Brewing For Impact: The Roots Of Fonio With Maison Kalao


Brewing For Impact: The Roots Of Fonio With Maison Kalao

Brewing For Impact celebrates Brewmaster Garrett Oliver’s thirty year anniversary at Brooklyn Brewery. Garrett collaborated with seven breweries around the world to showcase fonio, a remarkable West African grain that can light the way towards a sustainable and equitable brewing future. Each collaboration will also support the Michael James Jackson Foundation’s scholarship program for BIPOC brewery and distillery professionals. Learn more about Brewing For Impact here and look for more releases throughout 2024.

Brewmaster Garrett Oliver was first introduced to fonio in 2019 through a TED talk from Senegalese Chef Pierre Thiam. Chef Thiam and his food company, Yolélé, were convinced that fonio could bridge the past and the future of food: it was nutritious, remarkably flavorful, and tenacious enough to grow easily in tough soil conditions without pesticides or outside chemical inputs.

Garrett reached out to Chef Thiam and began brewing with fonio soon after, showcasing the fruit-forward and sometimes champagne-like impact of the grain in a series of beers. News of the pioneering approach to the grain spread far and wide – including to fonio’s homeland of Senegal, where Raphaël Hilarion was watching.


Raphaël is the founder of Maison Kalao, a pioneering brewery in Dakar, Senegal. He was developing recipes for fonio beers when he found out Garrett had, as he says, “beaten him to it.” Inspired by Garrett’s work, Raphaël reached out with questions as he started creating his own line of fonio-driven beers.

“I had so many questions about how to brew the fonio,” Raphaël says. “Garrett is an artist, and very technical.”

Raphaël also sees the impact fonio could have on its native home, where it has long been an afterthought. “Colonization over the centuries has meant that people locally don’t even know about the fonio. It went from Dakar to Brooklyn before coming home again. If we can make fonio known, it could have a great impact on the agriculture in Senegal and encourage local production of fonio.”

“This is what’s so cool about fonio,” Garrett adds. It isn’t just about brewing, it’s about community too.”

Raphaël believes that fonio could have a major impact on the local economy. “The fonio has so many benefits in addition to impacting the local communities. It is also a very sustainable grain, and we want to use it to create a circular economy. We can also use it for the animal feed, compost, then the farmers can use it too. It brings the whole community to be part of it, beyond beer.”

Garrett says this is what fonio is all about to him. “An ancient grain that’s been used for millennia to build and sustain communities – we can learn so much from this ancestral wisdom. This is the future. So much versatility and such a tiny little grain, and it makes delicious beer too.”

Raphaël and Garett collaborated to make Dakar A Brooklyn, a refreshing fonio pilsner uniquely suited for the Senegalese climate. The beer will be available as a limited release in Dakar starting in late April 2024. Follow Garrett and Raphaël for more on their collaboration, and follow us for more to come from Brewing For Impact.