Sankofa Beer Company co-founders Amado Carsky and Kofi Meroe are on schedule to brew their first commercial batch of beer in June. Inspired by the brewing traditions of West Africa, the founders funded their enterprise using Kickstarter. They received a goal-breaking $28,894 from 217 backers to bring their project to life.
In July, District drinkers will be able to try their first taste of Sankofa’s hibiscus pale ale called HYPEbiscus. The vibrant crimson flower is popular in West Africa where it’s known as “bissap,” especially for brewing tea. “A lot of vendors sell it in the street,” Carsky says. “They’re maybe biking a cooler around. It’s usually sold in plastic bags or plastic bottles.”
The majority of the 30-barrel batch of HYPEbiscus will be canned. The co-founders are confident this will evolve over time, especially if they move from contract-brewing at other breweries to building out their own brewery.
As Sankofa matures, the brewers also plan to use other traditional African ingredients and blend their flavors with traditional American craft beer styles like pale ale, porter, and hefeweizen.
The founders say that the word “Sankofa” means “go back and get.” They note that it’s typically illustrated by a mythic bird with its head turned backwards with an egg in its beak, or stylized as a heart. Sankofa symbolizes that to ensure a strong future, you must first return to collect and understand your past.
Carsky and Meroe, both 29, share a passion for home-brewing and had similar upbringings spending their younger years in West African countries. Meroe’s family lived in Ghana and Nigeria, and Carsky’s lived in Benin, Cameroon, and Nigeria. The families knew one another and remained close ever since the two boys met in elementary school in Nigeria.
Carsky, an avid capoeira practitioner, traveled to Porto Seguro, Brazil in 2015 for the 7th World Encounter of Capoeira Sul Da Bahia and plans to go back this summer. “I witnessed people from all around the world who came to absorb capoeira where it originated,” he says. Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that incorporates dance. “The African influence in Porto Seguro is rich, and observable in the food, artwork, people.”
While he was in Brazil, Carsky couldn’t find an African-inspired beer. “This absence seems somewhat common in the Western Hemisphere.”
While creating recipes, the duo has played with various ingredients such as red pepper, lemongrass, citrus fruits, cinnamon, and chamomile. They’ve tried their hands at a Kola nut porter and a chocolate milk stout with Ghanaian cocoa nibs.
Carsky and Meroe walk a fine line in that they don’t want to pigeon hole themselves as the exotic-ingredient brewery. In some beers they’re using traditional West African ingredients, and for others they’re not. But even for beers that don’t feature west African ingredients, their themes evoke images of West Africa. Harmattan Haze is a light wheat ale whose name comes from the Harmattan season. “It’s a season in West Africa where the winds blow south from the Sahara, so it kicks up a lot of dust particles in the air,” Carsky says. The name will keep the continent on beer drinkers’ minds even though it’s brewed with citrusy American hops and spicy German yeast.
While there is no comprehensive list for the beer’s distribution yet, the co-founders plan to release one soon on their website and on social media. Beer seekers are encouraged to visit their website and follow the brewery on social media.