Boys who brew beer at home

by Malati VijayWhat does a man who managed biology experiments on the NASA space shuttle mission take up as his next challenge? Start brewing his own beer in the Caribbean would not be the most obvious answer. After graduating from the University of Vermont, Burlington in 1999, American-born Indian Chirag Vyas found employment as a support scientist. In fact, he even worked with astronaut Kalpana Chawla before her tragic death in 2003.However, two years in, Chirag grew restless and decided to take a break and moved to the Caribbean with his college friend Kevin Chipman. What was initially just a year off, turned into a decadelong love affair. And it all happened because of his passion for quality beer. “We loved microbrew beers, basically quality ales, not lagers. But when we arrived at the Virgin Islands in 2001, there were no microbrews or craft beers available there. So we decided to teach ourselves how to make beer. We bought a typical five-gallon brewing kit — it’s just a bucket with some tubes,” says Vyas. Eventually, they got better at brewing and started sampling their beers to friends on the islands.The feedback encouraged them to start a brewery of their own and today they are the proud owners of St John Brewers. Explaining how beer can easily be brewed at homes, Vyas says, “I am not sure the home brew movement has reached India yet. If you Google ‘home brew kit’, you are sure to find something that would ship to India. If you’re inventive, you can build your own system as well. Having access to specialty grains, hops and yeast strains may be a bit challenging, but it can be done. None of that existed in the islands when we arrived.”He suggests it’s better to start off small. “It’s best to start with a simple 5 gallon kit. If you enjoy brewing, you can upgrade your system. Brewing from as little as five gallons to 3,000 gallons is all very similar. It’s just the scale and size of the equipment that changes,” he adds. He also highlights that quality equipment is crucial for the end product. “Stainless steel or plastic kits are better. Cleanliness is key to brewing great beer. So a kit that can be cleaned and maintained over time is important. Sterile equipment is also essential to avoid spoiling your beer.After all, it is a food product.” He insists that beginners should follow procedures consistently and recommends for a step-by-step guide. “Practice is everything. Experiment with new recipes as you become more competent and try new ingredients. There is no one exact type of beer. There are thousands of variations, so get creative. And of course, share with your friends and family,” he concludes.

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