It’s not out of the norm to walk into a taproom and have options other than beer. A lot of local taprooms will also stock wine, kombucha, and even soda for those who may not have the palate for a pint, but have you ever experienced a taproom with smoothies? Danii Oliver, owner of Island to Island Brewery and House of Juice provides just that in her taproom located in the “heart of Brooklyn”, according to her website. Not only can you settle in and order a pint of beer brewed with Guineps, known as Spanish Limes, grown in Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, but you can also order smoothies, tonics, or probiotic sodas. Her mission is bigger than beer and you can see that with the events held on location like the “LGBTQ Nights Out”, or the seminars and workshops revolving around a children’s culinary program. As a mother, she also focuses her attention on other moms, with special menus for nursing mothers and nutrition coaching. Again, her mission is bigger than beer.
But as a West Indian woman running these operations, we’re sure the road hasn’t been easy. We wanted to speak to Danii herself, to dive a little deeper into the ins and outs of her businesses, the how and why she started, and the struggles she’s had to face as an owner.
(Dom): Tell us about the thought process behind opening a brewery and juicery?
My thought process behind opening both a brewery and juicery had to do with time, the natural phases of produce as time passes. I call that process or experience “Seed to Spirit”. As a manufacturer we take seeds or produce that are blended or milled we add water to then craft a juice. That juice if left alone over time naturally ferments and becomes something else. So juice, tea, or smoothie with time becomes cider, kombucha or beer. I offer all phases in order to serve a wider audience like those who can not drink alcohol.
When did you fall in love with beer? What made you decide to turn it into a career?
My love affair with beer has been cultivated over my entire life span. From my first taste at family BBQs, to learning about Sam Adams’ craft beer and the time brewers bathed in the wort; to when I first tasted a Tsingtao (my favorite beer to date); to learning my Arawak native & Hindi elders and ancestors were brewing back home in the Caribbean for many generations.
The decision to turn beer into a career stemmed from what made me fall in love with beer in the first place, its ability to bring people together like when I spent a night during the holiday season peeling sorrel in Trinidad with my family. We had gotten a fresh bushel of sorrel and everyone came together to talk and sing while pulling seeds from the flesh. While doing this work my fingers became loaded with tiny prickles from the seed. The experience was not desirable, it was painful work. However after it was all peeled my aunt brewed a batch of christmas sorrel added what her accent sounded like she said was “east” to it and by the next day or so the liquid had become fizzy to my surprise.
That experience of family coming together to share and make magic happen with a beverage made me want to recreate experiences just the same way. I set out on a mission to bring back a drinking culture based on socializing while enjoying the fruits of labor and the land.
What is the inspiration behind the ingredients you use to brew with?
I am inspired by the seasons; by the health benefits of every ingredient used, how my guests will feel while drinking, what they will talk about while sharing a pint with friends, and by the stories and memories each fruit brings to mind.
Take for instance, the memory of pleasure from years of backyard barbecues where family and friends came together to powwow. The aroma of smoke in the air, well seasoned foods grilling, sweet fruits like watermelon all laid out and everyone drinking Caribs or Heinekens. Those memories are what inspired “The Perfect BBQ Beer” recipe. It’s the idea of taking strong aspects of those memories and allowing them to inform the ingredients choices. In the case of that watermelon rye saison, the inspiration was “what if I could have my grilled meats, a juicy sweet fruit and a strong drink at the same time and never have to get up from my chair while at a barbecue?”
I am also inspired by working with seasonal fruits and the many ways to process them by hand, as I don’t use extracts or syrups – hence the juicery part of the business. It goes back to the time spent working with produce that is time also spent building relationships, healing, and meditating. My idea is that if you are going to consume something that affects your health, it should add to your wellbeing.
How long have you been brewing and how long has your company existed?
I’ve been crafting recipes for over 10 years and it turned into brewing about 5 years ago. My beverage companies were started shortly after I started brewing. I was seeking healthier options in my life to maintain my health while still being social. No options existed at the time in a truly social setting.
What are some of your favorite styles of beer?
Ask me that a few years ago and I would have had a short, simple answer for you. Today, as a brewer of off centered non Eurocentric style ales, I am an explorer. There are 6000 plus breweries in the U.S.A. alone, and no one recipe of a style tastes completely the same as another. I love Sour Beer styles but have had some that I could not get through a flight tasting of. I hate the IPA style, especially DDH IPA. However, a handful of IPAs have tickled my fancy.
What are a couple of things that you love about the beer industry?
I love how beer isn’t snobby like wine. Beer brings people together, while wine is part of an elitist culture. I love how beer has many possibilities for creativity. Beer is not one thing done one way. I can make truly all American beer and not follow a single German rule.
