For those of you not familiar with Danii Oliver, (@americanwomaninbeer) she is founder of Island to Island Brewing, Brookyln Jun Brew and House of Juice, and is a force to be reckoned with in the beer industry.
When I reached out to Danii, I gave her a run down of what I’d like to discuss during our Zoom meeting, as I do with any person of interest. I listed a final topic asking, “What is it like being a Black woman in the beer industry?” She replied, “I am not Black.”
Being a White woman, I was confused and embarassed. When we began our conversation, she started off by saying “We are not what we look like. This is why we do the work we are doing here. To come to the table and build conversation from there.”
There is so much to know about this powerful woman, that I am breaking our interview into a few parts. The first, is this. Let’s get to know Danii and the Arawak/Taino brewing culture.
“The Arawak/Taino people were the first to be encountered when Columbus took his ‘famous’ journey. We are those people. People look at us and think we are Black but we are not. Black Americans are North Americans who have lived a very different life experience than we have. We are the indigenous. We have mixed heritage (I am Arawak, Hindi, Irish, Dominican) … people came from all over the world to make love in paradise and we are the people they were mixing with.”
“It adds to the fullness of our culture and our heritage and I felt it is important for me to talk about being Arawak as people look to the future to see what diversity can be and what diversity can look like. It’s already been done. That is the country of Trinidad and Tobago. We see something different, new and interesting and we approach it with love, with beer, with making new human beings because we want to. It’s not something built out of violence or by force. It’s something built out of love. That is the Arawak people. We are all about lovin’ and drinkin’ and making good music and making people happy.”
Like many traditions, the Arawak way of brewing began in the kitchen. Danii’s great-grandparents had a farm in the Caribbean and would pick whatever was in season and press it into juice. After passing off the juice, known as Sorrel, to the children of the family, they would reserve the rest, add yeast and allow fermentation to take place. They would transfer it to a special bottle and bring it to a Backyard Bacchanal to share amongst friends and family. Here they would relate stories of lineage and ancestry. And here, it was not abnormal for women to drink beer because it was the women who were making it!
Moving forward to present day. Danii was faced with some health problems and made a change in her diet that provoked her to utilize Farmer’s Markets and eat more whole foods. While she was creating concoctions and forcing her parents to take a health-shot to clean out their systems, her parents began to remember memories within them. They asked Danii, “How did you know how to do this? Who taught you this?” These tinctures were similar to the ones created by “Nana” and were never officially passed down onto Danii.
She believes she was channeling guidance from an ancestral spirit. Danii was drawing a true connection to what she was doing and what had been done in the past.
In the coming stories of Danii Oliver, I will share with you her work in founding three successful businesses in NYC, her farmstead in Texas, her work with the organization Beersgiving and the work she has planned for Pink Boots Society (she was on the ballot for the 2021 Board of Directors and seeks to work in diversifying the craft beer industry.) Stay tuned!