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Malt Insider: The Promise and Possibility of Sustainable Grains

There’s an exploratory movement among craft brewers to go beyond brewing with barley. The flavors coming out of this movement are delighting palates, helping to reduce environmental degradation, and promoting social justice.

Ben Keene Mar 16, 2023 - 14 min read

Malt Insider:  The Promise and Possibility of Sustainable Grains Primary Image

Photo: courtesy Sustain-a-Grain

Late last year, Brooklyn Brewery released an unusual beer, selling it in the Northeast through Whole Foods and at its New York City tasting room. While the beer had an eye-catching, bright orange package that clearly called out a style, Fonio White Beer also leaned into an ancient grain likely unfamiliar to most American drinkers.

Fast-growing and deep-rooted, fonio has been cultivated by West Africans for thousands of years, and it remains an important source of nutrition today. Drought-resistant and able to flourish in the sandy soils of the semiarid Sahel region, this grain—which looks a bit like couscous—is prized for its flavor as well as its properties. These traits have made it a more sustainable annual crop, even despite accelerating climate change—and that might be just what helps it to win over North American brewers.

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Author of The Great Northeast Brewery Tour, a contributor to The Oxford Companion to Beer, and former editor of BeerAdvocate, Ben Keene has judged beer competitions across the US and has spoken at industry conferences and conventions. He lives in Seattle.