Industry professionals from all over the country attending the 10th annual Craft Beverage Expo and Distribution Conference March 29-31 will get a taste of the Pittsburgh area’s diverse drinks offerings.

They also can drink in some of the region’s expertise in diversifying those who work in the industry and enjoy its products.

The gathering, most of which will happen at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, aims to help independent producers of beer, wine, spirits, cider and other drinks with a series of informative sessions and an exposition of vendors and experts. Speakers include many local industry leaders, including three who will help lead a session on “Building an Inclusive Team and Reaching a Diverse Consumer Base.”

One is Day Bracey, who runs Barrel & Flow Fest, the Black beer festival that put Pittsburgh on the map in that regard when it debuted as America’s first one in 2017. He’ll be joined by Aadam Soorma, head of marketing and guest experience at Bloomfield’s Trace Brewing, which last summer co-sponsored with Cinderlands Beer Co. Pittsburgh Mixed Culture, a fest devoted to mixed cultures of both yeasts and people. Joining them will be Hannah Ferguson, who in August opened Youngstown’s D.O.P.E Cider House & Winery, of which she is CEO and owner. Part of her journey was coming to Pittsburgh for the Black beer festival in 2019.

Hannah Ferguson, CEO and owner of Youngstown’s D.O.P.E. Cider House & Winery, will return to Pittsburgh for the Craft Beverage Expo and Distribution Conference. (Courtesy of Hannah Ferguson)

“I think these conferences are very important and helpful, and I look forward to the next,” said Ferguson, who said she appreciates the face-to-face connections she can make at trade shows. At this one, she’s be working on aspects of her business including widening distribution and canning. She’s back from the recent CiderCon convention in Chicago, at which she also was a speaker, with connections to start an Ohio cider association. And she’ll be returning to Pittsburgh this summer for Barrel & Flow, which she describes as “a family reunion and networking event.”

She’s excited to share her insights. “What’s always an issue is taproom diversity and employment [of] women and people of color.” Also part of the diversity session will be OJ Lima, president of Taste Select Repeat, and Samara B. Davis, CEO/executive director of Black Bourbon Society/Society Marketing Group.

That Wednesday is dedicated to a Women in Craft Forum, which also will feature some local presenters, including Necromancer Brewing‘s head brewer Lauren Hughes, who will be part of “Cheers to Empowering Women in the Craft Beverage Industry”— with Soorma and others, she helped form the Pittsburgh Brewery Diversity Council — and Wigle Whiskey‘s director of marketing Elise Miranda, who will speak to how “Defining Success Doesn’t Have to be About the C-Suite.”

The forum’s keynote speaker is Lori Ajax, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association and one of the experts from across the country.

Women professionals — producers, distributors, retailers and suppliers — still can register for the daylong forum ($300), as can pros for the rest of the conference or parts thereof at

But the public can get a taste of the action at the CBX Experience on Friday night. A $65 ticket gets you unlimited samples of scores of craft beers, spirits, wine, cider and more, with light appetizers and some “Tipsy Talks” and a souvenir sampling glass. The $105 VIP admission comes with early admission and food pairings from several local restaurants (and there’s a $10 designated driver ticket, too).

And those restaurants and other places will be offering specials, discounts and events that weekend to share local flavor. For example, the Strip District’s Wigle, inspired by the Monongahela River, will be pouring a Monhattan made with its house Pennsylvania Straight Rye and Amaro Vermut and Pomander Orange Bitters ($13).

A Black Beauty coffee martini mixed by bartender Cassie Potter at The Library on Carson Tuesday, March 21, 2023, on the South Side. (Pam Panchak/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Local tourism group VisitPITTSBURGH partnered with Craft Beer Experience to bring the event here from Louisville during an otherwise relatively quiet season for visitors. It riffs on our role in the post-Revolutionary War Whiskey Rebellion (in which Phillip Wigle was a player) by bragging that “craft beverages have been a part of Pittsburgh’s history for more than 200 years.” 

At its recent annual meeting, VisitPITTSBURGH President & CEO Jerad Bachar reported, according to a news release, that local tourism “results from 2022 are very strong, and 2023 has already started with much promise. According to Tourism Economics’ baseline forecast, visitor spending in Allegheny County is expected to reach $7.1 billion, surpassing 2019 levels by 9%, with hotel occupancy expected to reach 64%. And, perhaps most importantly, the local tourism sector is anticipating a gain of 3,100 jobs, with more than 47,000 total jobs in the tourism sector expected by year end.”

Learn more about what’s happening around town during CBX at

Starting on April 12, the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild, which VisitPITTSBURGH also supports, will present Three Rivers Beer Week. One of many events on that schedule is the April 15 drag bingo at Necromancer in Ross, emceed by Hughes, to raise funds to foster more diversity, equity and inclusion in the Pittsburgh beer scene, specifically by creating code of conduct and offering training. Learn more at

VisitPITTSBURGH’s new logo system combines the word mark with a colorful palette of shapes that can be customized with changing photography to showcase select aspects of the city — in this case, food and drink. (Courtesy of VisitPITTSBURGH)

Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at

Bob Batz Jr.

Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at