Joe Mama’s Milk is not your mother’s milk, but an oatmeal stout flavored with intense coffee extract (whence “Joe”) and loaded up with lots of brown sugar to boost the body and alcohol levels. “It’s been called breakfast in a bottle,” says Keegan Ales owner Tommy Keegan, because it has all you need: oatmeal, sugar and coffee – and beer, of course, although I hear that it’s not just for breakfast anymore (I stole that from a tee-shirt that I saw years ago).
I got to taste Joe Mama’s Milk at a recent visit to Keegan Ales in its industrial-chic home on Saint James Street in Kingston. The brewery is tucked away in a back alley off Broadway, with an interesting history and an impressive collection of accolades.
“We tried the first batch as a goof,” says Keegan, adding that they had no idea how popular Joe Mama’s Milk would be. They jazzed up their Mother’s Milk stout with a coffee extract from a special custom Sumatran blend from Monkey Joe’s down the street. They also added lots of brown sugar, which ups the ABV (alcohol by volume) from five percent to eight percent. You definitely taste the coffee, but it works, with more complexity and superior taste to, say, some Nescafé dumped into a pint of Bud. The intense richness of the opaque, deep-black beverage is enhanced by the coffee flavor.
I’m not generally a fan of stout; Guinness has to be watered down with Harp for me to drink it. But Joe Mama’s Milk is pleasing to the palate and easy to love, and many others agree with me. The product was awarded a gold medal at the 2009 TAP NY beer festival for the Best Craft Beer in the state. Keegan Ales also got trophies for being the Best Craft Brewery in the Hudson Valley and in New York State. Mother’s Milk, the sweet molasses-y stout that is one of their three main brews, and on which Joe Mama’s Milk is based, was named one of the Top Ten Stouts in the state in 2010 by The New York Times. Joe Mama, like the three main brews, is now available in bottles; I found some four-packs at Half Time in Poughkeepsie.
The rich molasses-y quality of these stouts makes them good cooked into desserts. At a bachelorette party last weekend at the brewery, the meal ended with Jane’s Ice Cream topped with a chocolate sauce made with Joe Mama’s Milk, and some cheesecake make with Mother’s Milk. On the regular pub menu is a Mother’s Milk-flavored brownie, alcohol-free and safe for the kiddies.
But stout is generally not my favorite kind of beer, and I can only drink it in very small doses. What goes down easier, for my palate, when I want more than a sip or two, is a zesty, delightfully bitter IPA like Keegan Ales’ Hurricane Kitty, named after Keegan’s grandmother. Not for the faint of heart or those with a big sweet tooth, Kitty is bracing, a lovely amber hue and assertively crafted with big flavors. Hurricane Kitty is brewmaster Tommy Keegan’s own favorite, he says. For the bachelorette dinner, chef Dane Fullenweider wove it into a honey glaze for a grilled bacon-wrapped pork medallion.
Taking it up a few notches is Super Kitty, a special version made but once a year, around the winter holidays, and served on tap at the brewery. A thousand liter-sized bottles are produced as well, hand-numbered and sealed with wax. Super Kitty takes what is already a splendid product and adds honey from Keegan Ales’ own bees that live on the premises, then ages the heady stuff in oak whiskey barrels: lovely indeed, but at 12 percent ABV compared to Hurricane’s six percent it packs a punch, so tread with caution. Chef Fullenweider used Super Kitty in a barbecue sauce for chicken sliders.
Number Three on the roster of Keegan Ales’ main ales is Old Capital, a refreshing golden ale for lovers of less assertive brews. With just a bit of bitter hops, it has a creamy body and is a clear pale gold with lots of fine bubbles. Fullenweider spiked a beurre blanc sauce for a seared Gulf shrimp with a grits cake.
Other seasonal ales that I look forward to exploring are Black Eye (a black IPA), White Ale and Four Philosophers. The regular pub menu has offerings that go well with beer, like quesadillas, hot dogs, hot pretzels, salads and sandwiches from Cubans to Reubens, plus specials.
Keegan opened the brewery in 2003 with just beer on draft in a small tasting room. The brick warehouse was originally a foundry, then occupied by the now-defunct Woodstock Brewing Company, so plenty of beermaking equipment was already in place. Keegan started bottling his beers in 2004, and then, three years later, opened the pub and restaurant. After the summer busy season, a new project that Keegan plans is an expansion of kitchen and bathroom spaces, as well as an increase in bottling capacity.
There is much fun to be had at Keegan Ales beyond drinking excellent beers. More reasons to go include seeing the musical acts of various genres who perform there regularly, from rock to blues, mostly without cover charges. Tuesday is Trivia Night, with prizes, and as the website says, “There is a rumor that beer makes you smarter. PS: We started that rumor.”
Keegan Ales is located at 20 Saint James Street, near where Broadway intersects with Colonel Chandler Drive. The brewery is closed on Mondays, open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 12 midnight and Sunday from 1 to 10 p.m. The phone number is (845) 331-BREW (2739), and the website www.keeganales.com.