Fresh Fest 2020 Online — A Pandemic Won’t Stop Craft Beer from Celebrating Diversity

Pittsburgh’s Fresh Fest is a celebration of Black-owned and brewed beer in America — the first festival of its kind. And it was named the #2 beer festival in America by USA Today!

Out of 8,275 breweries in the U.S., only about 60 are black-owned. The Fresh Fest is part of a much-needed movement towards more diversity in craft. And, along with the help of independent craft beer retailer Tavour, beer enthusiasts across 26 states will get to enjoy the festival’s brews for the first time ever!

This is the festival’s third year but first time going “digital” because of COVID-19. Adapting to the times, Black-run breweries from around the country are collaborating on eight Fresh Fest beers, and Tavour is the only place you can snag all of them together. We connected with several of the brewery teams involved for a preview of the speciality brews they’re creating. They also told us how the festival is making an impact on the craft beer scene.

Roger Apollon Jr., part-owner of Four City Brewing in Orange, NJ, describes their Oreo cookie Stout collab with Zelienople, PA’s ShuBrew:

It’s a unique project — both breweries are crafting their own version. Much of the base recipe comes from Four City’s Brick Church Dark Ale, while the creativity to use actual Oreo cookies came from the flavor wizards at ShuBrew.

For Four City’s version, they also used vanilla and Hatian Blue Mountain coffee from local, black-owned NJ roasters at Harpers Cafe. Roger said it was not only a great opportunity to get another black-owned business in his community involved, but also a way to incorporate a little flavor from his Hatian roots.

To Roger, Fresh Fest is important because he views craft beer as a real platform for getting America on track and driving the local economy, including more people from different backgrounds — to create more connections and stronger communities.

New Haven, Connecticut’s Rhythm Brewing connected with Pittsburgh, PA’s Cinderlands to craft one of the few Lagers at Fresh Fest this year. It was especially fitting for Rhythm Founder Alisa Bowens-Mercado, whose nickname is “Lady Lager.”

When she planned to open a Lager-focused brewery smack-dab in the middle of New England IPA country, people told Alisa she was crazy. Now, she can look back and grin knowing she helped lead a revitalization of one of the year’s trendiest styles.

She continues the movement of “bringing sexy Lagers back” at Fresh Fest with the help of Paul Schneider at Cinderland who’s brewing a bold rendition of a light, pale dry-hopped Lager made with copious amounts of Centennial Hops. They named the brew Land of Rhythm to capture the spirit of both breweries.

Pomona, CA’s Warcloud and Pittsburgh’s Dancing Gnome hooked up for an IPA they call Wise Words. Warcloud founder and head brewer Justin “Alero” Collins says the name is appropriate during a time when “a lot of not so wise words” are being thrown around this country. The beer is a reminder for all of us to be more aware of what we say and the impact our words can have.

Alero also did the artwork for the can that features a wise owl made into a hop. The team at Dancing Gnome took Warcloud’s inspiration and recipe ideas and crafted the juicy, West Coast-style IPA with pungent Enigma, Citra, Nelson, and Strata Hops.

As you can already tell, this year’s Fresh Fest features a diverse selection of styles. We caught up with Mike Meholick, co-owner of Huber Heights, OH’s Alematic Artisan Ales (the name is inspired by Nas) about his out-of-the-box collaboration with Pittsburgh’s 11th Hour.

Playing on the Black theme, Mike was inspired to work with his “Black Gose” recipe made with dark malts; it’s something beer geeks don’t see everyday, that’s for sure! 11th Hour’s Adam Litke transformed the base with even more blackness by adding blackberry puree. Since the collaborative innovation took a left turn from tradition and omitted the use of salt and coriander, the brewers cut the Gose style from the name and are just calling it a Blackberry Sour.

The breweries named this beer Clock with No Hands, and the artwork features a turntable that looks like a clock. Mike explains that since music tells time, the clock theme connects the essence of both breweries (it’s also inspired by an album from The Roots).

Time also played a role in one of Mike’s biggest takeaways from this remote festival. He said, if we had asked him at the start whether he had enough time to craft this collaboration brew, he would have said “no way.” The project has taught him a lot about being able to adapt and collaborate long-distance.

As the stats show, the craft beer industry is seriously lacking in diversity. Fresh Fest is a small, yet impactful step towards showing the beer-drinkers how much value and community strength comes from being inclusive.

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