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What to expect at Fresh Fest 2019

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Fresh Fest Beer Fest, the nation’s first Black brew festival, is back for its second year. And this time, it’s “even #FRESHER.”

The festival was created by Mike Potter, founder of online magazine Black Brew Culture, and Day Bracey and Ed Bailey, the faces behind popular podcast Drinking Partners. The trio met by recording an episode for Bracey and Bailey’s podcast and quickly realized how much they had in common. Soon, they started working together to build on their platforms to promote diversity within the craft beer industry. Fresh Fest was born. 

The craft beer industry is dominated by white males. According to the Brewers Association, in 2018, 85.5 percent of all beer drinkers were white and 31.5 percent were female. Fresh Fest showcases the diversity in both brewers and drinkers. 

Collaborations are one of the most unique parts of Fresh Fest. Potter views these partnerships between community members and local breweries as a way to “unite all cultures with projects that everyone can benefit from.” It opens the door to dialogue, connecting businesses, artists, and activists, and neighbors who might not know the other exists. 

“We think the craft beer industry looks better when everyone has a seat at the table,” says Potter. 

A new year brings new collaborations (the number growing from 30 to 45), but many of the 2018 partnerships have expanded into continual brews and partnerships. Potter mentions last year’s brew between Enix Brewing and Dreamz Hair Salon and Barber Shop, two companies on the same street who were unaware of the other’s existence. Now, Dreamz regularly sets up at Enix’s events. The head brewer even gets his hair cut there. 

Helltown Brewing and local musician Byron Nash continued their 2018 brew outside of the festival. Earlier this year, the partners announced the return of their original collaboration called BLQ METAL IPA. 

This year, in addition to Saturday’s festival, which includes 28 Black-owned breweries from across the nation along with 45 local breweries, Potter, Bracey, and Bailey, have expanded the festival for two more days. 

Friday will host the first Fresh Fest symposium, led by beer writer Ale Sharpton. The first conversation, the State of The Culture Address Pt. 1 — Diversity and Inclusion Beyond Browner Taprooms, will include a discussion of diversity across the craft beer industry, what Potter describes as a “report card” of the efforts made across breweries. 

The second session, the State of The Culture Address Pt. II — Beer, Brand and Buildout — will host a conversation of the highs, lows, and hustle of craft beer. Guest panelists feature, among others, Celeste Beatty of Harlem Brewing Company, Elle Rhodes and Nasreen Sajady of Brewing Change Collaborative, and Justin Cross of New Belgium Brewing. The day will end with an exclusive bottle share. On Sunday, the fest will thank brewers with a Brewers' Brunch.

Fresh Fest is capped at 3,000 guests and Potter predicts they’ll be pretty close to hitting that number.

“It’s a good time for this kind of thing,” says Potter. “It’s sad to see what’s going on outside of Pittsburgh and we just hope that we can contribute to something positive.” 

Tickets for Fresh Fest 2019 are still available. Visit freshfestbeerfest.com for more information.

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