The now defunct Johnson Brewing Company partnered with the Carolina BrewMasters (CBM), a small Charlotte-based homebrewing club to organize a beer festival for Charlotte. From the beginning, the goal was to educate Charlotte residents about the craft brewing movement, and place special emphasis on the growing number of breweries in the Southeast.

These original two Festivals were held at Independence Park off Seventh Street. Bruno Wichnoski from CBM organized the club volunteers, recruited brewers and urged the club volunteers to market the event as best they could with simple flyers. As Johnson’s financial problems mounted, it became clear that they were no longer able to be a partner and much of the 2000 Festival fell to the Carolina BrewMasters. While the Festival in 1999 was attended by over 900 patrons, in 2000 attendance dropped to about 500. To many, it appeared that the Festival was going to die young.


Several members of Carolina BrewMasters wanted to see the Festival continue, but lack of funds made continuing the effort a daunting financial and organizational challenge for the small homebrewing club. Jason Randall felt passionately that Charlotte needed to have an annual beer Festival and agreed to lead the effort in 2001. Meca Properties and By Design assisted the effort with sponsor money and Meca Properties secured a spot for the Festival adjacent to the former Southend Brewery. Tom Lockhart helped secure umbrella tents and other items. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had happened only a month prior to the Festival but despite this, 1400 beer fans attended. A small profit was made, allowing the club to continue the event in 2002 and a donation of $1000 was made to the Charlotte Trolley.


Jason Randall led the Festival for a second showing in the South End area, this time assisted by Gaines Brown and the Art & Soul Festival on Camden Street. Attendees enjoyed the advantages of a combined Festival, but construction in the area caused problems for Festival organizers. Attendance dropped to about 1100. Approximately $5,000 was left to plan 2003, and the club was able to make a $1000 charitable donation to the Charlotte Trolley.

Jason Randall led the Festival for a second showing in the South End area, this time assisted by Gaines Brown and the Art & Soul Festival on Camden Street. Attendees enjoyed the advantages of a combined Festival, but construction in the area caused problems for Festival organizers. Attendance dropped to about 1100. Approximately $5,000 was left to plan 2003, and the club was able to make a $1000 charitable donation to the Charlotte Trolley.


Todd Bowman took the leadership reins and elevated the event to the next level with his marketing, publicity and leadership skills. The Festival partnered with Steve Emmanuel of the Rheinland Haus restaurant on Park Road to hold the event in the restaurant’s front parking lot. Brewer participation increased, and attendance swelled to over 2500 patrons. CBM finally had enough money to effectively plan the next year’s Festival without going into debt. Proceeds also allowed the club to make an $8000 charitable donation to the Red Cross.


Todd Bowman continued for a second year as Festival Director, moving the Festival site to North Davidson (NoDa) behind the Neighborhood Theater, with the help of Mellow Mushroom owner Tom Lockhart. Growth continued at a rapid pace as marketing efforts improved in sophistication and variety. Attendance of over 3500 patrons enabled charitable donations of over $15,000 to local NoDa charities, including Habitat for Humanity.


Longtime club treasurer Felton Dengler led the effort in 2005 for the Festival’s second year in NoDa. Demand for tickets was overwhelming and the event sold out long before the lines ended. Potential patrons were lined around the block, and the total attendance topped 4500, eventually forcing the organizers to cut off ticket sales later in the day. It was obvious an even larger venue would be needed for 2006. Charitable giving surpassed $20,000.


Longtime Festival site manager Wayne Fricke led the effort, securing Memorial Stadium for the largest Festival to date with over 5,000 paid patrons. For the first time online ticket sales created the first Festival sold out in advance. The homebrew participation increased dramatically as the Carolina BrewMasters invited all of their fellow NC and SC homebrew clubs to participate and share their creations. Wayne managed the Festival like an astute business manager with excellent results. Charitable giving grew to $30,000. Regrettably, Wayne Fricke died of pancreatic cancer on March 13, 2008. A major contribution was made to the MS Society this year, as well as a designated donation in Wayne Fricke’s memory.


Jeanette Smith took the Festival to Metrolina Fairgrounds. CBM rolled out a beautiful, handmade homebrew bar for serving their homebrewed beers. Attendance was at an all-time high of over 6000 attendees. The Festival was hosted in several buildings for a rain safe event. There were advantages to having a weather proof site but glass breakage, fragmentation of the Festival components as well as the highest attendance yet led to critical re-evaluation. $50,000 was donated to three local charities: the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the MS Society, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and A Child’s Place.


Jason Randall agreed to return to the leadership role and take the Festival back to Memorial Stadium while reducing the planned overall size slightly. To help celebrate our 10th Anniversary we had a superb entertainment lineup including Southern Culture on the Skids, the Sons of Ralph, U-Phonik. We also welcomed the third year of the Creative Loafing Beer’lympic Village. Our 10th year was a memorable one. This Festival was dedicated to the memory of Wayne Fricke. Over $50,000 was donated to the MS Society and A Child’s Place.


Justin Mitchell took over the reins of Festival Director. The planning was running smoothly until a sinkhole was discovered beneath Memorial Stadium forcing the stadium to close 3 months before the scheduled Festival date. After searching high and low for an acceptable location, the Charlotte OktoberFest committee rediscovered the Metrolina Trade Show and Expo. We decided to keep the Festival site outdoors to take advantage of the very large grass field at that location. We also decided to increase the size of the beer tents to enhance the Charlotte OktoberFest experience for our patrons. The new site provided for easier access to beer, music, food, bathrooms, and the Creative Loafing Beer’lympic Village. With attendance of over 5500 patrons, the 2009 Charlotte OktoberFest was able to raise $60,000 for Victory Junction and the National Kidney Foundation.


