Inside Fresh Fest, Pittsburgh’s — and the nation’s — first festival for black brewers

“A lot of minority-owner breweries are going to feel that they aren’t alone.”

Day Bracey, Mike Potter, and Ed Bailey.

Day Bracey, Mike Potter, and Ed Bailey.

Photo by Buzzy Torek / Courtesy of Fresh Fest

Updated 6:45 p.m. July 31: Fresh Fest has now been moved to Nova Place “due to unforeseen growth,” per event organizers. The location has been updated in this article.

Fresh Fest, a festival for black brewers debuting in Pittsburgh next month, will be the first of its kind here — or anywhere.

“For all intents and purposes, this is the first black brew festival in the country,” said Day Bracey, one of the event organizers. Aside from Washington D.C.’s Black Owned Wine & Spirits Festival, nothing of the kind has ever been attempted.

Fresh Fest will showcase more than a dozen black-owned breweries from around the country, along with Pittsburgh breweries that partnered with local black entrepreneurs to brew Fresh Fest-exclusive beers.

In all, expect 30 breweries sampling more than 50 beers.

Bracey runs Drinking Partners, a craft beer podcast along with Ed Bailey. (They’re both The Incline Who’s Next honorees, by the way.)

The Drinking Partners duo say they’re used to being the only black people at local breweries, so they set out to do something about it, along with Mike Potter of Black Brew Culture magazine.

Pittsburgh’s craft beer scene has made some strides in achieving diversity. Vice Media‘s craft beer travelogue, Beerland, demonstrated some of those in its Pittsburgh episode last month, interviewing local homebrewers, women brewers’ group Pink Boots Society, and the Drinking Partners.

Those exceptions aside, the city’s brew scene remains homogeneous: There’s not a single black brewer working in Pittsburgh.

“If there were a couple of black breweries around here, I don’t even know that we’d have a black brew festival,” Bracey said. “We’d see more black people in breweries, and the thought wouldn’t even have occurred to us.”

Fresh Fest, Pittsburgh first black brew festival

FreshFest is Pittsburgh's first beer festival featuring a more than a dozen out-of-town black-owned breweries alongside more than 20 local craft breweries. In addition to beer samples, Blowfish BBQ, Leon's Caribbean, The Coop Chicken and Waffles and Leona's Ice Cream will be on hand to sell food. Plus, enjoy live musice from Byron Nash, Clara Kent, Mars Jackson and Solarburn. VIPs get in the door at 1 p.m. (and other perks); early admission gets in the door at 4 p.m.

Where:Nova Place at 100 S Commons (North Side)

When:August 11, 2018 from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

How much:$45 regular admission; $70 early admission; $90 VIP

When the idea first came up earlier this year, Potter reached out to some prominent black craft brewery owners, and before long they had a dozen commitments.

“If we had a little more time, we could have pulled up to 20 or 25 [black-owned breweries],” Potter said.

The next step was to figure out a way to engage local breweries and have them contribute in a purposeful way. Potter and Bracey wanted local brewers to do something more than just show up and pour their own beers, so they partnered each of the 20+ attending local breweries with a local black entrepreneur or national brewing figure to collaborate on a unique beer for the festival and ensure a meaningful exchange of ideas and cross-promotion.

Some of the collaborators include Wilkinsburg Mayor Marita Garrett, BOOM Concepts, 1Hood Media, and local MC Dr. HollyHood.

“You have a two-time Doctor female rapper paired with [Butler Brew Works’] Travis Tuttle, a bearded flanneled white dude, coming to make a pink moscato beer,” Bracey said. “She doesn’t drink beer. He doesn’t drink pink moscato. But somehow they’re going to get together and make some shit that works for both of them.”

Of course, the organizers say, the festival is open to anybody.

Potter and Bracey know that craft breweries can be seen as a gentrifying force in black communities and historically disinvested neighborhoods. Bracey said he would love to see a black-owned brewery open in Pittsburgh and become a catalyst for economic development and ultimately the creation of a true middle-class black neighborhood in the city, something he believes is lacking in Pittsburgh.

“One goal that I believe many brewers are invested in is seeing their labor force and consumers become more representative of the communities they are embedded in,” J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, a FreshFest collaborator and the Brewers Association’s first diversity ambassador, told The Incline. “Festivals like FreshFest can be instrumental in this process, allowing the community to articulate its voice, its needs, and opening the door for future partnerships and collaborations.”

One way the event will enable such partnerships beyond connecting local breweries with prominent members of Pittsburgh’s black community is by putting some of the country’s top black brewers together in one place for one of the very first times.

“The ideas, the collaborations, the conversations that are gonna go on in this parking lot may spur the next wave of beer,” said Bracey.

Chris Harris, owner and head brewer of Toledo’s Black Frog Brewing, said that before FreshFest’s unveiling he hadn’t heard of many of the black-owned breweries that will be in attendance. He said that there has been talk between brewers about forming a black brewer’s guild at the event, something he feels could be an invaluable resource for the present generation as well as future brewers looking to open their own businesses.

“A lot of minority-owner breweries are going to feel that they aren’t alone,” said Potter. “When I started, I didn’t know who to go to and I ended up doing a lot of research online. A guild would give other minorities, not just African Americans, a resource to reach out to on what to do.”

A 20-year veteran of the industry, Celeste Beatty will be on hand to represent the company she founded, Harlem Brewing Company. Last year Beatty helped launch Harlem Brew Fest, which benefited the Harlem Business Alliance and featured several black-owned breweries. In 2009, she founded a New York MeetUp group for craft brewers from the African diaspora.

Beatty, in recent years, has been working to provide workforce development and training opportunities for African Americans interested in the craft beer industry.

She believes that FreshFest has the potential to be a historic moment for the small but growing number of black brewers nationally, as well as a way to promote unity in a society increasingly divided by race and culture.

“Craft beer is the perfect platform to find common ground and bring communities together,” she said.