The floodgates opened at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, as 1,000 VIP ticket-holders majestically entered the grounds of the 17th annual Charlotte Oktoberfest. Rain gear and puddle-proof shoes were the outfit of choice, as the clouds overhead constantly threatened to drench us all.
I stood on a small hill above the wet gravel, angling for the best vantage point and trying not to get swept away by the flood of patrons. Six minutes later, I hurriedly reached for the hood of my jacket and prayed the waterproofing was still in order, as fat raindrops descended. Judging by the smiles on the faces of those still pouring into the event, it’d take more than inclement weather to dampen these spirits.
It’s one thing to spend a Saturday outside, sampling craft beer while dancing around puddles. It’s another thing entirely to do all that while benefitting local charities. Four nonprofits benefitted from our combined revelry: Ada Jenkins Center, Beds For Kids, Greater Charlotte SPCA, and Operation Homefront. The weather prevented a stage from going up, which curtailed plans for the customary check presentation to each benefitting charity (proceeds will be divided equally among the four groups), but donations will go out during festival organizer Carolina Brewmasters’ next meeting.
Weather wasn’t the only threat at play; rumors of plainclothes Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) agents milling about was a real concern. Other earlier festivals in western North Carolina were marred by tickets being issued to beer-pouring volunteers caught sipping samples while on the clock. Uncertainty over what permits would be necessary caused several committed breweries to rescind their participation. Local homebrewers, previously featured in a separate tent on the grounds, were forced to leave their donated offerings at home. Weather prevented several coastal operations to understandably stay home. This combination of heartache-inducing elements prevented a sell-out this year, but a stout 4,000+ tickets were still sold.
National and regional breweries joined a plethora of local crews to sate the thirsts of the masses. Local favorites like such Birdsong, NoDa, and Sycamore rubbed elbows with Lagunitas (the festival’s primary sponsor) and Stone. Impressive lines formed for Fonta Flora and Wicked Weed. Triple C debuted their upcoming bourbon-barrel-aged smoked porter, and Olde Mecklenburg rolled out a massive beer-pouring trailer. Smaller, recently-opened brewers also used this event to make an impression on the gathered attendees. Importantly, the presence of five food trucks helped to ensure a healthy balance between revelry and responsibility.
This year saw the debut of the official Charlotte Oktoberfest app, which was a valuable resource in navigating the festival area. Getting around wasn’t much trouble to begin with, as local folks were helpfully arrayed in one row, while national and international were similarly arranged. Expect impressive increased functionality for next year’s version, with talk of tying in with a third-party beer rating platform.
My jacket’s hood spent more time dangling from my neck than keeping rain out of my face, and the graveled festival grounds held against the infrequent elemental incidents. For the 17th year in a row, the Carolina Brewmasters showed why Oktoberfest is a can’t-miss mainstay of the Charlotte craft beer scene.