In her first life, Fernanda Menna Barreto Krum was a Brazilian psychologist working with trauma patients in the emergency room. In her second life, she was an NGO contractor in international conflict zones like Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine and Georgia, where she met her husband, fellow aid worker and Montana native Robert Rivers. In her third and current life, she’s Rivers’ other half at Imagine Nation Brewing Company, a five-year-old, IPA-focused (but don’t sleep on their electrifying sours) craft brewery in the frontier-meets-university town of Missoula.
What makes Imagine Nation not just another milkshake IPA-ing, wine barrel–aging, co-fermenting fourth-wave brewery is how Krum has managed to unify her seemingly disparate careers. “We came up with this new business model when we were thinking of settling down somewhere in [the] world after our humanitarian aid work,” says Krum, describing Imagine Nation as “a microbrewery in combination with an attached center for community transformation—a for-profit to fund a nonprofit.”
Connected to its taproom, which is covered with murals of revolutionaries like Frida Kahlo, Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X, is a classroom “dedicated for the community to use for presentations, dialogues, board meetings, anything that can help [local organizations] enhance their own projects,” from fake-news awareness forums to free flu shots to peaceful conflict resolution workshops. They’ve hosted over 3,500 community events for more than 500 organizations, including Leading Out West, a leadership program for rural LGBTQI+ college students, and Soft Landing, which works with refugee and immigrant families resettling in Missoula from the DRC, Syria and Iraq (including the owners of Kamoon Arabian Cuisine, the food truck Imagine Nation has partnered with for the last two years). On average, the brewery donates 25 percent of its net profits.
When the pandemic hit, Barreto Krum and Rivers adapted. Unable to engage through their community center, they hired 10 out-of-work refugees and turned the brewery into a face shield production plant, eventually making more than 300,000 units. When they started brewing beer again, they prioritized collaborations with local groups on limited-release cans, like the fluffy Together New England IPA with Soft Landing, and Homegrown Farm Fresh Pale Ale, brewed with Montana hops and in support of the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition.
Compared to working in conflict zones, “running a brewery during a pandemic has definitely been harder,” says Barreto Krum. But she’s hopeful for the near future, when she and Rivers can get back to what they do best: cultivating a community of goodwill and tolerance—in person.
Owner and general manager of Imagine Nation Brewing Company.
Current mission statement:
Imagine Nation Brewing Company transcends how a brewery serves the community by being the first in the country to include a center for community transformation. Through craft beer and education, our unique model of celebration and dialogue envisions to joyfully address the challenge of our time and fuel social change in Missoula, Montana, and beyond.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to find a way of using all the skills that I have gathered in my career, with my work before as a mental health practitioner and my work now [at the brewery]. I know there’s a holistic way of combining them; I just don’t know quite yet how that would be.
Describe your daily routine in one sentence:
Wake up, drink maté with my husband, catch up, work out, take a shower, work from home in the morning on the computer—catch up on emails, general manager stuff—and then go to the brewery, open the taproom and serve takeout cans to the public until 7 p.m.
Your greatest accomplishment to date?
It’s funny because the brewery, it wasn’t my dream. It was Robert’s idea, not something I ever thought I was going to do. To not have any experience in business and be able to thrive, and pivot so much during this really crazy year without any capital behind us, that’s my greatest accomplishment.
I would love to have left my country and started my international career a little earlier. I was not quite ready to settle down when we decided to do [Imagine Nation], but we had PTSD and needed a break.
The No. 1 thing you want to eradicate from drink culture?
It’s not really part of the culture, but we just had the bill passed in Montana that people can carry guns anywhere, and that’s just something that absolutely cannot be accepted around alcohol.
The one adjective you’d use to describe yourself:
Best thing you ever drank:
Mint lemonade in Palestine.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Warm beer in the DRC.
The one wine/beer/cocktail that best reflects you/your interests/tastes:
We make these very aromatic, beautiful in the mouth, hazy, juicy New England IPAs. That beverage for me describes our hope for people to be able to get out of their comfort zones. We experience so many times, so many people say, “I hate IPAs; I can’t drink them,” and when they taste ours, a lot of them start drinking IPAs. You have to be open to letting that happen, with beer but with, more importantly, with other cultures. That’s the only way we can be empathic.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
How hard it is to run a small business. When we opened Imagine Nation, our dream was that we would be teaching in the center, not necessarily working in the brewery, but we learned that that if you open a business you will have to work for the business.
Your favorite bar, and why:
My best friend has this bar, Bier Keller, in Porto Alegre, Brazil. It’s the size of a living room, and you have to be invited by a friend to get in. There are all these beautiful cheeses and olives and other little things to eat, and you grab your beer from the fridge and sit down, and that’s it. Perfect.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
The first Brazilian barbecue every time I go back home.
The last text message you sent:
“I just want to tell you I am dealing with Covid issues here and so if someone calls me from the Health Department of Missoula while we are talking, I am going to hang up on you.”