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Sankofa Beer Aims to Bring West African-Inspired Beer to Market

With hundreds, if not thousands, of breweries in planning around the country, it can be difficult to find a niche or angle that is untapped (no pun intended). Two homebrewers, Amado Carsky and Kofi Meroe, have just such an angle with Sankofa Beer Company, a brewery in planning that will aim to produce west African-inspired beers. The brewery, which is currently raising funds via a Kickstarter that concludes at the end of the year, has been in the works since 2012. Their Kickstarter will allow them to jump from a 1 BBL production scale to a contract-brewed 30 BBL production scale, which will then place beers like their HYPEbiscus Pale Ale into distribution in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

According to their Kickstarter, Sankofa "is a word from the Ashanti/Akan people in Ghana and translates to “Go back and get”. It is visually represented by a mythic bird with it’s head turned backwards with and egg in it’s beak, or as a stylized heart. Sankofa is a symbol for the understanding that in order to ensure a strong future you must return to collect and understand your past. This understanding resonates with us and has truly inspired us as we write the story for Sankofa Beer."

I had a chance to interview Amado and Kofi via email. What follows below is a transcript of our email, lightly edited for length and clarity.

You've been homebrewing since 2012, but plenty of people have homebrewed for years. Why do you want to make the jump to professional brewing? 

We have spent a lot more time and money on brewing than we ever thought we would, but we have learned to take great pride in our process and our beer. Nothing about our beer journey has ever felt forced, and understanding our personal evolutions, we’re driven to keep growing and moving forward. We feel we have something new and exciting to offer the craft beer scene. It’s been exciting to experience the positive reception we continue to receive for our beer, which has created a need to expand due to the demand for Sankofa Beer. What we are doing, brewing with ingredients and flavors from West Africa, is unique, and we want to champion the idea that inspiration comes in many forms. Our passion to champion this idea along with our intentions to increase the quantity and availability of our beer is what has fueled our decision to make the leap to professional production. 

What draws you to beer as a product? Why invest so much time and energy and money into beer and setting up a brewery?

Watching other people enjoy our beer has been a big motivator. It feels good to create something from your raw personal inspiration that can bring someone else joy. Every beer for us is our opportunity to do that. We’ve gravitated towards craft beer and enjoy being invested participants in the craft culture because we’ve found the industry to be creatively challenging yet fundamentally collaborative. We wouldn’t know half the things we know or have most of the things that we have without the knowledge of and collaboration with other professional and homebrewers alike. Our love for beer has grown into a love for the culture.

Beyond homebrewing, have you done any other formal brewery training? You'll be contract brewing to start out; will this be your first time on a professional system and what are your feelings about it? 

We’re beyond excited about the prospect of brewing on a commercial system! We’ve upgraded our pilot system in quality and capacity slowly and economically over the years, so we know the ins and outs of the brewing process. We’ve also spent time with other brewers on and around their systems, but when compared to our pilot set up, the sheer volume of what we’ll be producing, and sophistication of the equipment on the commercial scale excites us. Neither of us have any formal training, but we’re eagerly looking forward to educating ourselves on and gaining familiarity with larger scale brewing systems. We’ve made sure to select a production partner that has a highly qualified team of brewing professionals that understand our production needs and will work hand-in-hand with us to produce high quality Sankofa Beer.

What are the some of the other proposed beers in your brewery portfolio. What other west African influences can you bring to beer? 

We have a handful of other beers that we make and have featured at various events this year. They include; a chocolate milk stout that features raw cocoa nibs from Ghana; a Kola Nut Porter that includes kola nut harvested in West Africa, and our ‘Harmattan Haze’ is a traditional wheat beer, but the name is influenced by the hazy Harmattan season experienced in some sub-Saharan countries in Africa. Looking at our HYPEbiscus Pale Ale can, you’ll see that it’s designed with a Kente cloth background, drawing attention to the beauty of west Africa textile. We want to highlight west Africa not only through taste, but to get people to realize how much the continent can contribute to the craft beer culture.

Craft beer certainly isn't the most diverse industry out there, to put it mildly. How do you view yourselves in the context of bringing your culture into an industry that's typically very white (and largely devoid of African culture)? 

We’re huge fans of the craft beer industry as it is. We think the traditional European and North American styles are delicious. We’re not looking to change that, and we brew those styles. We do however see a void in the industry which we’d like to see filled. We’re trying to draw attention to this so that one day the craft beer industry has a diverse representation. Imagine how many more options the craft beer lover will have at that point!

Beyond your beers, what do you most appreciate about the DC beer scene? Where do you think it needs to improve? 

You don’t need to drive far around DC to enjoy a healthy variety of craft beer, whether at a brewery or pub with countless options on tap. The DC beer scene has really inspired us to keep brewing great beer. What’s lacking is some variety in the ambience offered by many of these places. We’ve found the tap room experience especially has become very predictable, catering to a consumer that’s traditionally not very diverse. We would really love to be part of re-imagining craft beer culture and who craft beer consumers are.

If you don't meet your Kickstarter goal, what will next steps be for Sankofa? 

If we don’t meet our Kickstarter goal, it won’t be the last you hear of Sankofa Beer Company. Yes it will set us back, but we’ll regroup, grow, and find another way to get ourselves out on the market.

Where can folks try HYPEbiscus in the near future, if anywhere? 

In the near future, folks will be able to have some HYPEbiscus Pale Ale at select restaurants and bars in or around DC. We’ve been communicating with businesses who are committed to serving African-inspired beer on tap. We’ve also started putting our 2018 event calendar together, we’re urging everyone to go to our website (www.sankofabeer.com) and make sure they’re subscribed to our mailing list. It’s going to be a fun 2018, Stay tuned. 

What did I miss that's important for our audience to know?

If you haven’t already, please make a pledge to our Kickstarter Campaign and help us spread the word! Our campaign will only be funded if we meet 100% of our goal. Our campaign will finish at the end of the year. There are links to our Kickstarter page on our website and social media profiles. Cheers!

Thanks to Sankofa for reaching out. Good luck meeting your Kickstarter goal!

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