Barrel & Flow Fest, a marquee attraction on the Western Pennsylvania beer calendar, is one jam-packed day. But the celebration of Black beer and art on Saturday, Aug. 12, at The Stacks at 3 Crossings in the Strip District, is just the culmination of Barrel & Flow Week starting on Aug. 8 with brewery pop-ups, a conference, parties, brunch and networking.
On fest day, featured musicians include Pittsburgh singer/songwriter A’leighsha, hip hop artist Mars Jackson and singer Kenny Stockard, as well as Kuf Knotz and Christine Elise, a hip hop and harp duo from Philadelphia. Arie Cole and Hipnotik are among the DJs on tap, so to speak. Juliandra Jones, Malcolm Xavier and others will be creating live art in the middle of all this.
New this year: Barrels of S.T.E.A.M. is a family-friendly tent featuring a live homebrewing demonstration, as well as interactive science labs and arts activities. Tent activities are free for any kids accompanying their parents.
Then there’s the beer, of course. Collaboration is at the heart of Barrel & Flow: over the past few months, dozens of local brewers have joined forces with community leaders, business owners and creators of color to brew some remarkable sounding beers, ciders and cocktails.
Arsenal Cider House and musician Craig King concocted Passion of Craig King, a passion fruit cider. Strange Roots and Atlanta-based Khonso Brewing created “Mayor” Ajax, a Belgian ale with a backstory: it’s named after Charles “Ajax” Jones, a Black City of Pittsburgh employee who served as interim mayor for three days in 1901, making Mayor Ed Gainey only the first elected Black mayor of Pittsburgh, technically.
Day Bracey, founder of Barrel & Flow, is especially excited about the collaborations — there are more than 50, most of them involving local breweries and partners. It’s the most they’ve had in the event’s three-year history. Like a lot of Barrel & Flow activities, the collaborations are about bringing people together.
“Often, people have not met before, or would have never met if it wasn’t for the collaborations,” Bracey says.
Andrew and Jasmine Dill own Liquid Intrusion Brewing Company in Prince George’s County, Maryland, one of five Black-owned breweries in the state. Jasmine is the only Black female owner, Andrew notes proudly. They began their relationship with Barrel & Flow by bringing some of their beer to a bottle share in 2021. They came back to town in June, to collaborate with Altered Genius Brewing Co. in Ambridge.
Andrew started brewing beer during the pandemic, when Jasmine, who works from home, suggested it “would make a nice hobby,” he recalls.
“With all the beer we were drinking during the pandemic, it ended up being cheaper,” Andrew says.
Early brews got a thumbs-up from family members, so Andrew and Jasmine revved up production and distribution. Their flagship beers — South of DC Cream Ale and The African Queen and Her Seven C’s — can be found in bars and stores throughout their area.
Along with Altered Genius co-owner/brewer Mike Hass and assistant brewer DeShawn Boring, the Dills decided to brew a passion fruit pale ale, which they later named Show Up and Show Out. A few weeks before Barrel & Flow, Hass says, “It’s turning out great!”
About a half-mile up Merchant Street, the brewers at Fermata, Ambridge’s other brewery, were in creation mode with members of NASH.V.ILL, a popular local rock band. It’s an apt pairing: Fermata features live music at least three nights a week.
“We’re all music fans,” says Jared Tuk, one of Fermata’s four owners.
The band and Fermata brewers are creating On the 1, a West Coast Pilsner, using African hops. Band leader Byron Nash says the name’s a shoutout to the funk beat made immortal by James Brown.
“I also wanted something connected to relationship building, being one,” Nash says.
Lead singer Jacquea Mae calls herself “a cider drinker and whiskey girl.”
“He’s the connoisseur,” she says, indicating Nash. “But I want to see what we can do.”
Standing on a ladder above a Fermata beer barrel, co-owner and head brewer Alan Gore says he likes the pilsner idea.
“I think it’ll be a little standout-ish, but still a nice, crispy taste,” Gore says. “Barrel & Flow’s in August; it’s going to be hot.”
Cat Bruno, director of communications and operations for Barrel & Flow, went over some of the fest day details: walk-up tickets will most likely be available, at the same price as they are online. Early access runs from 3 to 9 p.m.; otherwise, the event runs from 5 to 9.
Every ticket holder gets a tasting glass, and no beer will be sold to-go. As in past years, Mike’s Beer Bar will have a good supply of both the collaboration brews and beers brought in by the Black brewer participants, starting a few days before Barrel & Flow. In 2022, they ended up with 60 festival beers on tap, and another 50 or so in cans, according to owner Mike Sukitch.
Bruno says she’s particularly looking forward to sampling the collaboration between Coven Brewing and the wellness center, A Key to Peace — a hazy IPA made with oranges and local honey — as well as a new TLC Libations cocktail created in partnership with Tres Generaciones Tequila.
“We do amazing things with beer,” Bruno says, “but we’re more than that.”
And Bruno, Bracey and the rest of the team will be doing more than Barrel & Flow in 2024. Keep an eye out for Babesburgh, a women’s beer fest, which should be happening next June.
Barrel & Flow Fest takes place on Aug. 12 at The Stacks at 3 Crossings, 2875 Railroad St. in the Strip District. Ticket options include VIP and early access admission. General admission tickets are $60 for entry from 5 to 9 p.m. Separate tickets are required for the Aug. 11 conference and evening bottle share party, as well as for the Aug. 13 Brewers Brunch. Check the schedule for other events during the week. Many of them are free.