Fresh Fest to showcase black-owned craft breweries online


Courtesy of Day Bracey

The nation’s first and only black beer festival, Fresh Fest, will go digital this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Anna Ligorio, Staff Writer

Although the iconic Oktoberfest will not take place this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, another beer festival now plans on delivering the party straight to doorsteps in Pittsburgh this summer.

The nation’s first and only black beer festival, Fresh Fest Digi Fest, will go digital on Aug. 8. The annual festival, originally set to take place in Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood, showcases black brewers nationwide, along with Pittsburgh-based brewers in collaboration with black artists, entrepreneurs, politicians and business owners, according to the event’s website.

Along with celebrating black-owned breweries, Fresh Fest will include live musicians, artists, speakers, DJs and chefs. According to Day Bracey, a co-founder of Fresh Fest, the festival is just as much about showcasing talent as trying new beer.

“The purpose of it is to highlight black individuals in the craft beer industry,” Bracey said. “We want to provide representation, access to opportunities and to bridge gaps in the brewing community, as well as celebrating black culture in general.”

Tickets for Fresh Fest are $10 each and will provide access to the festival through an app that is currently being developed. Instead of a physical venue, this app will be the platform for all of the breweries, live performances, artists and other small businesses participating in the event. Ticket holders will also be able to find information about how to get craft beer delivered to their homes through the service Beverages2u.

Bracey said the growing craft beer industry in the United States — which saw more than 1,000 new breweries open between 2018 and 2019 — has left little room for black entrepreneurs. He said a beer festival was an obvious choice for him and his business partners to bring awareness to the industry’s lack of diversity while simultaneously celebrating the accomplishments of black-owned breweries.

“By bringing in black-owned breweries from around the country, organizing symposiums and talks and pairing white breweries in Pittsburgh with black organizations, entrepreneurs and artists in the area, we are trying to start meaningful dialogues.” Bracey said.

Bracey added that conversations that take place at Fresh Fest can improve the entire craft brewing community.

“These dialogues not only empower the black community, but they also empower the beer industry as a whole,” Bracey said. “The greatest strength of the craft beer industry is it’s own diversity of styles.”

Fresh Fest provides opportunities for black-owned craft breweries all across the nation to promote their business. According to Timothy White, the owner and director of operations of Harris Family Brewery in Harrisburg, the festival is an opportunity to showcase products to a wide variety of people from all over the country.

“There were just so many different people from so many different states there, which is so refreshing,” White said. “You can’t pay for that type of outreach.”

White, whose business is the first black-owned brewery in the state, said the road to opening a small business hasn’t been easy, especially with the lack of diversity in the brewing industry. But that lack of representation was a primary factor in motivating him to open his business.

“The industry doesn’t just roll out the red carpet and welcome you,” White said. “When I got into brewing five or six years ago, I said to myself, ‘I wonder if anyone is doing this that looks like me.’ But after hours of research I still found nothing. That’s what really fueled us.”

Clara Kent — a musician and artist from Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood, located just east of Oakland — has participated in Fresh Fest since its creation with live performances and art. For her, the best part about the festival is learning new information about the brewing process.

“I do want to see some more opportunities and information for people who are interested in having their own brewery, especially for black people in Pittsburgh,” Kent said. “My experience [with Fresh Fest] was highly educational and it was really awesome to see people from the City build something cool.”

According to Bracey, the pandemic hasn’t affected the interest for the event, even though it has to be held virtually.

“We have a community that isn’t just interested in drinking beer, we have a community that is looking for ways to empower each other,” Bracey said. “That want, drive and need to support the black community and build bridges by supporting local small businesses and artists hasn’t gone anywhere.”