Some people love it, and some people hate it, but there is no doubt about it — the unique tasting, mango-flavored Virgin Islands Pale Ale is a well-recognized beer.
The beer’s creators and the two-man team behind St. John Brewers — Kevin Chipman and Chirag “Cheech” Vyas — are about to become even more popular, with sales of V.I. Pale Ale extending to California and Rhode Island; the debut of a new summer ale, due out next spring; and the opening of the Tap Room at Mongoose Junction. Several liquor stores in Rhode Island began carrying V.I. Pale Ale this summer; and, after a chance encounter between Vyas and the purchasing director for Beverages and More, the mango-flavored ale can be found in 55 of the retailer’s stores in California, from Sacramento to San Diego.
Expanding to California
Vyas was working at a bar on island one night when, in the process of chatting up his customers, he learned that he was face to face with the purchasing director of a California-based beer, wine and spirits retailer.
“I had been trying to get ahold of somebody at Beverages and More to see if they would carry V.I. Pale Ale,” said Vyas. “That night at the bar, he tried our beer. He came back the next night and said, ‘get in touch with me when I get back to California — I want to carry your beer.’”
Chipman and Vyas are expanding their local operations as well, with the addition of the Tap Room — an air-conditioned bar located in Mongoose Junction with four beers on tap, and a small in-house brewery.
“We always wanted to open this place up, it was just a matter of getting recognition first,” said Vyas. “We got this place, and we are really excited about it.”
New, Lighter Beer
While opening up a bar in beautiful Mongoose Junction, complete with air conditioning and a courtyard patio is something to be excited about, the brewers seem even more excited about their new beer, scheduled to debut next year.
“We are really excited to start brewing beer,” said Vyas. “We’re excited to have our own thing that we’re doing.”
The new beer will be lighter than V.I. Pale Ale, according to Chipman.
“It will be something a little lighter than our last beer,” he said. “We were hearing from people that they couldn’t drink more than one or two of the V.I. Pale Ale, so this one will be something lighter — easy drinking, summer style.”
The brewers chose the recipe for V.I. Pale Ale as their first beer because they wanted to differentiate themselves, according to Vyas.
“You’ve got to distinguish yourself as something different,” he said. “We knew that it wasn’t going to be everyone’s beer.”
“We wanted to be unique and stand out,” agreed Chipman. “We felt that was important.”
The brewers chose not to list the fruit that gives the beer its flavor — mango — on the label to avoid scaring away those who don’t like fruit beers, Vyas explained.
“We thought people would assume it’s a fruit beer, and there is a lot less fruit in it than a fruit beer would have,” he said. “We didn’t want people to not try it. The next batch will have ‘mango’ on the label.”
The brewers, who are both just 29 years old, have come a long way from their experiments in home brewing.
“When we moved down here, we were kind of disappointed with the beer,” said Vyas.
“We started brewing shortly after we moved here five years ago,” said Chipman. “We enjoy a fuller flavor, so we bought a simple brewing kit. People started to like what we were doing.”
The brewers started using some of the island’s restaurant’s kitchens to brew their beer, which meant working at odd hours, explained Vyas.
“We had to start brewing when the restaurants were closed, so we’d be there from one until about five in the morning,” he said.
The St. John Brewers will now have the luxury of brewing their beer right at their bar — once the brewery is set up, that is.
“Building the brewery is the hardest part,” said Vyas.
Unfortunately, due to an equipment delivery snafu, the brewing equipment will be delivered later than expected, explained Chipman.
“We would have preferred to start brewing now,” he said. “We already have the recipe for the next beer.”
The Tap Room, which opened just after Thanksgiving, will always have beer on tap, according to Vyas.
“We will always have four beers on tap,” he said. “Depending on production time and consumption, we’ll have two to three of our own, and one to two of other brands.”
The brewers are holding out on putting a usual bar staple at the Tap Room — a television.
“A lot of locals are really digging the new bar because of the air conditioning and the beer on tap, but we’re not sure about TVs yet,” said Vyas. “We really want to promote conversation.”
The Tap Room is also helping locals kill two birds with one stone — having a beer and Christmas shopping.
The bar features several St. John Brewers-themed gifts, including bottle openers, mens and womens t-shirts, key chains, bumper stickers and pint glasses.
St. John Residents Approve
“A lot of people have been getting Christmas gifts here,” said Vyas. “The merchandise makes good stocking stuffers.”
The Tap Room has already gotten the stamp of approval from St. John residents, who enjoy the air conditioning’s added benefit of keeping the beer cold.
“Where else can you get a cold beer from the first sip to the last?” said Joe Garza.
The Tap Room is St. John’s only brewery, and is open daily from noon to 9 p.m.