Fonio's 'untapped brewing potential': Brooklyn Brewery, Carlsberg & Guinness team up to showcase the West African grain

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Brooklyn Brewery's brewmaster is leading efforts to encourage use of fonio. Pic:getty/coldsnowstorm
Brooklyn Brewery's brewmaster is leading efforts to encourage use of fonio. Pic:getty/coldsnowstorm

Related tags beer Brewing Fonio

A collaboration of global brewers is setting out to showcase the ancient West African grain fonio and its potential in brewing more sustainably.

Launched this week, the ‘Brewing for Impact’ initiative is led by Brooklyn Brewery’s Brewmaster Garrett Oliver as he celebrates 30 years with the craft brewer.

Oliver has mobilized a coalition of brewing partners  including Maison Kalao from Senegal, Thornbridge from the UK, Omnipollo from Sweden, Carlsberg from Denmark, Russian River from the US, Jing-A from China, and Guinness, alongside Brooklyn Brewery.

Each will be tasked with crafting a unique beer made from fonio, a grain in the millet family, which has thrived in West Africa for over 5,000 years.

The 'seed of the universe'

Fonio – known as the ‘seed of the universe’ – thrives in nutrient-poor soil in arid regions where other crops fail, without the need for fertilizers or pesticides. It also supports soil regeneration, while providing a vital source of income from smallholder farms in West Africa, which are predominantly female-led.

Garrett Oliver began brewing with Fonio in 2019 and the grain is used in Brooklyn's ‘Fonio Rising’.

"In some ways ‘Brewing For Impact’ is the most important work I've ever done," said Oliver. "If what we've started truly catches hold in the industry, we will hopefully start seeing the wider use of a grain that has no need for irrigation​fertilizers, pesticides or other chemical inputs. It also supports soil regeneration while providing a vital source of income for thousands of smallholder farms in West Africa, which are predominantly female-led…all while making some really fantastic beers. What more can you ask for?"

Rolling out throughout 2024, the global campaign will feature a series of limited edition beers that spotlight fonio's potential, with each respective brewery contributing its own expertise and creativity to the lineup.

Coming soon...

The collaborations, listed in order of their release, are as follows:

  • April - Maison Kalao (Senegal):​ The"Brooklyn A Dakar" Pilsner is the latest from a newer lineage of fonio beers at Maison Kalao, initiated after witnessing Oliver's use of the grain grown in their own country.
  • May - Thornbridge (UK):​  Thornbridge Brewery introduces the world's first Pale Ale – Cask Beer made with fonio. 
  • June - Omnipollo (Sweden):​ Omnipollo’s "Blacker Chocolate Stout,” reimagines the first beer Oliver ever brewed for Brooklyn Brewery - “Black Chocolate Stout" - with a focus on fonio's sustainability.
  • July - Carlsberg Laboratory (Denmark):​ The launch of a 100% fonio beer in July is a collaboration with Carlsberg Research Lab​.
  • August - Russian River (US):​ Russian River’s Fonio Belgian blonde ale emerges from the deep friendship between Garrett and the owners of Russian River, Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo.
  • September - Brooklyn Brewery (US): ​Brooklyn Brewery adds to its fonio beer lineup with a new pale ale brewed with fonio.
  • October - Jing-A (China): ​Releasing in October, the West Coast IPA made with fonio underscores a unique connection between Oliver and Jing-A - who first introduced Garrett to Beijing's brewing culture - while exploring the historical significance of native grains like fonio.
  • November - Guinness (US):​ Guinness's "Fonio Stout," launching in November, highlights Oliver's long-time respect for the brand - which has deep roots in Africa and around the world - and reflects his personal ties to Ireland.
brewing for impact

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