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North Hills Monthly

Fresh Fest Digi Fest to Highlight Black Brew Culture Virtually

Jun 29, 2020 11:50AM ● By Vanessa Orr

Photos courtesy of Fresh Fest

Craft beer is a $79 billion industry, with more than 7,400 craft brewers practicing the art throughout the nation. Yet fewer than 70 of these breweries are black-owned.

To highlight this disparity and encourage more diversity in the field, Day Bracey and Ed Bailey of Drinking Partners podcast and Mike Potter of Black Brew Culture started the country’s first black beer festival, Fresh Fest, three years ago in Pittsburgh. The festival, which celebrates black brewers, black culture and beer, serves as a way to bring together diverse populations to learn more about each other while also showcasing successful black-owned craft breweries.

“Brewers would ask why black people didn’t like craft beer, but you have to provide them with the opportunity,” explained Bracey. “There was no real black craft beer scene here; when I went to a brewery, I was usually the only black person there.”

“Representation is important: we wanted to show people who look like us who were successful in the industry,” he added. “It’s also about access: a lot of breweries are located in white communities or soon-to-be white communities, and it is hard for us to feel welcome there. It means traveling outside of our comfort zone, which can result in harm. A black man driving in a white neighborhood can find himself in trouble.”

Fresh Fest was designed not only to be welcoming to people of color, but also to make them feel at ease while learning about the craft beer industry. “We wanted to make a place where people could be comfortable asking questions—where you weren’t treated like an idiot if you weren’t a bearded white guy,” Bracey explained. “We wanted to create a safe space for a dialog between the black community and the craft beer community.”

To this end, Fresh Fest not only introduces an audience to black brewers, but also arranges collaborations between local breweries and black individuals ranging from artists to entrepreneurs to politicians and business owners, which results in exciting new brews released exclusively at the festival.

“Beer doesn’t have to be overly hoppy IPAs or Budweiser or malt liquors,” said Bracey. “Tell us what you like to drink and we can make a beer that tastes like that.”

The first Fresh Fest was a huge success, as was the second-year event. “We expected 700 people to Fresh Fest in 2018, and 1,200 showed up,” said Bracey. “It was a very diverse crowd; the most diverse I’ve ever seen at a beer event—there was black, white and everything in between.”

More than 3,000 people attended the second year, and the number of black brewers grew from 10 to 28. More than 150 vendors took part, and there were 45 successful collaborations between local companies and black community members.

“We reached out to a bunch of folks locally and they jumped at the opportunity,” said Bracey. “They told us they were sick of only being around bearded white dudes—and that was coming from bearded white dudes.”

In addition to introducing new collaboratively brewed beers, Fresh Fest has an even more important goal. “Craft breweries support the community, and the money they earn stays in their communities,” said Bracey. “We don’t have that happening in the black community, and we want to start developing that.”

The festival was on schedule to attract 5,000 people this year before COVID-19 put a stop to large gatherings. As a result, this year Fresh Fest has pivoted to become Fresh Fest Digi Fest, which will utilize technology to continue to reach its diverse audience. The festival will take place virtually on August 8 from noon to 9 p.m. 

For $10, participants will gain access to six streaming channels which include live brewing segments; a kitchen channel that shows live and pre-recorded cooking segments; two forum channels that host live symposiums, a speakers’ series, and panel discussions; a podcast channel featuring three different podcasts, and a DJ/live artist channel showcasing music of all types. Later in the day, two of the channels will switch over to live music, and two to live DJ performances. There is also a free channel through Facebook and Instagram that is a mix of all of the channels and will switch between content.

Fresh Fest Digi Fest will also include a newly developed free app that will feature all of the breweries participating, as well as all of the collaborations, artist and speaker profiles, a schedule of events and a list of and link to sponsors and vendors. 

“There will also be a virtual tap room, which includes multiple rooms that people can go in and out of as they see fit,” said Bracey. “It is a lot less cumbersome than Zoom, and gives people the opportunity to congregate in and out of rooms with a limit of 20 people.”

One other new feature this year is a collaboration between eight local breweries and eight black-owned breweries around the country that will brew beer together virtually.

“For example, Hitchhiker Brewing in Pittsburgh and Weathered Souls Brewing Co. of San Antonio, TX, will be brewing the same beer, and it will be available at their sites or it can be delivered directly to viewers’ doors,” said Bracey. The festival is also putting together two mixed four-packs that include a stout, lager, IPA and sour that will be available at specific retailers or by delivery. 

To learn more about Fresh Fest Digi Fest and to register, visit https://freshfestdigifest.com.