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A fresh approach for the country’s first black beer festival

 

Mike Potter and Day Bracey. (Jessie Wardarski/Post-Gazette)

Rhythm Brewing. Black Frog. Sankofa Brewing. Patuxent Brewing.

Simmer down — those aren’t new Pittsburgh breweries you’ve missed. They’ll all be in town on Saturday, though, among the dozen or so black-owned or -operated breweries from around the country that will be highlighted at Fresh Fest Beer Fest, billed as the first black beer festival ever. The locals will be there too, featuring around 25 collaborations made with black brewers, artists and others — all exclusive to the festival.

And let’s get one thing clear — the beer isn’t the best part.

As one of the hosts of the Drinking Partners podcast, Day Bracey has become well known in Pittsburgh’s craft beer scene. And through the past few years, he’s become painfully aware that when he heads to an event or a festival, he is one of a very few — if not the lone — person of color in the room. And Bracey says the problems are obvious: barriers having to do with comfort, access and education.

It’s hard, he says, to know you stand out in any group setting, and that’s what black beer fans face when they show up at a tap room or a fest — a sea of white faces. That’s what Bracey had in mind when he started talking about Fresh Fest with podcast partner Ed Bailey and Mike Potter, founder of the forthcoming Black Brew Culture magazine — a festival to give black craft beer fans a chance meet black brewers, black collaborators and other beer drinkers.

“We can relax a little bit in a space where you’re people who look like you and understand you,” he said this week. “And that’s how you open doors to the industry and the opportunities that are there for everyone.”

And if you have any doubts about enthusiasm for the concept, check this out: since late spring, the number of participating breweries and collaboration beers has more than doubled, forcing the fest to move from its original location — Wigle’s Theadbare Cider House in Spring Garden — to the massive plaza at Nova Place in the North Side.

As of Wednesday, there are still tickets available to this game-changer. And by all means, go for the beer … because it’s going to be spectacular. But once you’re there keep in mind the big thing that Bracey told me — it’s going to be good for everyone to just have a beer together.

Extra: Farewell to the Beerman

A commemorative run of Oskar Blues G’Knight imperial IPA, with a label printed in honor of Tony Knipling.

Even now, days later, it’s a difficult thing to write: Tony Knipling died last week.

To say that Tony was a longtime craft beer rep at Vecenie Distributing Co. in Millvale is accurate. And completely inadequate.

He sold his own brands, sure. But nearly everything he did — from being one of the longest members of the Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers to the long-running Craft Beer School series with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust — helped sell better beer in the broadest sense. He was one of the first people in town to do it and I don’t think there’s any question that he reached more people with that message than anyone else in town.

After calling hours for Tony and his family on Sunday, a bunch of us met at East End’s taproom in the Strip to have a beer or two and talk about what we would remember most about the Beerman. This is easily the longest video I’ve ever posted here, but the memory of Tony Knipling is absolutely worth the time.

Giving thanks

Brian Eaton at Grist House: Thankful for session beers.

Brian Eaton at Grist House: Thankful for session beers.

If you’re here, it’s probably safe for me to assume that you’re thankful for craft beer.

It’s also safe to assume that the folks who work in the business — from distributors to brewers to bar managers — are pretty thankful for craft beer as well.

I asked a handful of our friends in the business to explain what they’re thankful for this Thanksgiving week … and I got anything but a bunch of canned, boring responses. And I added my own two cents at the end; spoiler alert: I’m mostly thankful for you guys, because you’re why we continue to do the show.

Have a great Thanksgiving weekend, everyone.

Building a Brewtal new festival

meg-me-james-close

You’ll know when Meg Evans or James Evans is mashing in — the music inside their respective breweries is loud, fast and hard.

Meg — the head brewer at Homestead’s Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery — and James — a brewer at Bethel Park’s Spoonwood Brewing — aren’t alone. It’s not uncommon to hear metal pumping in the back rooms of breweries around Pittsburgh, and that got Meg and James thinking about a new festival that pairs the city’s craft beer with some of its heaviest bands.

And that’s where the Pittsburgh Brewtal Beer Fest came from. Starting at 2 p.m on Nov. 6 at Spirit in Lawrenceville, there will be six bands and beer from Rock Bottom, Spoonwood, Penn Brewery and East End Brewing — including four one-time beers created exclusively for the event.

There is other swag available too, for those who lend a little extra financial support through the event’s Kickstarter page, a step Meg and James took to help ensure financial success in Brewtal’s first year. The stuff — both breweries and bands pitched in — is available at several levels to those who kick in by the Oct. 4 deadline.

Both James and Meg have plenty of experience with working beer events, but both say starting a festival from scratch is a whole different experience: finding a venue, taking care of the intricate legalities, setting up suppliers and getting the word out. The good part? After the word got out, cooperation from bands and breweries was immediate and enthusiastic.

“There’s still a lot to do, but it’s shaping up really to be really awesome,” Meg Evans said this week. “Everyone is going to have a blast.”