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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.

A bit of Colorado in Allegheny City

Allegheny City's Al Grasso and Mike taste the brewery's Nova Gose.

Allegheny City’s Al Grasso and Mike taste the brewery’s Nova Gose.

Sure, we have some good-sized hills on the North Side. But no one’s ever going to mistake it for Colorado’s Front Range.

Nevertheless, the small-town breweries that Amy Yurkovich, Al Grasso and Matt Yurkovich came across while they lived in the mountains were the model for Allegheny City Brewing, the brewpub the trio just opened on Foreland Street. And thanks mostly to the Yurkovich siblings, both native North Siders, Allegheny City made that neighborhood its home.

The business model that the trio put together while the still lived out West was simple. It didn’t involve grand plans for packaging or distribution; instead, Allegheny City would serve the purpose of the tiny tap rooms and brewpubs they loved in Colorado. Those places served as community centers as well as breweries, providing a place to stop and relax with neighbors for a bit between work and home.

And while the North Side has its share of bars and restaurants, it didn’t yet have anything like the kind of establishment they had in mind. They’ll soon have small-brewery neighbors — War Streets Brewing and Spring Hill Brewing are both preparing to open on the North Side as well — as well as one well-established big one; that, they say, just adds to the sense of home town North Side community.

Even after just three weeks, they’re already seeing regulars coming back for a pint or a growler fill. And that’s understandable: the tap room is warm and comfortable and the beer is well done. A couple favorites from my stop this week: Funkhauser farmhouse ale is evenly split between citrus and spice with a touch of Belgian funk at the end, and Nova Gose, a perfectly rendered take of the old German style, with sharp lemon tartness, coriander and a hint of salt.

If the goal for the trio was to establish a neighborhood brewpub — and a community to go with it — they’re already a success. And if you’re a neighbor — on the North Side or perhaps a bit further away — you should give Allegheny City a shot.

Category: Allegheny County | Tags: ,