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Pittsburgh's Black craft-beer festival returns at new venue

Barrel & Flow
Troeg's Independent Brewing
Brewers from Harris Family Brewing, Mack Brewing, and Troeg's Independent Brewing discuss a collaboration brew in preparation for the 2021 Barrel & Flow.

Barrel & Flow was launched in 2018 as Fresh Fest, the nation’s first festival for Black-owned craft breweries. The goal, besides having a good time, was to make both brewers and drinkers of craft beer look more like America.

As Barrel & Flow primes the keg for its fifth season, there’s evidence that it’s having an impact. Take Chicago’s Funkytown Brewery. In 2019, co-founder Richard Bloomfield and his partners had been brewing for two years, but they didn’t formally have a business yet. That year, they attended Fresh Fest and were impressed by the thousands of attendees and dozens of Black-owned breweries.

Barrel & Flow
Barrel & Flow
Participants in last year's Barrel & Flow converse.

“It was just great. The brewers that came down, they were very transparent and welcoming and wanted to share and assist in any way they could,” said Bloomfield. “It was inspirational because we knew where we would fit. … We knew we had a spot in the industry when we saw Fresh Fest.”

Funkytown opened for business this past October.

Fresh Fest/Barrel & Flow co-founder Day Bracey said he works year-round to open up space for Black brewers. That includes not just running the festival, but also persuading local distributors and retailers to carry those brewers’ wares.

“We’ve definitely seen some tangible change,” said Bracey. “There’s a lot of work still needs to be done but it’s coming along.”

As for Barrel & Flow, it will look a bit different this year. For one, it’s a six-day affair, with programming from Tue., Aug. 9, through Sun., Aug. 14. (A complete schedule is here.) For another, the main event – the big day-long program with live music, live art-making, and vendors complementing the tastings – has a new home: the outdoor space at The Stacks at 3 Crossings, in the Strip District.

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Funkytown is one of 30 Black-owned breweries at the event; others hail from around the U.S. and from as far afield as London, England, and Costa Rica. In addition, Pittsburgh-area breweries and local artists are pitching in on 55 unique collaboration brews.

The entertainment features five DJs and seven bands, including local favorites NASH.V.ILL, Chris Allen, and Livefromthecity. There is also live art-making on two stages, curated by BOOM Concepts. Some 150 vendors will offer everything from food to clothing and visual art. And Barrel & Flow is continuing art + biz, its arts-outreach program that connects Black artists, entrepreneurs and nonprofits to the craft-beer industry.

Bracey said he is capping paid admission at 4,000 as a pandemic precaution, which will give visitors room to spread out in a venue with a 6,000-person capacity. He is also requiring all vendors, staff, artists and attendees to provide proof of vaccination.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm