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African ‘super grain’ beer launches in UK as cereal prices remain high

Brewgooder has teamed up with Brooklyn Brewery to launch a beer made with west African ‘super grain’ fonio as a “people-positive alternative” to wheat, co-founder Alan Mahon told the drinks business.

African 'super grain' beer launches in UK as wheat prices remain high

Fonio is an African heritage grain which most closely resembles a cross between couscous and quinoa in both appearance and texture. It has been dubbed a superfood, as well as Africa’s “forgotten crop”, and is a vital resource for farmers in the western parts of the continent where other grains like wheat are scarce.

Fonio also thrives in poor soils and is a drought resistant crop, meaning it offers some strong sustainability credentials.

When people think of the ingredients used to brew beer, fonio is rarely the first thing to come to mind. But that could be about to change, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused a shortage of other grains used to brew beer in parts of the world.

Since early last year, wheat prices across Africa – which previously received 44% of its wheat from Ukraine – have risen by about 50%, according to iNews.

As such, brewers in Senegal are turning to fonio as an alternative.

And here in the UK, Brewgooder and Brooklyn Brewery have now launched the first beer using the cereal, dubbed a “super-grain” by the two brands.

African 'super grain' beer launches in UK as wheat prices remain high

Alan Mahon, Brewgooder co-founder, told db the project has been 12 months in the making. “We had been speaking about the possibility of the beer with Garrett Oliver and the Brooklyn team since summer 2019 before the discussion was waylaid for a few years by the pandemic. Finally getting it launched after a year of hard work feels great,” he said.

In making the beer, the breweries have opted to purchase goods from West African farmers, and will continue to re-investing part of the funds to support the development of rural communities within fonio farming countries.

“The project has been born of a desire to develop an empowering supply chain by working with small holder farmers,” Mahon explained.

However, the war in Ukraine has had a “wide-scale inflationary impact on wheat in the beer industry and in the wider world of food prices” in the UK as well as Africa, and Mahon explained to db that “fonio is certainly a more people-positive alternative over the long term”.

The beer is a Session IPA canned at 4.3% ABV with a light finish, highlighting fonio as a key ingredient, with potential to make brewery supply chains more inclusive and less carbon-intensive.

Brewgooder and Brooklyn Brewery aim to develop a supply chain enabling more regular, at-scale use of the grain within the UK brewing industry, the brands have said.

To date, fonio is not a grain used widely in the UK, and the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) believes it is unlikely to be so in the future.

The trade body noted that while cereal prices have been high for a while driven by the crisis in Ukraine and issues with fertiliser costs, the UK beer industry is somewhat less reliant on exports because it sources barley from UK farms. In the UK, it is rare to find an all-wheat beer and the main types of beers with a higher wheat content being German and Belgian style wheat beers, meaning that sourcing a wheat alternative is less of a pressing issue.

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