January 2012

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    Richard Rudisill -
    Cassie Anderson-Fortune displays the "Oktoberfest girl" garb.
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    Just a few of the many beers that The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium has on tap.
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    Richard Rudisill -
    Chad Henderson, brewer at the NoDa Brewing Company, which is scheduled to open in mid-October.

Best in beer

By Julie Reed Bell | Photography by Richard Rudisill

Posted: Friday, Sep. 23, 2011

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Bust out the lederhosen and head to Metrolina Expo in University City on Oct. 8. That’s the site for Charlotte’s own version of Oktoberfest, the world’s biggest festival held each fall in Munich and attracting more than 5 million people from around the world.

This is the 13th year of Charlotte's Oktoberfest, and this year there will be more than 100 breweries from across the Southeast and the world participating and serving over 350 beers. Attendance is capped at 5,250, a number that organizers say is a reasonable amount to ensure patrons aren’t waiting in line all day for beer.

UCity resident Mark Graham has been an Oktoberfest volunteer since 2003. Graham is a member of Carolina BrewMasters, a Charlotte-based non-profit homebrew club and the sponsor of the festival.

Graham is in his third year of recruiting breweries to attend, working with the local distributors as well as the breweries themselves. He’s also a longtime beer pouring captain, coordinating the pouring duties for the participating national and international breweries.

“This is one of the best-run festivals in the country,” Graham says. “We are all volunteers, but we have a passion for what we are doing. Our goals are to educate the patrons about the beers that are available so that they can feel comfortable purchasing these products later.”

Graham says the education on beers that the festival provides has helped make the local beer market better and led to more choices for the Charlotte consumer.

Graham emphasizes Oktoberfest’s charitable benefit to the community, noting that the club takes the proceeds from the festival and makes large donations to several local charities.

Last year, the festival raised $55,000 that was split between The Autism Society of North Carolina and The National Kidney Foundation of North Carolina. This year, the charities they’ve chosen to benefit are The Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, The Humane Society of Charlotte and The Carolina Raptor Center.

Official Oktoberfest planning committee meetings start in January every year, says Lisa Johnson, festival director. Johnson is a Carolina BrewMasters member and has been involved with the festival since 2006.

Johnson says that sharing a passion for finely crafted beer and committing to raising money for local charities are the goals for Oktoberfest. She describes the local beer community as “a large number of very good-natured people who come from just about every demographic. Hunter S. Thompson once said, ‘Good people drink good beer,’ and I think that pretty well sums up the beer community in Charlotte.”

In addition to samples of beer and some wine, there are also plenty of food vendors, live music from three bands, and many other activities and entertainment in the “Beerlympic” area, Johnson says.

One of those entertaining activities is certainly the presence of the Oktoberfest girls, dressed up in dirndls and women’s lederhosen. Patrons can take pictures with the girls in exchange for a donation to charity.

This will be the fourth year for UCity resident Cassie Anderson-Fortune to don a dirndl. Last year, she says, she and friend Lori Jane Shoenthal raised almost $1,000 for Birthday Blessings. This year, the girls will be raising money for Hounds4Heroes.

In addition to international breweries like Heineken, Newcastle and Dos XX and national breweries like Abita, Boston Beer Company and New Belgium Brewing Company, there will be at least six Charlotte-area brewers taking part in the festival.

UCity resident Chad Henderson works for one of these, NoDa Brewing, which is scheduled to debut its brewery and tap room on North 26th Street and North Davidson Streret in early October.

When NoDa Brewing opens, it will feature a new experimental beer every week from its small pilot brewing system. “This will allow us to really stretch our creativity on a regular basis and allow something new on the line every week for our patrons,” Henderson says.

The brewery will have a variety of beers at Oktoberfest. “Our opening date is scheduled closely to the festival so we will be in high spirits and amped up to promote the brewery,” Henderson says. They will most likely feature their year-round varieties, including a West Coast inspired IPA, a coconut porter, a red ale and an imperial rye IPA. Henderson also promises some seasonal one-off brews and other surprises.

“Being an avid craft beer enthusiast myself, there's little out there that I love more than talking about beer,” Henderson says. “Running the booth at this festival and talking to people about the beers that I and the NoDa brew team have put huge effort into is about as great a feeling you can get as a professional in this area. I hope that attending the festival will allow the masses to see the NoDa Brewing spirit, creativity and dedication to producing progressive craft beer.”

Henderson considers the festival to be a must for craft beer lovers in Charlotte, or North Carolina in general. “It would be unimaginable for a Charlotte-based brewery not to get involved in Oktoberfest,” he says. “You know a beer festival will be well managed and presented if the people running it are avid craft beer fans and brewers themselves.”

Another well-represented group at Oktoberfest is home brewers. Tony Profera, UCity resident and a festival volunteer for 10 years, leads the setup and operation of the Carolina BrewMasters homebrew dispensing bar.

This year, more than 35 Carolina BrewMasters members’ homebrews will be served from this 11-tap bar, Profera says. Patrons can expect more than 100 assorted homebrews to be served by North and South Carolina homebrew clubs, and possibly even some from Virginia this year, he says.

Profera very much enjoys volunteering at Oktoberfest, saying, “What’s not to like? Great regional craft beer and homebrews, good friends, blue skies, amazing bands, and it all supports local charities. Personally, I would like the festival to run each and every first Saturday of every month.”

Oktoberfest girl Anderson-Fortune agrees, saying, “I actually wait all year for Oktoberfest, not Christmas.”

Want to go?

Charlotte Oktoberfest

October 8, 2-7 p.m.

Metrolina Expo, 7100 Statesville Road, Charlotte.

Premium Admission ticket, which includes one-hour early admission and a guided tour, $50.

Designated driver ticket, which includes free food and non-alcoholic beverages, $20.

General admission, $35.

All ticketed attendees must be 21 years or older—valid ID required.

www.charlotteoktoberfest.com

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