Tell us about some of the challenges that you have faced in the beer industry?
This is such a loaded question that can be divided into topics such as working conditions, brand culture development, guilds, retail account sales, beer festivals, ambassadorship, funding, ownership, government responsibilities, politics, professional assistance and even representation.
I was 100% positive that my willingness to pull long hours, do heavy lifting, and meet the needs of being in this industry would make me capable of facing all challenges. What I didn’t know was how many little things can pop up and lead to a challenge not foreseen due to discrimination from systemic bias.
For instance, as a woman in manufacturing, specifically in beer, there is an oversight on working conditions. There are no considerations for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding in the industry. As an owner, there aren’t benefits I am entitled to for maternity leave, so I had to keep working. When opportunities to market my brand came up, I was disqualified by the membership organization I belonged to because they had not considered what women in my situation might need. The response was “it’s out of our control”, even though there were several options available.
That situation became a challenge not just because I am a woman but also because of conflict of interest for those who have sales relationships with the vendor. It was not resolved because I am different from the majority of owners. If someone who looked like everyone else in the organization was in my shoes the organization would have gotten insurance, provided a place to breastfeed, offered child care or simply selected a location that was welcoming to women as a whole.
The president of the group attempted to shame me for being a working mother in this manufacturing industry. He shamed me as a woman who is different stating “As a Black, you can not represent the group because craft beer does not look like you”.
Other challenges faced can be handled like equipment size versus my height, or weight of packaging vs my ability to lift. These are solvable with engineering and design technologies. I just have to spearhead development of those solutions.
What would you like to see change within the industry?
The inclusion of Women in media; in breweries; in taprooms and a shift from a “bro culture” that makes beer a vice that harms people as we’ve seen with Kavanaugh. Inclusion of women not as sexy eye candy, not as a diversity filler, and not as the wife of but, as the organizational lead. We are working important roles, yet there is no public representation of women in beer in power. After all, the head of Heineken is a woman.
I would also love to see the stigma of craft beer being only for certain people shifted. Beer has been drunk by the people around me all my life… I never thought it was for one kind of person until I started working in the industry. It’s absurd that something as colorful and diverse as beer is assumed to be limited in consumption. I know it’s not the case, but representation is lacking. Part of the reason why it’s lacking is the bad behavior that is celebrated at festivals and in college dorms.
Give us some ways that you feel the industry can make these changes.
For starters, let’s not host events about women in beer, but invite male-owned breweries at the expense of leaving women-owned establishments out. Let’s not over-serve free samples to the point of festival guests getting wildly drunk and out of control.
Any words of advice or encouragement for anyone who looks like you coming into the industry?
Don’t fear getting blacklisted or not being put on. Because you are blacklisted, you won’t be put on unless there is a vacancy for diversity. Riz Ahmed said something to the effect of – diversity is like a side not the burger, or the seasoning on top of a meal. Don’t accept the tiny space that is labeled diversity. Rather stand alone to create the representation that is needed. Be a beacon of representation for women and for indigenous people. Create a safe space for women and be the example that proves to the young people that they can do it too.
Everyone now is talking about the politicizing of brands. It seems that there is an air of distaste for such. But haven’t brands been politicized since their inception?
Founders are asked about their inspiration to do a difficult thing like start a business that never existed to serve a need or niche in society. That is political. People collectively governing themselves aka larger than life corporations are what make ideas reality. The government of the U.S.A is a corporation with revenues, logos, PR campaigns, and advertisements it needs to communicate to the people who are its customers. It sells roadways to drivers and schools to parents for the cost of taxes. It sells a lifestyle.
Commercial brands do the same thing – we sell lifestyles. So when a brand that has a personal inspiration and a need to fill in society mentions a political view, why is it frowned upon? Politics affect brands as much as they affects the people who personally work for the brand. My brands serve the needs of people seeking healthy options while being social. The people who overwhelmingly gravitate toward this brand are female. I think they care about how women are treated when it comes to receiving goods and services. The political tone of 2018 is women care, but we’re not yet winning.
The thing that sucks is that women don’t speak up in the beer industry. I think many are scared the boys will label them as hysterical, not able to keep up, etc. I ask, why do we need to keep up? Why can’t a culture of safe drinking be celebrated?
Without having a political view, prohibition would have never come to pass and eventually end. Brands are what move the dial in society. MLK was a brand that sold a dream of equality for Americans.
Dom is the Co-Founder of Beer Kulture which focuses on exposing new demographics to good beer. He is a Certified Cicerone® and BJCP Recognized Beer judge with experience working in two of the three tiers of the beer industry. He’s passionate about beer but even more so about inviting new markets in.
The Beer I Can’t Stop Thinking About: Früh Kölsch