Kweza Craft Brewery
Let’s reconsider some basic issues and questions. What is beer? What are its origins? Who makes it? Since women are traditionally the brewers of local alcohol around the world, why do they only represent 2% of brewery owners in the United States, and less than 10% of management? Meaning, they are not profiting from the knowledge, labor, and products they created. And why are only 1% of breweries in the U.S. Black owned? And regardless of industry, why do female founders only receive 2.7% of capital investment, despite performing 63 percent better than companies made up of all-male team members? (US Brewers’ Association data 2018).
Let’s reinvent. Kweza Craft Brewery is Rwanda’s first craft brewery. It’s women owned, women led, and women brewed by a team of Rwandan, Zimbabwean, and American women, backed, so far, by majority female investors including a C-suite executive at Microsoft Corporation. Have we picked an uphill battle? Yes. Finding experienced commercial female brewers, and experienced female brewpub managers are needles in haystacks. Finding the investments to start the country’s first craft brewery, during a global pandemic, no less, is difficult. But the women are there; and the support and interest is there; and the market is drooling at our pilot brews.
We are starting Kweza by both benefiting from women’s traditional brewing knowledge, and the general knowledge around the global USD $1.5 billion alcohol industry. But we stop and ask “why? And does this make sense for us, HERE in Rwanda, and NOW.” We’ve shifted some basics due to that reinvention. Most beer globally is made from barley, wheat, etc. But in Rwanda, we grow sorghum, cassava, maize, and other crops that also ferment into delicious beer, making it a local agricultural supporter, climate friendly, and more cost effective. And we can source from women’s co-ops to keep our goals going. Even the basics of how to serve beer need to be questioned. Glass is made from sand, which comes from beaches and sandy rivers. Rwanda is a small landlocked country in the middle of Africa with clay soil. So, rather than bar glasses, we’re working to source locally made clay steins and growlers, and potentially even giant clay amphorae—historic fermentation vessels to use in conjunction with modern stainless steel equipment!
Now, we’re building our brewery, with a female led and majority female architecture and engineering team, of course! We’re applying the same principles of asking what we have wealth in, such as rain and sun, versus Rwanda’s extremely expensive electricity and intermittent municipal water supply. So, we aim to be rainwater, solar, and wastewater wetland self-contained.
We aim to not only be a successful business, but nurture the start of the whole industry in Rwanda. We want to set the “bar,” and set ourselves up to pay it forward and help other women and African entrepreneurs join us, to show what diversity in ethnicity and gender can do for the global economy and customer experience.
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Photos above provided by Kweza Craft Brewery
Jessi Flynn is the Managing Director and Head Brewer of Kweza Craft Brewery, the first female lead and the first craft brewery in Rwanda. A landscape architect by trade, Jessi moved to Rwanda in 2017 to design and build RICA (Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture). While homebrewing to provide herself a source of good beer, she was put in touch with Beau’s Brewery in Canada in 2018, who had started the Kweza initiative. She helped with supply line research, regulations and location design, and organizing a Brew Crew to carry out a business plan. In October 2019, she transitioned full time to the brewery. Jessi’s background in community development, international agricultural extension work, botany, and homebrewing has provided a perspective to push the concept of a brewery based on local agricultural products and vegetation – from sorghum, cassava, and banana based products to alternative hopping; to engaging local cooperatives in supply chains; to engaging women in brewing at a commercial level.
Photographer (Cover Image)
Mikiodo (Mike) is a photographer living in NYC. Originally from Buffalo, NY, he intended on becoming a geneticist until realizing his heart was in the arts. After 15 years as a graphic designer/production artist, Mike returned to his true passion, photography. Mostly self-taught, Mike’s photographic interest lies somewhere between documentary and fine art. He currently focuses on photographing portraits, construction, skyscapes, and the BLM movement, as well as his “pet project,” a fine art series entitled “FloraMUS” (“flower/mouse”). His photos have been featured by, The Stuttering Association for the Young, BroadwayCares, New York Historical Society Museum, and numerous musician projects and publications. Mike is also Creative Director and songwriter for Holidelic, an annual funk holiday show.