Brooklyn Brewery has been making delicious ales for years. They come in various flavors and styles, using different types of grains to give each beverage its unique taste. The brewery made headlines recently with the unveiling of the Fonio White Beer. Through a collaboration with African food company Yolélé, this new brew brings awareness to the majestic power of fonio grain.
Yolélé brought fonio to the states. It was founded in 2017 by Senegalese Chef Pierre Thiam, who worked to establish biodiverse, climate-resilient farming networks. The company works with farmers across West Africa to source the grain. Eventually, it’s made into chips and other kinds of snacks.
Yolélé is also very charitable. It gives back to the farmers who grow all its fonio, uplifting the lives of all those involved. Many of these small-time farmers are women.
Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster, became inspired to learn more about the sustainable nature of the grain after seeing a TED Talk by Thiam. “A few years ago, I saw Chef Pierre Thiam’s TED Talk about fonio, and immediately said to myself, ‘This grain sounds amazing … I wonder if we can make beer from it?’” Oliver said.
In a pilot brew, Oliver found the beer possessed a fruity flavor. He likened it to Gewurztraminer wine. Taste tests by patrons at the Great American Beer Festival in 2019 confirmed his perceptions: it was delicious.
In October 2022, the new Brooklyn Brewery x Yolélé Fonio White Beer was launched. People can buy it in stores like Whole Foods.
Even better, the collaboration supports West African farms and saves the environment with each purchase.
“Our work here makes great beer, but more importantly, it centers the fonio-producing community in all of our actions around our projects,” Oliver told Consensus via email. He added, “Especially as an African-American brewer whose roots are in that part of Africa, this is some of the most meaningful work I’ve ever done.”
Another aspect of fonio is its highly nutritious properties. It’s naturally gluten-free, so those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease can consume it without making themselves ill. It also has a low glycemic index, meaning blood sugar levels won’t rise when ingested. By that nature, it’s a diabetic-friendly food.
On top of the many nutrients contained in the cereal, fonio helps with cardiovascular health, immune system strength, and cognitive function. Imagine all those benefits in a single can.
Miles Moser, Brooklyn Brewery’s vice president of sales, said the beer gives enthusiasts a chance to learn. “It can serve as an educational opportunity promoting fonio and other grains grown with sustainability in mind as viable ingredients in food products that can really make a difference in the world,” he said.
Fonio, being a drought-resistant crop, requires less water to flourish. It grows near the Sahara Desert, making it exceptionally resilient to arid conditions. Its role as a food source in Africa can’t be underestimated. Millions of people rely on it for food.
“Similar to couscous, fonio has a delicious nutty and earthy flavor,” Thiam said in his TED Talk in 2017. “It can be turned into a salad, served as noodles, used in baking, or simply as a substitute for any other grains in your favorite recipes,” Now, it’s turned into a beer.
“Working with Garrett and the Brooklyn Brewery team has been an incredible partnership, and I am proud to see this delicious beer with an African flair on the shelves of Whole Foods Market,” Thiam said on the Brooklyn Brewery-Yolélé partnership. The collaboration teaches breweries about using alternative grains, especially ones with more nutritional value than rice or barley, and assists the farmers’ harvesting efforts.
“We’re now buying fonio by the ton, and the producers are able to use the funds to purchase modern threshing and milling machines that will remove manual labor and bring the price down,” Oliver proclaimed.
“A grain that’s delicious and requires no irrigation, no artificial fertilizers, no pesticides, no fungicides, and has a low glycemic index and very high levels of nutrition?” Oliver exclaimed. “And we have never even heard of it? It sounds too good to be true, yet it has been true for 5,000 years. We’re the ones just learning now!”