Bruno Wichnoski, a long-time Carolina BrewMaster, led the 12th annual Charlotte OktoberFest. Once again Metrolina Expo was the site of the Festival. The attendance was capped at 5,250 patrons and the Festival site was expanded to allow for a greater number of activities and more room for the attendees. Great music was provided by Echo Code, Sugar Glyder and BlueMonday. Because of the heat that day, 12,000 bottles of water were provided for the Festival patrons to keep everyone well hydrated. Just after the Festival ended, a heavy windstorm swept through the area damaging several tents but sparing the Festival itself. The Festival raised a total of $55,000 in charitable donations which were split between The Autism Society of North Carolina and The National Kidney Foundation of North Carolina. An additional $2500 was donated to the North Carolina Brewers Guild, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting craft beer in North Carolina.


We returned to the Metrolina Expo with Lisa Johnson heading up as Festival Director. We gathered with 6,000 of our closest friends as we set a new attendance record. Craft beer flowed and fans rocked to the Amy Broome Band, U-Phonik and The New Familiars. It was a great day to discover new craft beer and for the first time, we offered wine presented by Toasted Head. We raised over $60,000 benefiting Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, Humane Society of Charlotte and The Carolina Raptor Center. We even released a rehabilitated owl back into the wild during the festivities.


Lisa Johnson returned as festival director for 2012. If you attended this year’s Charlotte OktoberFest, you probably still have mud in your ears. We had a nice rain shower during the middle of the festival and it turned the field into a big mud bath. Everyone made the best of the rain and a great time was had by all. StellaRising, Alien Radio, and Early Ray rocked the house. Thanks to the support of our sponsors, volunteers and attendees, we broke a record in donations- Over $69,000 was divided between Matthews Free Health Clinic, Crisis Assistance Ministry and Beds For Kids. In addition, The Charlotte Beer Girls, brought in $750 for Coalition to Unchain Dogs.


Scott Hubbard led the way in 2013 for our 15th anniversary Charlotte OktoberFest. Everyone loved our new venue, The NC Music Factory! The weather was perfect, the music was blaring and the beer was flowing. The world famous Southern Culture on the Skids rocked the main stage as Charlotte’s own SugarSmaX got the crowd started. We were proud to announce another record breaking donation year- $75,000 was equally divided among our charities this year- Project Halo, Classroom Central and Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. Special thanks to the Charlotte Beer Girls, they were able to raise $2,000 to benefit additional charities.


Rick Benfield, a 9 year member of the Carolina BrewMasters, took over as Festival Director in 2014 for our “Sweet 16th” party! We returned to NC Music Factory and the weather was perfect! Uphonic and Stella Rising (both prior attendees) rocked the main stage with awesome music. Lagunitas Brewing was our title sponsor. For the very first time, we recognized breweries for their long time attendance at Charlotte Oktoberfest. These included Catawba Brewing, Highland Brewing, Foothills Brewing, Thomas Creek Brewing, Duck Rabbit Brewing, and Boston Beer Company. We had 95 breweries in attendance, giving us our best beer selection to date. This year we introduced “Cider Row” with 8 Cideries in attendance, which was a big hit. We had Food Trucks this year, and this was also a big hit with the patrons. A total of $81,000 was given to Classroom Central, Camp Care, and Kids Rein and also to one of the Charlotte Beer Girls selected charities.


Rick Benfield returned as Festival Director in 2015. We returned to NC Music Factory and the weather definitely left something to be desired! We had hurricane-esque conditions that kept some home, but those who came out showed up in true Oktoberfest style with Leiderhosen and swimmies galore! Lagunitas Brewing was our returning title sponsor. We had 95 breweries in attendance, despite a few cancellations for weather travel issues, and we asked all brewers to bring something special for Premium – which was a huge hit. We continued the popular “Cider Row”, and added in a few non-alcoholic options (infused water, craft sodas) to round out our drink choices. We had Food Trucks again, and had quite a few sponsors with food/drink samples to share. Despite our first-in-a-long-while non-sellout crowd, we were still able to donate $50,000, equally split to: Ada Jenkins Center, Beds For Kids, Greater Charlotte SPCA and Operation Homefront-Carolinas. We also gave a smaller donation to the Charlotte Beer Girls’ charities. A special thanks to all of our patrons, sponsors, brewers, vendors, Food Trucks, volunteers and charities who braved the weather to help us accomplish yet another stellar-but-wet Charlotte OktoberFest!


Bethany Burr was the festival director in 2017. For the first time, Charlotte OktoberFest was held at Symphony Park and the weather was gorgeous! We had 80 breweries and cideries in attendance. The 18th Charlotte OktoberFest had food trucks and several sponsors who also provided food and drink samples to keep our 2500+ attendees hydrated and fed. We donated $17,500 to the following charities: Charlotte Family Housing, RescuedMe, and On Eagle’s Wings. We’d like to thank all of our volunteers, patrons, sponsors, brewers, vendors, food trucks, and charities who supported our 18th Charlotte OktoberFest.