Local companies help Rwanda’s first brewery get off the ground

A husband-and-wife team are using their skills and connections in the 'Burgh beer community to help Rwanda open Kweza Craft Brewery, the African nation’s first woman-owned, woman-led suds factory.

by Kristy Locklin
March 11, 2022

Dennis and Sammie Guy are beer-lovin’ small business owners helping other small business owners in Pittsburgh … and on the other side of the world. 

The husband-and-wife team are using their skills and connections in the beer community to help Rwanda open Kweza Craft Brewery, the African nation’s first woman-owned, woman-led suds factory.

The Guys run First Sip Brew Box, a monthly subscription service that sends craft beer swag to fans across the globe, and First Sip Studios, a marketing agency specializing in video and photography production. 

They don’t just want to advertise Kweza, they want to serve as its storytellers.

Africans, predominantly females, have been brewing beer for centuries but get little commercial recognition for their efforts.

How hops travel the globe

The seeds for Kweza were planted in 2016 when founders Josephine Uwase, Jessi Flynn and Debby Leatt launched a crowd-funding campaign. After a pandemic slowdown, their dream is getting closer to becoming a reality. 

The brewpub and beer gardens, which overlook the hills of Kigali, are expected to open soon.

Through First Sip, a Black-female and veteran-owned business, they’re getting branded merchandise printed and shipped around the globe, putting Kweza on beer drinkers’ radar. 

Pittsburghers will even be able to get a taste of what their beer is like in Africa.

At Two Frays Brewery in Garfield, owners Mike and Jen Onofray, along with the Guys, are whipping up seven barrels of lager inspired by African ingredients such as sorghum, a versatile grain that’s a major African crop. 

CNC Malt, a Butler County-based malt house, is providing both the Pennsylvania-grown malted sorghum and Pilsner malt. Two Frays is also adding other local products to the mix, including sweet potatoes from a Strip District market, hibiscus sourced through Gryphon’s Tea in Bloomfield and hops from Hazy Daze Hop Farm in Evans City.

“Sorghum does not have the naturally occurring enzymes that convert the starches into sugars in the mash,” Mike Onofray said. “This is why we added the pilsner malts to aid in the conversion. Sorghum can also be a bit less flavorful than some of our other malts, so we are adding corn and hibiscus to pump up the flavor.”

Where to get it

The as-yet-unnamed brew will be available on draft at the Penn Avenue taproom, in to-go cans and in pints at several bars throughout the city, such as Mike’s Beer Bar on the North Shore. Around the country, other craft breweries will make their own African-style offerings. A portion of the proceeds will go to Kweza. 

In February, more than 150 Kweza-themed First Sip Brew Boxes will be mailed to 20 different countries. In addition to pint glasses, T-shirts and stickers, the packages will include a sorghum-based dry rub created by local barbecue sauce company Uncle Jammy’s.

On March 26 from 3 to 6 p.m., First Sip will host a launch party at their Mt. Oliver headquarters. A portion of Brownsville Road will be shut down for the event, which will include beer samples, four-pack sales, vendors, food, live music from Byron Nash and Jacquea Mae and an educational component. 

“We want to share the history of beer and how it started in Africa,” Dennis Guy says. 

The Guys are planning a trip to Africa in 2023 to not only raise a toast to the Kweza team, but create video content that’ll get their inspiring story out to the masses.  

I'm a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer and full-time horror nerd. I am fluent in movie quotes, sarcasm and English (almost). When I'm not taking long, contemplative walks through old cemeteries, I enjoy writing about (and consuming!) good food and drink. Since I'm basically every Winona Ryder character rolled into one person, I like interviewing other strange and unusual souls.

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