Though "medicine" and "micro-brewery" may be near one another in a dictionary, for most people the two words are not a combination of pursuits that immediately come to mind. But Rajat Parikh, MD is having significant success with both.
The son of a cardiologist from India, Parikh was born in Brooklyn, New York, raised in Manhattan, and traveled much of the world before joining his current practice with Birmingham Gastroenterology Associates in 2011. His specialties are endoscopic ultrasound and gastrointestinal oncology.
Parikh graduated from New York University, received his MD (with honors) from St. George's University School of Medicine on the Caribbean island of Grenada, and served as chief medical resident at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. He wasn't quite sure what to expect when he moved to the south, he says, but has found it a pleasure: "There are fewer distractions and a somewhat slower pace. People are friendly, and they're neighborly," he says, "so it's helped make my transition easy."
Parikh's interest in medicine first surfaced in high school. "I was a physics and chemistry guy, leaning mostly toward a science track," he says. "As a medical student I enjoyed the technical and procedural side--surgery and clinical work."
In graduate school he first focused on neurology, but was gradually drawn to gastroenterology instead. The biggest advance in the specialty during recent years, he says, is the endoscopic ultrasound--a procedure that gives physicians better images of internal organs, including the gastrointestinal tract that previously would have required surgery. "It's been very useful in diagnosing both GI and non-GI cancers," he says, "and therapeutic options have been evolving--such as tissue biopsies made with a small needle, to help identify future malignant lesions. It's a much less invasive way than before.
"By using the scope, patients often don't feel or remember the surgery, and they have no scars. But the images give us an idea whether they would benefit from surgery, or hopefully avoid it. The therapeutic options have altered very rapidly."
But the newest pursuit on Parikh's horizon is connected to one of his pastimes rather than to his clinical work. "I'm not exactly what you'd call a 'foodie,' he says, "but I'm a big fan of high-quality beverages and food. In college I drank the typical types of beer and found that they weren't very tasteful. So it's exciting to see the growth of craft breweries around the country. I have a lot of family in California, and there are many micro-brewers there who are passionate about their work."
After the move to Alabama, he and his wife—who is an obstetrician and gynecologist--took some brewing classes at Hop City Craft Beer and Wine in Pepper Place and experimented with making beer at home. The experience spurred him to learn more about the process. "Beer is much easier than making wine," Parikh says. "The only ingredients are water, hops, and yeast. You can adjust them to your liking, and have a product in six to eight weeks. Plus, the beer doesn't have to be pricey at all."
Along the way he was introduced to another craft brewer, Joe Pillateri, who happened to be involved in a Homewood business startup called Red Hills Brewing Company, and Parikh became a partner.
The brewing process takes place in special vats, away from light and air. "Bacteria is the enemy of beer," Parikh says, "as is too much oxygen and too much light."
The Homewood Planning Commission recently approved Red Hills' rezoning application. The brewery will be located on Central Avenue next to Steel City Pops, and will concentrate on so-called "session beers," with an alcohol content of five percent or less.
As for Parikh's own beer preferences, he says he enjoys a wide variety but his taste tends toward pale ale. One of his favorites is a variety known as India Pale Ale, for its "smoky flavor, and a little bit of spiciness."
One process that organizations such as the Alabama Brewers Guild are watching with interest is in the state legislature: House Bill 69, which would update Alabama's restrictions on craft brewers by allowing them to serve food on site and to sell their beer in bottles for off-site consumption.
Nowadays, according to Parikh, local stores are making more brands of craft-brewed beer available, which he says is part of a national trend. "Right now, craft beers make up about 15 percent of the market, compared to only five percent back in 2009. So they're growing significantly and it's good to see more."
Parikh says the target date for Red Hills being operational is around Labor Day.