October 28, 2010

For brewer, it was a wonderful life

Jim Killeen, left, with wife, Tina, on their backyard deck in August.
Union Leader Correspondent

 — When Jim Killeen decided to leave the corporate world and launch a microbrewery, he had already latched on to something that the rest of the world was about to discover: tinkering with beer is fun.
And for short time in the late 1990s, Killeen lived a wonderful life as meister
 of his own brewing company, the Old Nutfield Brewing Company, a 25-barrel brewery in a retrofitted shoe factory on Manchester Road. The business lasted until Killeen’s plans to expand the business and build a bigger factory fizzled. 
Killeen, 55, died Monday while jogging. Yesterday his sons, Jonathan and James, talked a little bit about their dad, his big dreams and the legacy he left behind. 
“Fortunately our mom kept copious scrapbooks on everything about the brewery,” said James Killeen, flipping through one of the three large volumes featuring a Coloniallooking nut tree growing in fertile Derry farmland on the cover. Inside the protective plastic sleeves are hundreds of yellowed clippings that track Killeen’s success as a hometown brewer of award-winning beer. 
He settles on a page featuring an editorial cartoon of Sen. Bob Dole, whose face replaced the Old Man of the Mountain, a beer truck ambling down a road in the distance. 
“That was probably one of the best stories,” said James Killeen, relaying how a planned campaign stop in 1996 by the Republican Presidential hopeful was canceled after Dole’s campaign found out that Killeen had a beer called Old Man Ale. Dole, then 72, had been taking heat for being a geriatric candidate. But when word got out about the reason behind the Derry stop being cancelled, Dole quickly reversed himself and showed up to the Nutfield plant, creating national buzz about the brewery. 
“Before the brewery, our dad worked at Lockheed Martin and was on the road a lot. He really wanted to be closer to home, and to us,” said James Killeen. “It all started with a home brew kit.” 
Dave LeFrancois, a former attorney who now presides as a judge at Candia District Court, represented Killeen when he set up the company. 
“He basically built the brewery from scratch and he made a real go of it,” said LeFrancois. “It’s just a tough business to break into — there’s a lot of competition, but he put his heart and soul into it.” 
Few know that better than Alan Pugsley, master brewer for Portland, Maine-based Shipyard Brewing Company, which eventually took over Nutfield as a contract brewery. Although original Nutfield brews still exist and are rolled out for special tastings, the only product still sold commercially is Old Nutfield Root Beer. Every Tuesday, Killeen would make the trip to Portland to pick up his 25 weekly kegs of the soda, which he distributed to restaurants around New England. 
Killeen and Pugsley met in 1993 at a craft brewers conference in New Orleans, eventually becoming business associates and longtime friends. 
“Normally every Tuesday I’d see Jim at Shipyard, and we’d sort of wave to one another — we rarely had time to catch up. But three weeks ago we were a little late on production. I bumped into him in the hall and told him he might have to wait a bit for his kegs,” said Pugsley. 
A short time later he saw Killeen waiting inside his truck in the pouring rain, “so I went out, jumped in the passenger seat and we proceeded to have a wonderful talk for the better part of an hour, visiting the old days and taking about the future, just catching up on life,” Pugsley said. “Looking back on it now, it’s hard not to think that it wasn’t such a random thing.” 
Killeen’s main business partner in all things was his wife of 32 years, Tina. 
“They met when they were little kids, like 10 years old,” said Jonathan Killeen. “I think the biggest testament to them is that they managed to work together as a team and stay married, and remain in love. My parents had something special.” 
The couple had just returned from a birthday vacation — Jim Killeen turned 55 on Oct. 7, the day they set out for a trip to Marco Island in Florida. 
“It was the first vacation, just the two of them, that they’d had in years,” said James Killeen. 
The brothers said they aren’t sure what’s next for the Nutfield Root Beer Soda Company, but for now they want to keep it going. 
“It was important to dad,” said Jonathan. “And it’s a terrific root beer. It’s sold exclusively in a lot of restaurant chains, including Wild Willys, and it’s the root beer associated with www.rootbeerkegs. com, something our dad worked out with a kid from Harvard who wanted to try to get underage drinkers and college kids to get in the habit of buying kegs of root beer instead of beer.” 
Given the family legacy, and their large Irish-Catholic family, the brothers figure Friday’s funeral service for their dad will be more a celebration of a life well lived. 
“His favorite saying was ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ the title of his favorite movie. I’m pretty sure the root beer will be flowing Friday, minus the root,” said James Killeen. 

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