Pittsburgh needs more things like Barrel & Flow Fest
. One of the biggest and best Black-run beer festivals in the country, the event on Sat., Sept. 11 at SouthSide Works was a breath of fresh air in a city that has had problems supporting Black creatives
, and a craft beer industry whose issues in attracting BIPOC and women leadership have been well-documented
And this year’s festival, which recently saw a rebrand
, went fairly smoothly, outside of some musicians being unable to perform, citing set-up problems or communication issues with organizers.
Each brewery took part in a collaboration beer, usually between a local Pittsburgh brewery and a Black-owned spot from somewhere across the country. And they were not just collaborations between breweries, some included ice cream shops, podcasts, and musicians.
While I want to shout out so many of the places and people involved, I am only highlighting some of the beers brewed specifically for the festival, not just ones that were pouring there. (Shout out to Revolution Brewing’s “V.S.O.J 2021” and Trillium’s “Twice the Daily Serving,” as well as Dancing Gnome’s “Lustra,” but those didn’t crack my list). Here are my five favorite beers from Barrel & Flow Fest 2021.
Bearded Iris Brewing, Slim + Husky’s Pizza Beeria, and The Bearded Brotha: “Rollout Stout”
A collaboration between up-and-coming Nashville brewery Bearded Iris, and Black-owned Nashville pizza joint Slim + Husky’s, “Rollout Stout” surprised me in the best way possible. Described as a stout brewed with cinnamon rolls, pecans, caramel, vanilla, and lactose, this beer catches your attention with the amount of flavor packed in. However, none of it overwhelms, leaving you with a sweet treat that still works as a beer.
Brew Gentlemen and Run The Jewels: “Blockbuster Night Pt. 1”
Listen, sometimes, I’m a simple man. (OK, often I’m a simple man.) I see a collaboration between one of the best Pittsburgh breweries, Brew Gentlemen, and one of the most forward thinking, politically charged groups in rap, Run the Jewels, and I’m in. This was a very nice IPA. Go get it.
Crowns and Hops Brewing and Black Calder Brewing: “The Blue Peach”
This was a cool beer, with a cooler story from an even cooler group of people. California’s Crowns and Hops have been a pioneer in using beer to lift up underserved communities, and its collab with another Black-owned brewery, Michigan’s Black Calder, shows off a skill and passion for change. A fruited gose with blackberry, peach, vanilla, cinnamon, coriander, and black lava sea salt, this beer was brewed in honor of Stacey Abrams, with a portion of proceeds going to Fair Fight, Abrams' organization to combat voter suppression.
Grist House and Smittox Brewing: “Dessert Wanderer”
Grist House stouts are almost always delightful, consistently excelling at making rich, dessert type beers that aren’t too cloying. This collaboration, with Dallas home-brewer/soon to be full-fledged brewery Smittox, is no exception. Brewed with cacao nibs, vanilla bean, coconut, and banana, their description of this one as “like having an ice cream sundae on the beach” seems to fit well.
Dancing Gnome and Ghost-Note: “Pleximetry Rhythm”
Finally, I’d be remiss without mentioning the brewery that even among the crowded local field, still does hops better than anyone else around. Their contribution this year was a collaboration with the band Ghost-Note, who also played the festival. Pleximetry Rhythm is a Petite IPA, clocking in at only 3.8% ABV (a blessing during four straight hours of beer), but despite the low percentage, it manages to pack more flavor and character into the beer than many can in an 8% IPA.