Brooklyn’s Oliver Looks to Unite Industry in Pioneering ‘Brewing for Impact’ Initiative

For over three decades Garrett Oliver, the James Beard Award Winning Brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, has continued to be a beacon of innovation in the craft beer movement, skillfully blending his passion for crafting exceptional beers with a steadfast commitment to social change within the industry and beyond. In celebration of his 30th anniversary with Brooklyn Brewery this year, Oliver is proud to unveil the “Brewing for Impact” campaign, an initiative that not only honors Oliver’s enduring influence but also embarks on a collaborative exploration with breweries worldwide, spotlighting the versatile, climate-resistant, ancient West African grain fonio and its untapped brewing potential.

The “Brewing for Impact” initiative is rooted in Garrett’s belief in beer’s power to unite people, cultures, and traditions. Embracing this vision, Garrett has mobilized a diverse 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 tasked with crafting a unique beer made with fonio, a grain in the millet family, which has thrived in West Africa for over 5,000 years. Since pioneering fonio brewing in 2019, Garrett aims to further illuminate the super grain’s brewing prowess with this campaign, while also nodding to beer’s origins in Africa, reminding us of the continent’s rich contribution to the brewing world.

Oliver explains: “In some ways ‘Brewing For Impact’ is the most important work I’ve ever done. 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 remarkable qualities and potential to drive positive change, with each respective brewery contributing its own expertise and creativity to the lineup. The collaborations, listed in order of their release, are as follows:

  • April – Maison Kalao (Senegal): The”Brooklyn A Dakar” Pilsner, coming in April, is the latest from a newer lineage of fonio beers at Maison Kalao, initiated after witnessing Oliver’s innovative use of the grain grown in their own country. 
  • May – Thornbridge (UK): Launching in May, Thornbridge Brewery introduces the world’s first Pale Ale – Cask Beer made with fonio. This blend of tradition and innovation celebrates a 15-year friendship, rooted in Oliver’s admiration for British cask ale, the tradition that sparked his brewing career.
  • June – Omnipollo (Sweden): Omnipollo’s “Blacker Chocolate Stout,” set for release in June, 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, showcasing both Carlsberg’s and Garrett’s enthusiasm for pioneering sustainable brewing practices and exploring fonio’s potential in new frontiers of beer.
  • 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, and their shared commitment to excellence coupled with a desire to explore being more sustainable in brewing.
  • September – Brooklyn Brewery (US): In September, Brooklyn Brewery adds to its impressive fonio beer lineup with a new pale ale brewed with fonio, embodying the “Brewing for Impact” ethos and Oliver’s continued innovation with the grain. 
  • 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 Garrett’s long-time adoration and respect for the iconic brand – who have deep roots in Africa and around the world – and reflects his personal ties to Ireland—both a major source of inspiration throughout his brewing career.

The “Brewing for Impact” series of collaborations will also be showing their support for The Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing and Distilling, an organization founded by Garrett Oliver himself. The Foundation – which is dedicated to funding scholarship awards for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) within the brewing and distilling trades – will receive a portion of the proceeds from all the beer released under this campaign.

Garrett’s brewing exploration with fonio was inspired by esteemed Senegalese Chef Pierre Thiam, whose pioneering food company Yolele has played a pivotal role in introducing fonio to the Western world. Captivated by Thiam’s TED talk, Oliver saw the potential of fonio – cultivated in West Africa for over 5,000 years and recently celebrated as part of the UN’s “year of the millet” – and embarked on a mission to create beers with the grain that not only taste exceptional but also contribute to a more sustainable and equitable food system. His advocacy for fonio underscores its environmental resilience, nutritional profile, and its role in supporting rural African communities. Fonio, known as the “seed of the universe,” thrives in nutrient-poor soil in the arid regions near the Sahel Desert where other crops fail, without the need for fertilizers or pesticides. It also supports soil regeneration while providing a vital source of income for smallholder farms in West Africa, which are predominantly female-led.

Through the “Brewing for Impact” campaign, Oliver seeks to highlight fonio’s adaptability and its role in ushering in a brewing future centered on sustainability and social awareness. The widespread interest from breweries around the globe in joining this campaign underscores the recognition of Oliver’s substantial contributions to craft beer and his mission, and it encourages the global community of beer enthusiasts to both celebrate the legacy of a brewing pioneer, while looking forward to the promising role of fonio in the future of brewing.

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