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Brooklyn Brewery announces new West African-inspired beer

It was a collaboration with a Senegalese firm

October 31, 2023 From Business Wire
Brooklyn Brewery AP Photo/Richard Drew
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Brooklyn Brewery recently announced the launch of Fonio Rising, a distinctive craft beer made with the climate-resistant, nutritious West African grain fonio.

The beer is being meticulously brewed in collaboration with Yolélé, whose mission is to bring underutilized African ingredients like fonio to global tables. 

Led by James Beard Award-winning Brewmaster Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery has been working with fonio, which has long been a source of income for the most rural of African communities, since 2019. 

Known as the “seed of the universe,” fonio — a grain in the millet family that has thrived in West Africa for more than 5,000 years — has gained significant attention recently for its exceptional nutritional profile and culinary versatility, and even recognized as part of the United Nations’ declaration that this is “the year of the millet.”

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In 2019, Garrett Oliver reached out to Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam, whose pioneering food company Yolélé has played a pivotal role in introducing fonio to the Western world. 

Inspired by Chef Thiam’s TED talk, Oliver swiftly recognized the immense potential of this ancient grain, embarking on a mission to craft a beer that pays homage to its  heritage while supporting the smallholder farms in West Africa.

A Brooklyn Brewery beer collaboration
From left to right: Pierre Thiam of Yolélé, Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery. Photo courtesy of Business Wire

Since then, Oliver has emerged as the foremost authority on utilizing fonio in the brewing process. Prior to the creation of Fonio Rising, fonio has been featured in a number of limited releases. Last year, Brooklyn Brewery and Yolélé’s first partnership, Brooklyn Brewery x Yolélé Fonio White Beer, was released regionally in the U.S. 

Additionally, in 2021, fonio was used in Seed, Stalk And Root, a dark lager brewed in partnership with U.S. based Cajun Fire Brewing Co. And most recently, in Great Britain, Brooklyn Brewery teamed up for a fonio session IPA release with renowned impact beer brand Brewgooder.

Oliver explains, “No fertilizers, no irrigation, no pesticides, no insecticides, no fungicides—- nothing. Whether you look at it from an environmental perspective, a social benefit perspective for the farming communities, or from a brewing perspective, fonio is so good that it seems like someone must have just made it up. But fonio is real, and Africa grows 700,000 tons of it every year. Fonio is easy to brew with and gives beautiful flavors to beer. 

“This is very exciting stuff, and I can easily envision a future where fonio is widely used as an everyday brewing ingredient, bringing vast benefits to brewers, beer drinkers, farmers and the planet,” he said.

What sets fonio apart is its ability to flourish in areas where other crops struggle. In arid regions near the Sahel Desert, this highly nutritious and gluten-free grain thrives in nutrient-poor soil without the need for fertilizers or pesticides. Remarkably drought-resistant, fonio helps regenerate the soil within a short two-month growing period, resulting in bountiful harvests and providing a vital source of income for rural communities in fonio-farming countries.

Working in conjunction with Yolélé, Brooklyn Brewery has created a beer that  blends innovation and tradition, drawing inspiration from Africa’s rich, thousand-year-old beer heritage. Simultaneously, it pays homage to and financially rewards the relentless efforts of predominantly female-led smallholder farms in West Africa, who persevere in cultivating fonio to safeguard its legacy for future generations.

Fonio Rising will be sold in a 4PK of 16-ounce cans, available at Whole Foods Markets across the United States starting in October.

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