Not every young person would choose to construct a houseboat with his dad and uncle during the summer, but when he was 13, that’s what intrigued Tommy Keegan.
“We built it on the mainland in my brother Steve’s driveway,” related Thomas J. Keegan Jr., Tommy’s dad. “He was relegated to some job or another. Steve and I didn’t know a lot about carpentry but between us, and Tommy, and our friends, we learned.”
The houseboat was called De Gustibus, Latin for “no accounting for taste,” and Tommy was thoughtful and committed in his resourcefulness; he also reveled in the camaraderie the boat drew and the fun, affectionate times experienced when it was docked off Davis Park.
“He was a young teen and had Little League to do and other activities, but saw his dad and uncle working on this boat and wanted to be part of it,” recalled Steve Keegan. “The thing I remember the most was the day my father, brother and nephew brought the boat over to Davis Park. We had Tom Keegan, his grandfather, Tom Keegan II, his father, and Tom Keegan III, my nephew on the boat with us.”
In his formative years, “he liked to have a good time and was very appreciative of hard work,” noted Tom Keegan.
There are many good things to say about Tommy Keegan’s life essence, but those two aspects probably best defined him.
Thomas J. Keegan III, the beloved brewer and award-winning owner of Keegan Ales in Kingston, died on April 30 after suffering a heart attack while riding his off-road motorcycle with a friend. He was 50.
He grew up in Patchogue; Tom Keegan commented that Tommy worked for the Shermans for a while.
“He did,” confirmed Matt Sherman. “We had a dinner cruise boat, the Bay Mist, that ran out of the Watch Hill Ferry Terminal, and he was a waiter for us. He was probably 16, 17. He was a nice kid, like the rest of the family, and probably worked for us two or three years.”
Interestingly, it was Tommy who nudged his dad, lead attorney at Keegan & Keegan, Ross & Rosner, towards the formation of the BrickHouse Brewery & Restaurant with several partners in Patchogue, which opened in 1996 in the old Shand’s building. It was also the first restaurant/pub offering craft beer on Main Street that pushed Patchogue’s renaissance and the craft beer industry itself on Long Island.
(Although beer seems to be in the family blood, Tom Keegan’s paternal grandfather worked in a brewery.)
“Tommy gave me a beer-making homebrew kit in the early 1990s for Father’s Day,” Tom Keegan said. “I started making beer in the kitchen sink. Tommy was in the Coast Guard stationed in San Francisco and got a degree in biochemistry, then got his Master Brewer’s Certificate at University of California, Davis. At the time, there were only three places in the world who offered that program.”
His inventiveness made him experiment. One successful creation was IHOP’s Pumpkin Pancake Stout, written up in Food and Wine in 2018. It “pairs the flavor of pumpkin and seasonal spices with IHOP's World Famous Buttermilk pancakes into a rich, smooth stout,” said IHOP.
“He was always game for something curious and unusual,” said Tom Keegan. “And he was a pretty knowledgeable science guy and managed to make it an interesting connection that he carried through life. It’s just hysterical the way he put that IHOP beer together.”
Tommy was also a runner like his dad (Tom Keegan started the “May the Road Rise to Meet Ye” 5K race just before the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Patchogue) and ran cross country at Patchogue-Medford High School. “He has an organization, Keegan’s Army, that meets every Sunday at his brewery—he must have 50 runners, and they run about five miles. We enjoyed our running connections. He was a big guy, about 6 foot 3, 240 pounds, and I still couldn’t beat him.”
Lost or stray pooches were taken in regularly; he has one at the brewery. “All the time, he always had dogs and also cats,” Tom Keegan said. “He was also very big on local sports and supported them, including the Keegan Growlers amateur soccer league and a hockey team.”
Steve Keegan summed up Tommy’s life and his affect on family and friends locally and in Kingston. “He was a larger-than-life character and had the personality to roll with the punches and approach every situation with a smile,” he said. “And to have that taken from your life is a painful thing.”