Good and gooder

Since setting out in 2016 to use beer as a vehicle to tackle inequality and empower communities, ‘impact’ has been both the cause and the effect of operations at Brewgooder


I’m taken aback by the number of candid, transparent, and sometimes outright vulnerable conversations I have while working on this issue. There’s an open-minded self-awareness to the way people talk both about the work they do, and their desire to see change in the world. For many, B Corp seems to have created a learning environment in which fallibility and imperfection are opportunities, rather than shortcomings; having processes to improve on doesn’t mean you’ve failed in that area, just that you’re in transition. That transition is primarily what I talk about with James Hughes, co-founder of trailblazing, impact-led beer brand, Brewgooder, as the company reflects on eight years of operation, and plans for what the next eight will look like. 

Far from being a ‘beer-for-beer’s-sake’ brand, Brewgooder’s purpose and intention from the moment of inception has been to use the popularity of craft beer to make positive change in the world. Impact has always come first, and everything about the quality and availability of the beer has aimed for the widespread appeal needed to generate and mobilise change. In the eight years since its launch, Brewgooder — through its funded projects and partners — has impacted thousands of lives worldwide, with projects spanning areas such as clean water & sanitation, food access, climate action and inclusion. Every litre of beer sold correlates with that impact, thanks to The Brewgooder Foundation, which today is the beating heart of the brand’s operations.  

“We’re eight years into what we still talk about internally as being almost a bit of an experiment,” says James. “By this, I of course mean harnessing and channelling the power of beer and social occasions to do positive things in the world. In a way, it's probably taken us that length of time to really get to grips with what we are as a formalised proposition, and that’s been helped a lot by observing other brands across other categories that are increasingly referring to themselves as impact companies. ‘Impact company’ is definitely a term that we've internally adopted but that in itself has been a challenge. In addition to navigating the beer industry as is, we've put a lot of emphasis on really stepping into that ‘impact company’ structure.”

James says the cultivation of this structure has revolved around The Brewgooder Foundation, which started life as the bank account, or beneficiary, from which funds raised through the sale of beer were sent to Brewgooder’s partner charities. More recently though, James says The Brewgooder Foundation has “really become its own entity, which is great. We've got an independent board of trustees, we've got our first ever executive team member of The Brewgooder Foundation, and that development is really creating a pathway for the foundation to take the lead on our kind of impact making. Originally, that was all determined by Alan and I on the basis of seeing stuff that we wanted to see happen in the world, but with the foundation now being fleshed out, it’s defining its own strategy to combat inequality both on a global and local level”. 

Solidifying corporate structure might sound like a mundane venture, but this change will have a huge impact on how Brewgooder operates and what it can achieve; where Alan, James and the rest of the Brewgooder team have, up until now, had to balance brewing and sales, with allocating resources to where they see social or environmental need, Brewgooder now has a team of experts with experience in global change-making taking care of all things impact. This has freed the team up to explore the untapped potential of brewing operations — rather than output — to make positive change in the world. The perfect example of this is Brewgooder’s recent venture into the world of fonio. 

Fonio is a grain grown predominantly in West Africa with pretty exceptional climate qualities: it’s drought resistant, needs no fertilisers, and is more nutritious than refined wheat. Brewgooder’s introduction to the grain came from Garret Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster, while the two brands were in the planning stages of a collaboration brew. Garret had heard whispers of the grain creeping into food use in small pockets of the Western world, but couldn’t find any evidence of it being trialled in brewing. The two brands set out to pilot a fonio session IPA in a collaboration beer, though neither could have anticipated the finished product’s reach or success. 

The response to the beer has been so positive that Brewgooder is in the process of making it a permanent fixture. “We're kind of going on a journey in terms of fonio’s supply chain sourcing, which hasn’t really existed before, because alongside fonio’s climate properties and sustainability value is its potential to be of massive economic benefit to smallholder farmers in West Africa. That’s what spoke to us as a really people-centric brand, so right now we’re really working to ensure the way we source fonio can be as ethical and value-adding as possible for the communities that grow it.”

Given that supply chains shipping fonio from Guinea to the UK and US literally haven’t existed before, James says that right now, Brewgooder isn’t too concerned about shortening the emerging supply chain so much as ensuring that the cost of sourcing doesn’t obscure the fact that fonio farmers are deserving of a fair wage. “We really wanted to ensure that the value they receive is up to the standard that our foundation would expect for this type of process,” says James. “So right now, we're involving lots of other parties, but it should be really cool once it’s all a formalised process.” 

Tying it back to Brewgooder’s new structure, and the ways in which it’s free to work now that impact is taken care of, James says that fonio “has been a really kind of innovative journey for us. It’s really been the first product that has shown how we're starting to find ways of making impact within our kind of processes and operations, as opposed to necessarily just always being the end output.”

I’ve long been an admirer and supporter of Brewgooder, but on the occasion of my call with James, I sense that a subtle yet seismic shift has taken place, and that operations at the company are on the cusp of opening up. For all each chapter of the brand’s story has been more exciting than the last, I have a strange suspicion that the best of Brewgooder is yet to come. 

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