St. John is a tiny island that is part of the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, just east of Puerto Rico. St. John may be the smallest of the three islands that make up the US territory (the other two are St. Croix and St. Thomas), but it is packed with fabulous things to see and do. There is incredible snorkeling and diving in all of the bays that surround the island. With more than 7,000 acres set aside as a National Park, the hiking trails are on par with some of the best in the mainland, but with stunning Caribbean views. Many a travel magazine has awarded St. John beaches as the best in the world – there are some 20 beaches on the North Shore side alone. And the food…some of the best restaurants in the Caribbean can be found here. Sadly, there was just one thing missing from this amazing island. Good beer. Fortunately for St. John, two college buddies from the University of Vermont decided to do something about that.
Kevin Chipman and Chirag “Cheech” Vyas started St. John Brewers after they came to St. John to leave the real world behind. They moved here without jobs and spent their first month living on a boat with no electricity. They spent their days swimming in pristine bays and hiking forest trails. Once they found bartending jobs, their financial situation improved and they realized that St. John was the best place on earth, except for one thing.
“The only beer they had here was Bud Light, Heineken and Heineken Light” says Chapman. That wasn’t enough to satisfy two palates that were used to some of the best craft beers New England had to offer. So after a trip to the local library, they ordered a $50 brewing kit and began making their own. They started with a Pale Ale that included a local mango extract because they wanted their beer to be unique to St. John. After getting raves reviews from friends and locals they decided to parlay it into a business venture.
They purposely called this first beer Virgin Islands Pale Ale because they wanted people to try the beer based on its own merits.
“We called it Virgin Islands Pale Ale, but on the neck of the bottle it said Tropical Mango so people knew what they were getting,” he says.” We didn’t want to get lumped into that “fruity beer” category right off the bat. We wanted people to know this was a true Pale Ale.” The beer is now called Tropical Mango Pale Ale.
The beer tastes exactly as described, a lightly crafted Pale Ale with just a hint of mango sweetness, and is now the signature beer not just of St. John Brewers, but of the entire island.
Although brewing as St. John Brewers since 2004, their first official contract brewing began in 2005. The next logical step was their own place to showcase their beers. The Tap Room opened before Thanksgiving 2006. The Tap Room was housed in a former women’s clothing store at Mongoose Junction in Cruz Bay. Chapman called it a blank slate when they started and they have been slowly adding to it ever since. The Tap Rom had only two taps when they first opened and now they have some 16 taps, with specially made palm tree-shaped taps for their own beers, as well as beers from Shipyard Brewing Company in Portland, ME. A year ago, they added a kitchen and now serve lunch and dinner including Bavarian pretzels, sandwiches, hot dogs, salads and pizza.
As St. John Brewers and the Tap Room have grown, so have the beers. They have Island Summer Ale, a filtered half wheat, half pale ale; Liquid Sunshine Ale, a Belgian-inspired unfiltered wheat with coriander and Curacao orange peel; and Island Hoppin’ IPA, a malty brew with a citrusy accent. Tropical Mango and Island Summer Ale are available year around, while Liquid Sunshine is a spring and summer brew. They also have Amber Jack, the Frozen Cistern Winter Ale and a coffee Irish Stout, which they brew seasonally in small batches available only on draft at the Tap Room. In fact the only place to find any of their beers on tap is at the Tap Room. However, you will find Tropical Mango, Island Summer Ale, Island Hoppin’ IPA and Liquid Sunshine all over the Virgin Islands and in select US states in bottles.
St. John Brewers have expanded their drinks to include sodas and non-alcoholic drinks. They make what has to be the world’s greatest Root Beer made with pure cane sugar, a Ginger Beer and a popular energy drink called Green Flash. Green Flash is so popular, Red Bull is difficult to find on the island. Green Flash is most popular with St. John bartenders for use in shots guaranteed to knock you off your barstool.
After all this growth, St. John Brewers is ready to expand again. Chapman says they are in the process of acquiring a storage container that they will turn into a microbrewery behind Mongoose Junction and brew the beer on the island. Chapman says they hope to have it up and running in three months, but one has to remember this is an island and things do tend to run on island time. That doesn’t bother Chapman or Vyas at all. They plan to stay on St. John.
“I still appreciate why we live here,” Chapman says with a grin. “If I don’t enjoy sunsets, then it’s time to leave.”
The Tap Room is open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight and Sundays from noon until midnight. Happy hour is from 4 to 6 p.m. with $1 off all pints. Bottled beers can be found in California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island and the US Virgin Islands. Find St. John Brewers on Facebook and Twitter. For those living or visiting Atlantic City, New Jersey, St. John Brewers will be at the Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival March 30-31.