Please welcome Amber Farris to the site. You may have seen her at a beer share or two or on Instagram, @paunchy.
Barrel and Flow has been my can’t miss festival for the past 3 years, and this year, after being voted the number one beer festival in the country by USA Today’s, Pittsburgh is officially a destination for beer lovers.
With Black brewers coming from all over the country and beer enthusiasts as well, the culture and vibe of Barrel and Flow has always been one of a family reunion. Even if you don’t know anybody, when you leave, you’ll feel like you’ve met some of your greatest friends.
There’s so much to do, so much to see, beyond the festival itself on Saturday. I arrived in town on Thursday to attend some of the pre Festival events namely the singles mixer that was co-hosted by a dear friend, @the_undeniable_vixen, and also the kick-off party at Trace Brewing, who released their collab with Windy Bridges the same night.
Friday was the conference. I assumed a lot of the panels were industry focused and not for the casual enthusiast, but I was wrong. The Pittsburgh Brewers Guild hosted two panels on brewery partnerships (with non beer brands) and challenges/benefits of producing ready to drink cocktails, ciders, and seltzers. My favorite panel of the day was lead by Akeya Kester, a licensed counselor, on “My business Is draining me: signs and symptoms of occupational burnout.” The tools she provided in that session spoke to not just the business owners, but those of us who trudge through the corporate life as well. The National Black Brewers Association hosted a great information session about the organization and its goals as they build association membership.
The Friday night bottle share is the non-fest event I look forward to the most. The DMV contingent was present with Liquid Intrusion Brewing Co, Black Brew Movement, Black Beauty Brewing, and a bevy of local beer influencers from all over the DC, MD, and VA. I brought several beers from the area, notably Subtle Nod from Strange Fruit Brewing and Artemis V – the collab our very own Jordan did with Astrolab.
I had the pleasure of also trying Whale Rider, Weathered Souls latest imperial release. It reminded me of an Oreo milkshake in the best way. Another favorite from the share was From Earth to You, a barrel-aged Mexican-style lager with rose hips, hibiscus, and orange peel from Black Horizon Brewing Co. It was like nothing I’ve ever tasted, but incredibly enjoyable. The DJ kept the tunes going while we continued to make our way through the hundreds of bottles brought to share.
The festival day started off with a little concern about how the weather. Luckily with early entry, I beat the rain by a few hours. As I walked in, the ever familiar Angry Orchard tent greeted us. They partnered with Noire Distillery to give us an brandy-based cider, Pomme Noire. Another highlight of the Fest included Goodlander x Huny Nutcracker No. 2, a striking purple cocktail with rum, vodka, grape, butterfly pea flower tea, lychee, lemon, and blackberry. So beautifully blended and sneakily potent at 13%.
I thoroughly enjoyed most of the beer offerings I tried but, surprisingly, my top two turned out to be ciders! Arsenal Cider x Craig King pulled together a delicious passionfruit cider that I made sure made its way back to Virginia with me to share amongst friends. My number one spot goes to DOPE Cider x Threadbare Cider Remix: a hopped Dragonfruit cider with African Queen hops clocking in at 7% abv.
It was pink, with a nicely balanced sweetness, and a departure from more straightforward ciders thanks to the hops. I know myself and many others circled back a few times for another pour. Even with the rain that eventually came, the crowd was still in good spirits and waiting in lines for the next brew.
I got the opportunity to pour for Soul Mega–being able to interact with folks in that way was a throwback to my retail days–I loved every minute of it. Being able to not only talk about Soul Mega but highlight their upcoming Megafest and anniversary; bragging on all of the great beer coming out of the DC area.
My Barrel and Flow experience ended with the annual brewers breakfast where we swapped the beers we still had and got a chance to have conversations with some of our favorites from the fest. Leaving Pittsburgh after Barrel and Flow always feels like you’re still on a high from an amazing weekend; the come down almost makes you sad. But the countdown is on for next year where I have no doubt that the #1 beer festival in the country will show and prove again.