India pale ale is the current king of the craft beer landscape. Queens-born Danii Oliver is blazing her own trail at her brewery, Island to Island Brewery in Brooklyn, NY. Inspired by her culture, the Caribbean-American brewer-owner creates “American indigenous craft ales” by utilizing locally grown New York ingredients, along with produce from as far south as Argentina and as far north as Canada, including sorrel and maize. She also draws from Caribbean cuisine to create brews based on favorites like mango chow and black cake.
A Brewing Tradition
Oliver is not the first woman in her family to tackle fermentation. “My grandmothers and their mothers before them have always been brewing and fermenting. My grandmothers were doing it, but it wasn’t talked about like a thing. It was just life.”
In fact, it was such a routine part of life that she didn’t even know it was a “thing” until visiting family in Trinidad.
“The first craft beverage I ever had was a sorrel ale my aunt made in Trinidad. We sat up all night cutting sorrel. She took it. She made juice out of it. She put the yeast in it. And then when I tasted it a couple of days later, I was in love. I thought she had done magic.” It was quite a revelation as she realized it was how the harvest was preserved. “From juicing it by hand to adding yeast to it and putting it in the cabinet and allowing it to ferment naturally.
“Being a woman in beer, there’s never been a disconnect or an entry point. It’s just always been there,” says Oliver. “The women in my family always drank beer.”
Putting Health First
After an illness, Oliver read up more on the American food system and began to take a more serious approach to her nutrition. She opened House of Juice, a juice bar, while she was waiting for her brewery permit. Oliver says, “I don’t believe that a person should give up their health in order to enjoy themselves.”
Using this mindset, she creates beer to not only taste good but to also be good for you. “I focus first on health, what’s in season. And then when you sit down, you’re literally drinking a cup of medicine, and it tastes good.” An example of this would be the Jab Jab Time mauby stout. Mauby, a bitter bark that has been linked to reducing cholesterol and arthritis relief, replaces the hops as the bittering agent in the beer. Among Island to Island’s other beers include a pilsener made with quenepas, a tropical fruit rich in vitamin A and calcium, and a wheat ale with tamarind which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
A Gathering Place For the Community
“Beer brings people together,” says Oliver. “I want to create environments and spaces where people can feel comfortable.” Island to Island also carriers beverages for non-beer-drinkers such as New York craft spirits, cider, and non-alcoholic options like smoothies and natural sodas such as kombucha. Unlike some taprooms, you won’t find television at Island To Island and the hope is that the beer and other drinks served will spark conversations amongst strangers.
Born as a result of the isolation she felt while pregnant with her first child, she created a childbirth education event called Expecting Mothers’ Night out, inviting pregnant women and new moms out to the brewery.
“Everyone wants to touch our belly, but no one wants to invite us out,” says Oliver. “When we leave people out, what are we creating in our society?” At the event, there’s information on childbirth and mocktails with natural ingredients to alleviate ailments such as morning sickness.
Additionally, the brewery holds LGBTQ events and has also hosted charitable events for the Fronterizo Fianza Fund to help detained migrants.