Beer Brakes Barriers / by Alex Young

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They're calling Fresh Fest Pittsburgh's first black beer festival. Black Brew Culture magazine and the Drinking Partners Podcast are responsible for making it happen.

Overall, Fresh Fest highlights local brew culture in Pittsburgh, except the spotlight is on the people who typically go unnoticed in the brew scene. "It's the most embarrassing thing to me that I can't say that I know a single black brewer in Pittsburgh. That's pitiful and that needs to be rectified," Andy Kwiatkowski, part owner of Hitchhiker Brewing Company, said.

On Saturday, August 11 at Nova Place and Alloy 26 in what used to be the Allegheny Center Mall on the North Side, black brewers, black entrepreneurs and even black public officials join the beer community. 21 collaborations between black businesses and Pittsburgh breweries feature at Fresh Fest where attendees can drink craft beer, ciders and more spirits. Food trucks and music supply the fun atmosphere. People can see musicians like singer Clara Kent, bassist Jonny Good and rapper Mars Jackson perform.

The key part of the beer festival is the welcoming attitude for the community. Like the Greek food festival, more nationalities and ethnicities can be part of Fresh Fest. It's not discriminatorily only for black people. It's about "not having this opportunity to having this opportunity," Thomas Agnew, co-owner of BOOM Concepts said as he sipped on the BOOM Shandy, a beer he and his partner Darrell Kinsel crafted with Hitchhiker Brewing for Fresh Fest.

Any alcohol is a communal beverage... It’s all about bringing people together. That’s why the name’s Hitchhiker. It’s because it brings people from all walks of life together.
— Andy Kwiatkowski of Hitchhiker Brewing Company

While breaking down racial barriers and having a good human conversation, Thomas, DeVaughn Rodgers, Andy and myself talked about what Fresh Fest means for Pittsburgh and the incredibly tasty BOOM Shandy.

Nova Place

100 S Commons

Pittsburgh, PA 15212

5pm - 9pm

Thomas Agnew with his BOOM Shandy | photographs of Agnew and the BOOM Shandy by Alex Young, Thomas Agnew and via  Hitchhiker Brewing

Thomas Agnew with his BOOM Shandy | photographs of Agnew and the BOOM Shandy by Alex Young, Thomas Agnew and via Hitchhiker Brewing

Thomas Agnew of BOOM Concepts: We just sat and talked about the different beers. Darrell and myself drink light beers. We talked about different fruits that would be smart to use for the summertime. We wanted it to be something for the summer. But this is the BOOM Shandy.

InTheRough: How many test runs did you guys go through before arriving to this beer?

Andy Kwiatkowski of Hitchhiker Brewing Company: This is the test round. [laughs]

Thomas: We had all the faith in Andy.

Andy: I've never made a shandy before. It worked out.

Thomas: First time for both. First time shandy and first beer for BOOM. This is great.

ITR: Shandies are light on alcohol content, right?

Andy: Yes, but this is 4.5%. This is .3% more than Miller Lite.

Thomas: It'll get the job done though.

Andy: Yeah, you finish one of those off yourself you're good.

Thomas: We went down to the Hitchhiker Brewing to see his process. It was really cool, but the biggest thing, especially with this Fresh Fest beer festival, was having the people of color representation to be a part of something like this. I never imagined I'd be sitting across from someone who brews beer and talk about, "Let's make a beer." How do we take steps to do other things with this and make that work? Being in a brewery seeing the big stacks and seeing him pouring in the wheat and seeing it mix in this big thing they had. It was crazy to see them make beer legally.

ITR: "Beerland" on Viceland, I don't know if you've seen the Pittsburgh episode, but from a people of color perspective it was nice to see them highlight a little bit of how black people and other minorities add to the brew culture in Pittsburgh.

Andy: I used to be in the hip-hop community. A lot more diversity to a field that has literally no diversity whatsoever. It's all white dudes. This is the most needed thing to be done. I'm so excited the beer and the festival is here. I'm really excited about it. It's the most embarrassing thing to me that I can't say that I know a single black brewer in Pittsburgh. That's pitiful and that needs to be rectified.

Thomas: I think also on the backend when we think about diversity, it's always talking about that cost. How it's never affordable for us. Like how much does your equipment cost?

Andy: All of the equipment is like $750,000. Initially, we had a smaller set-up that led to this viable business and bigger set-up. Initially, our equipment was like $60,000. You could do it way cheaper than that, but you won't make any money. It's economies of scale. The more volume you can produce the more you can make profitable. One of those big tanks that we make in 12 hours now is as much beer we made in a month at the old spot.

ITR: Where are you selling?

Andy: We're in over 100 bars and restaurants around the area. We have cans in Giant Eagle, Whole Foods and other select distributors.

Thomas: That's what I'm saying. I want to see BOOM Shandy in Giant Eagle. I was losing my mind.

ITR: Yeah, this is tasty.

Andy: Any beer we can Giant Eagle buys. Whole Foods buys.

ITR: What's your plan with this beer? Is it coming and then going or coming and staying?

Thomas: Hell nah. It's coming and staying. I mess with this for real. This is like, "How do I make money without having to do hard ass work?" We are willing to invest in this and then continuously doing that. You go from not having this opportunity to having this opportunity. We don't know if anybody else is thinking like this. "Oh, it's just a collaboration for this time." We're like, "So, we want to make more beer. How do we do it? How much does it cost? Can we give you some money and see how it does?" Also, with what we do here and all the opportunities we try to build working with different organizations. If we can figure out a way of how to do this with events like at the Carnegie Museum. Like, "Yo, we have our own beer. You don't even need to bring beer. We have a brewery we work with." This is a move and the shit tastes good.

Andy: Right, it's not gross! It has balance.

Thomas: It's good, man.

Andy: We were dumping in like Country Time lemonade mix. I was like, "I don't know what's going to happen with this." [laughs]

ITR: You did your thing. This tastes like beer. I'm not big on alcohol, but this tastes good. I feel like I'm drinking a good beer. This has it's place.

DeVaughn Rodgers: Have you ever had a shandy before?

ITR: Yeah. The shandies I've had were like ciders and sweet though.

DeVaughn: Right, I don't need that.

Andy: That's what we talked about. We wanted to make a "beer" version of a shandy.

Thomas: We got deep into it. Going down to the brewery.

ITR: How do you think breweries bring together people in Pittsburgh?

Andy: Any alcohol is a communal beverage. There are people who sit at home and drink by themselves, but it's a communal beverage. It's all about bringing people together. That's why the name's Hitchhiker. It's because it brings people from all walks of life together. It doesn't matter if you're unemployed, down on your luck, The C.E.O., and you're the the man, it doesn't matter. You could be sitting at the bar next to someone who you have no idea of their circumstances, where they came from or what their upbringing was. It starts a conversation. There everyday at the bar, people randomly don't know each other. They connect over beer. They start a conversation. They become friends. That's what it's all about and that's the way that alcohol has been since inception. It settled down nomadic man. It made people cultivate crops because they wanted to get lit and the rest is history.

Thomas: Yeah, this shit's great, man.

Andy: It'll be even better by Saturday for the festival. When we move beer around it gets beat up. It needs a couple days to mellow out. Usually day one or two after we carbonate a beer I fucking hate it and I don't hate this. So, that says a lot.

Thomas: Good, I'm glad you don't hate it. This is extra fire.