Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on July 6, 2023.
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Barrel & Flow Fest (formerly Fresh Fest) is a unique beer festival in Pittsburgh put on by our friends at Drinking Partners podcast and was designed to be the first black brewery festival in the United States.
The festival had many goals in mind, including introducing craft beer to a market that has been traditionally overlooked, highlighting local minority-owned businesses, artists, and entrepreneurs, and of course celebrating beer made by a few of the only 50 or so breweries in the USA operated by black business owners.
If that sounds like a tall order with a lot of ways to experience the event, you're not alone. But after attending this one practically every year since its inception, we can safely say this is one we'll be making a staple in our Pittsburgh beer festival rotation for many years to come.
National Breweries Brought Their Best to Barrel & Flow Fest
Barrel and Flow Fest brought in several brewers from around the country over the years including those from Black Frog Brewery, UNION Craft Brewing, Harlem Brewing Company, Cajun Fire Brewing Company, and Sankofa Brewing Company to name a few.
One brewery we found ourselves sampling from (a lot) was Sankofa- a DC based brewery owned by two cousins from Ghana who make a killer hibiscus pale ale that was available during several of the festivals.
While talking to them we were able to learn a lot about their past, the meaning of sankofa (an Ashanti/Akan word meaning “go back and get” or, look to your past in order to have a good future), and also settle a rather strong debate they were having about which beer was better. (Angie helped them and selected their IPA, but we think they're probably still arguing this.)
But we'd be lying if we didn't say we're already planning road trips to check out several who are located nearby- like Harlem Brewing Company in Harlem or Black Frog Brewery in Toledo as well.
The Local Pittsburgh Partnerships Shined
One of the aspects about Barrel and Flow Fest that we absolutely loved is that in its first year over 20 of Pittsburgh's top breweries partnered with local minority artists, entrepreneurs, and business owners in order to create a beer suited to their tastes- tastes that have often been overlooked until now.
By 2022, the breweries and collaborations exceeded 50!
The beers were all released at the event and ticket-goers were able to sample as many as they wanted and also talk to the collaborators at each of the respective booths to learn more about their business, their interest in beer, and more. If that isn't the perfect recipe for a beer festival, I don't know what is.
In its first year, some of the best collaborations we had (for our tastes at least) included Dr. Hollywood with Butler Brew Works for the Ice Cream & Moscato (an ale made with lactose and moscato grapes- our favorite of the night), First Sip Brew Box with Allegheny City for the Double Black Diamond (a delicious double Cascadian dark ale), Black Tech Nation with Auroch's for the Black Unicorn (a Belgian turned pure black with activated charcoal), and Eminent Hospitality with ShuBrew for Cloudy with a Chance of Mangoes (made with an absurd amount of mango puree) to name a few.
In its second year, some of the best collaborations we had included Realty Thinking with Allegheny City Brewing for Landmark Watermelon Pale Ale (ale made with a ton of fruit to mimic Gus & YiaYia's ice balls, including pineapple and cherry variations), Nubyjas Wilborn with Church Brew Works for Brunch Around the Horn (an Ethiopian breakfast stout), Sweet Little Eats with Three Rivers Underground Brewing for a Hennessy Barrel Aged Red Velvet Ale, Jewel the Baker with War Streets Brewing for a delightful Lemon Dream New England IPA, and Knotzland Bowties with Fury Brewing with two collaborations of Kocoa Kouture (a coconut stout) and Blueberry blazer (a strong fruited ale).
Many of these breweries also brought some of their latest releases and many were their best ones put out to date. So in addition to tasting new creations never released before, attendees could also get a feel for what the breweries are like as well- perfect for those who do not brewery hop like we do or are new to craft beer altogether.
If only it was legal to sell cans at the event!
The Concept Extended to the Food Trucks
The theme of Barrel and Flow Fest continued with the restaurants that were on site as well, with many minority-owned spots shining like Walter's Southern Kitchen and Blowfish BBQ making an appearance at past festivals.
Our only regret was that we did not have a second stomach (and a third liver) to be able to indulge more.
In fact, that was one of the downsides to this festival, if you can even call it that, because between taking in the libations, trying out the food, and chatting with many new friends, we simply didn't have enough time to do it all. And unlike other festivals where we arrive early with VIP tickets and are finished about 30 minutes after general admission begins, we stayed at this one until the very end (and then some).
It was just that good.
Overall, Barrel and Flow Fest is the kind of festival Pittsburgh needs more of and we want to shout it from the rooftops.
Whether you are wanting to attend to learn a thing or two about your neighbors, have never got into the craft beer scene and want to learn more, or simply try a delicious beer never created before, this was a winning concept that we'll be returning to year after year.
Barrel & Flow Fest takes place once a year in Pittsburgh (the month can vary, but typically in the height of summer) and offers a robust VIP and early entry experience that we highly recommend purchasing. Locations do tend to change regularly so be on the lookout for that as well.
Looking for more beer festivals in Pittsburgh? Check out our reviews of Beers of the Burgh or Pittsburgh Beerfest. Or, if you missed the festival, be sure to check out Mike's Beer Bar in the days/weeks after the event as they often have many kegs of collab beers on draft to enjoy!