Queens-born Danii Oliver sips a deep crimson hibiscus cider while surveying her juicery, fermentary and brewery—the first of its kind in Brooklyn. She built the Island to Island Taproom at 642 Rogers from the ground up in Prospect Lefferts Gardens last year with her husband and business partner, Kevin Braithwaite, and to date it’s one of the few locations where one can get housemade juices and ferments—alone or mixed with spirits in a cocktail—alongside in-house beers and ciders.
What solidifies the taproom as a destination, though, is their all-day craft beverage selection that equally honors both nonalcoholic and alcoholic offerings. Behind their wooden bar, bright and sunny the day I visited, taps serve both kombucha and beer. Other ferments, including jun, a kombucha-like drink made with honey and green tea, bubble in glass carboys. They’re all part of their three in-house brands: House of Juice, their smoothing and natural soda line; Brooklyn Jun Brew, their jun kombucha brand; and Island to Island, which includes their craft beer and ciders. If you’re there on a brewing day, the earthy scent of malt and hops wafts throughout the space and out onto the back patio.
Oliver calls their drinks “a nod to Caribbean taste buds.” The taproom serves around 12 at a time, and the menu rotates frequently, maybe even changing over the course of a day, to offer anything from “Yuh Crazy,” a bright-vermilion sorrel cider IPA, to “Ginger Beer Whine,” their spicy 17 percent ABV wild ginger beer. The pineapple jun I tried was sweet and tart with a refreshing quality that only comes from fresh juice—you just can’t get this kind of ferment at the supermarket.
From garden to cup
Oliver is mostly a self-taught fermenter whose inspiration to create “garden-to-cup” beverages comes from childhood memories of visiting her parents’ native Trinidad and St. Martin for weeks at a time. “There are a lot of things that make us unhealthy in the United States, and when I started to take those things out of my diet I found it took me back to my roots and what my family had eaten on the islands,” she explains. She remembered eating plant-based meals rather than processed food, and fresh produce picked at its moment of peak ripeness. Oliver said these memories inspired her to start juicing five years ago when she became pregnant, noting, “I wanted to create recipes that people could enjoy the same way you could enjoy a cocktail.”
She began posting her juice creations on social media in 2012 and received an enthusiastic response and requests for more information. She and her husband were already considering opening a business together, and Oliver had been working as a creative technologist, someone who both designs and programs, which she says informed her entrepreneurship and gave her the practical skills of realizing a vision.
While the couple once brewed on their own, Oliver and her husband have now added master brewer and certified cicerone, or beer sommelier, Norie Manigault to their team. They met when their children were infants and have stayed in touch, finally having the chance to work together last year. Together they help conceive of flavor profiles for their proposed brews, and Manigault helps refine the recipes before they start brewing in the bar’s compact basement.
Make something beautiful
From the beginning, Oliver and Braithwaite decided to be a New York State Farm Brewery, making their business one of a little more than a dozen in the city that use large, legally defined percentages of New York State–grown ingredients for their beer and ciders. They also sell other New York State–made alcoholic beverages and offer weekly tours and tastings.
The day I visited, Oliver took me to the back patio, past the small stage where they host community events like comedy hour and open mics. It was cool but sunny, and it didn’t take much to imagine a space filled with people, drinking a juice or jun-based cocktail or sipping house-brewed pints of beer.
I asked her about her vision for the space. “Besides a full patio?” she laughed. “I see ourselves as educators … and uniters. I don’t know if that is overstepping my bounds, but we believe that the way we mix our juices and our flavors can inspire others to make something beautiful.”