It was my first time in Pittsburgh and my first time at Fresh Fest Beer Fest. Both experiences were a breath of fresh air for me. Cooler temperatures than the heatwave I left in Dallas, and a festival that felt more like a family reunion.
Friday’s symposium on the State of the Culture, hosted by Ale Sharpton, was the first of its kind in the brief history of the festival. Using the second-floor auditorium at the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh, I heard from many people that I’d only seen on Instagram. The first session, Diversity & Inclusion beyond Browner Taprooms, addressed the need for ownership and necessary tools to achieve this. Using panelists Teo Hunter and Beny Ashburn’s successful fundraising campaign for their forthcoming brewery, Crowns & Hops, they discussed the need to reclaim the narrative. A popular misconception is that black consumers are not turning to craft beer because of its price point. To this, panelist and consultant Ashtin Berry replied, “Whenever clients make statements like this, I ask them to show me the empirical data that supports this claim. Because I can show them data from the spirits industry revealing that price isn’t the issue.”
The second session, Beer, Brand, & Buildout, supplied four perspectives of the brewing business. They addressed access to funding, location, consulting, and investment in the craft beer industry. After this session, I wondered about other parts of the industry that are also lacking in representation, like growing hops, malting, even POC-owned homebrew stores. We definitely have work to do.
Later that evening, my friends and I enjoyed the opening beer share and buffet at Casa Brasil, followed by a second share at a private residence. Reflecting on the day, I don’t think I realized how much I would appreciate this gathering of black and brown and queer bodies in this craft beer space. It was as if someone gave me a cold glass of water to quench a thirst I didn’t realize I had.
As a host of bottles shares myself, I strive to make the environment as welcoming for everyone as possible. My saying is that beer can only entice you. It’s the people that bring you back out. However, as any host will tell you, it’s great to experience that reciprocal, radical welcome in someone else’s space.
On Saturday, listening to Garrett Oliver share his experiences during the Drinking Partners podcast taping was an absolute delight. I especially enjoyed how he invited everyone to email him personally for any questions or brewing advice. Thinking back on when I first began to enjoy craft beer, another beer that caught my taste buds was Brooklyn Brewery #2. As Garrett himself shared bottles of Brooklyn Brewery #1, I was at once reminded of how consistently good their products have been.
As the day went on and the actual Fresh Fest event got underway, I noticed that I was less interested in trying every single beer. I found myself talking to brewers, taproom managers, and entrepreneurs to learn their stories. At about sunset, I walked back to the hotel and rested in the afterglow.
Were there opportunities for improvement for this two-year-old festival? Sure, there were. Those opportunities mean that the festival can only become better – fresher – from here.