Fresh Fest, the nation’s first craft beer festival to showcase black brewers, has canceled its in-person events due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will instead go digital later this summer.
The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based festival, now in its third year, brings together black-owned breweries and black brewers with other craft brewers and artists and entrepreneurs from the black community for collaboration beers.
This year, eight black-owned breweries and eight Pittsburgh breweries, all yet to be named, will collaborate to brew eight diverse beers that festival attendees can order as two different 4-packs online through e-commerce platform Tavour. Each 4-pack will contain a dark beer, a hoppy beer, a sour beer and a lager for diversity of style.
“For the first time, you can now get an 8-pack of black-owned beer online,” Fresh Fest co-founder Day Bracey told Brewbound.
Tickets for the digital festival will go on sale on July 1 and cost $10. Fresh Fest attendees will receive access to six channels of live entertainment on August 8. These will include a forum channel with speakers and panel discussions, a kitchen channel with a cooking class segment, a brewing channel, a podcast channel, a music channel with band performances, and a channel with DJ sets and live art.
Bracey and co-founders Ed Bailey and Mike Potter started the festival in 2018, when 1,200 people attended. Fresh Fest grew to more than 3,000 attendees in 2019.
In its first year, Fresh Fest gathered 10 of the country’s 60-plus black-owned breweries and asked Pittsburgh-based breweries to partner with black artists, entrepreneurs and politicians to create exclusive beers. The next year, breweries from outside of Pennsylvania joined with community collaborations.
“The focus of the festival is to build black empowerment within the beer community and allyship,” Bracey said.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the black community made the festival’s cause more urgent this year, Bracey said.
“The reason why we chose to move forward with a digital festival this year as opposed to postponing the festival to next year was because there was still a lot of work to be done and conversations still needed to be had,” he said. “COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting black people, and that in turn affects black people in beer, black brewers and breweries and there’s a lot of artists that aren’t getting any kind of work because all these live events have been canceled. So, we felt the need to still provide that platform and some of that money in the pocket.”
The musicians, artists and DJs on Fresh Fest’s digital stage will display their Venmo and Cash App information so viewers can support them.
Over the past few weeks, a reckoning of the effects of systemic racism in America has taken place following mass protests over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a now-former Minneapolis police officer.
Since then, hundreds of beer companies from around the world have embraced the Black is Beautiful collaboration, a national initiative to raise funds for organizations that work to end police brutality and provide legal defense to people who have been wronged. Black is Beautiful is the brainchild of Marcus Baskerville, co-founder and head brewer of San Antonio, Texas-based Weathered Souls Brewing. So far, 779 breweries in all 50 states and 13 countries have signed up to brew Black is Beautiful.
Nevertheless, the craft beer industry has miles to go. Of the 8,275 breweries in the U.S., only 60 or so are black-owned. Bracey and his co-founders started Fresh Fest as a way to introduce these breweries to beer drinkers as well as the beer industry to the black community.
“It’s important for people to see people doing well that look like them,” Bracey said during a conversation with Brewbound editor Justin Kendall at the Brewbound Live business conference last December. “We are able to provide a safe space, build a space where people don’t feel weird about going in and asking about a product. It’s oftentimes very daunting to be the only type of person in the room, whether you’re a woman or a person of color, or if you’re a bearded white dude in a room full of black dudes.
“It might be a little weird, you might feel a little uncomfortable. So we want to build a space where people feel comfortable coming in and also building a festival that is an actual festival and not just a bunch of drunk dudes in a parking lot with a reggae band in the background.”