Denise-Ford Sawadogo and Leo Sawadogo are the married couple behind New Jersey’s Montclair Brewery. At the foundation of the brewery is a vision of connecting their diverse upbringings and cultures with the Montclair community through beer.
“Culturally, beer is a part of us,” says Denise Ford-Sawadogo, co-owner and general manager of the brewery. “My husband [and head brewer/co-owner] Leo is from West Africa, where there is just a wealth of culture.”
Ford-Sawadogo acknowledges that in West Africa, it’s traditionally the women who do the brewing. But her husband is a chef by training and has a vast knowledge of the fruits, plants, herbs, and ingredients that are unique to that part of the world. Ford-Sawadogo was born in Brooklyn, the first in her family to have been born outside their native Jamaica, and grew up on Long Island in a household dominated by kitchen smells of hibiscus and coconut.
“We and our beer are very inspired by our culture,” she says.
For evidence, look no further than Baobiere, a golden ale from Montclair Brewery which is a mainstay on tap and is packaged in cans. Baobiere is brewed with fruit from the baobab tree, a tree native to parts of Madagascar and Africa, and is often referred to as the “Tree of Life.”
“Only Leo would know about [brewing with] that fruit,” she says, laughing.
In fact, the brewery’s beer menu is typically full of beers that reflect their upbringing from Hibiscus Dream, a pale ale brewed with the flower. Kingston Porter is a beer named for Jamaica in honor of Ford-Sawadogo’s family history.
Denise and Leo recognize there aren’t many Caribbean or West African natives in the U.S. craft brewing world, but Denise says that motivates them to make sure everyone feels welcome and comfortable coming into the brewery.
“We pride ourselves on making our guests feel comfortable,” she says. “We are appealing to larger audiences.”
Montclair Brewery’s Black History Month Beers
Staying true to their vision to connect with culture through craft beer, Montclair Brewing is releasing a series of beers for Black History Month that pays homage to some of the black Americans that created lasting cultural legacies. For the husband and wife, Black History Month is a chance to “openly and proudly honor all the great accomplishments that people of African descent have contributed to the world,” Ford-Sawadogo says.
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