at the University of California at Davis. “That seemed like too much fun to pass up,” he says.
He then moved back to his native Long Island and got a job as a biology lab manager at SUNY Stony Brook. When a Long Island brewery called Blue Point offered him a job, he took it. But with a mortgage and a second child on the way, he thought he needed a “real job.” He almost took a position with a pharmacy company. Then, he learned about a defunct brewery in Kingston, and in 2003 he moved in. He made three beers — the same three he makes today — and his first batches won medals at a beer festival. Life in the lab was never an option again.
John Eccles, head brewer at Hyde Park and Skytop, worked in hospital management until he was in his late 30s. But, like all the others, he home brewed and was hooked. “I ingratiated myself with the late, great brewmaster Jay Misson at Mountain Valley brewpub in Suffern, which is no long there,” he says. “I left the hospital at three, got to the pub at four, and Jay gave me the worst possible jobs to get rid of me — scrubbing the tanks, pulling the grain, going into the cellars on hands and knees scrubbing the gunk. That would dissuade most people, but I really wanted to do this. I worked for free almost three years just to learn, then became a brewer when they expanded.”
Darren Currier, the Gilded Otter’s brewmaster, worked in air pollution control for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. Home brewing got the better of him as well. “I had bought a home brewing kit for my father, who loved beer, but he was too busy to use it,” Currier says. “I found it as a freshman in college [at SUNY New Paltz], tried it, and I loved it from the first batch.” He left the DEC to attend the Siebel Institute for Brewing in Chicago, and eventually took over the Gilded Otter soon after it first opened.