Charlotte Brewery Blamed For Covid-19 Outbreak After Festival

, Charlotte Brewery Blamed For Covid-19 Outbreak After Festival

(Courtesy OMB)

A three- day festival held by Olde Mecklenburg Brewery has been linked to five COVID-19 cases, drawing media criticism that no brewery needs in these difficult times.

2020 has seen one event cancellation after another and those cancellations come at cost. Major beer events, are not only economic tent poles for breweries and organizations like the Brewers Association, they also provide a link (some would call it a bond) between those organizations and their supporters and fans.

Having cancelled its three biggest events, the Craft Brewers Conference, The Great American Beer Festival and SAVOR, which is held every year in DC, the Brewers Association embarked on two series of layoffs, letting go of high profile members like Julia Herz.

, Charlotte Brewery Blamed For Covid-19 Outbreak After FestivalAnd as Kate Bernot astutely explains in her very fine GBH article, beer events and festivals have never been more important… or potentially hazardous.

“Canceling events jeopardizes two of the main pillars supporting craft breweries—community and innovation—because events facilitate customer interaction and offer the chance to test new beers with drinkers. Events, from neighborhood tap takeovers to major beer festivals, are core to the identity of small breweries. These businesses have long defined themselves as places that are creative, fun, and alternative to the mainstream.”

“So while breweries are loath to become loci for the virus’ spread, they’re also fearful that a lack of events could have devastating consequences that endure beyond 2020.”

On Sept. 25-27 Olde Mecklenburg Brewery (OMB) Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest craft brewery, threw the dice and returned its annual Oktoberfest event, Mecktoberfest. And the three-day festival, which ran 11am to 11pm, ended up attracting thousands, most of whom followed the brewery’s strict COVID-19 restrictions, but on Saturday night some didn’t.

Not surprisingly, their behavior was captured on video which led to a social media backlash, local news coverage and governmental attention, especially after reports of COVID-19 infections linked to the event surfaced.

And OMB Founder John Marrino released this open letter to the Charlotte community that further explains the brewery’s actions and postions…

An Open Letter to OMB Customers and the Charlotte Community

A little over two weeks ago OMB held its 12th Annual Mecktoberfest Celebration at the Brewery and Biergarten on Yancey Road here in Charlotte. As this has been one of the most difficult years of OMB’s existence, we were looking forward to a scaled back event as we tip-toed back to some semblance of normal life again. Instead, an unfortunate turn of events has unfolded.

Upon re-opening after the shutdown, OMB spaced out our tables (inside as well as outside in the Biergarten). Since the mandate we’ve always required our staff to wear masks and that our customers wear masks inside when away from their table, and outside while in line for food or drink. In other words, the same thing that every other restaurant and brewery is doing.

In fact, we follow every local, state and national health guideline and regulation with regards to Coronavirus (as well as every other health and alcohol related rule.) We also keep our premises very clean and safe at all times. We’ve been doing that every day since re-opening. As such, OMB prepared for Mecktoberfest knowing that things would be a bit different this year.

We expected a much smaller turnout this year due to COVID. Contrary to our expectations, several thousand Charlotteans visited OMB that weekend to enjoy the perfect fall weather, good food and pure, fresh beer.

For all but a few hours of the weekend, and for the vast majority of attendees, the event was near perfect, and everyone practiced good social distancing. On Saturday evening a surge of people came to the festival. As the day progressed, some sub-groups of our attendees (a relatively small number of the overall visitors) chose to ignore requirements to wear masks and social distance, despite our staff’s efforts to control the situation.

Perhaps they were confused since they were outside in the Biergarten. This was certainly NOT with our encouragement or our permission. Having said that, the vast majority of our attendees followed the health guidelines and wore masks when unable to social distance. Saturday came to an end, and Sunday was another wonderful day of Mecktoberfest without any of the issues that occurred Saturday evening.

As would be expected, some attendees videotaped the unacceptable Saturday evening behavior on their phones and posted it on social media. That is not an issue. Our main concern is that this “snapshot” of a three-day event that was virtually perfect at all other times, has distorted people’s perceptions of the overall event and our brewery. Recently Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris stated that 2 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 within the past two weeks indicated they had attended Mecktoberfest.

While we don’t know if they contracted it at our event, we share her (and the public’s) concern and take the situation very seriously. Therefore, we were more than happy to permit the Health Department to set up a free COVID-19 testing station in our parking lot this past Saturday.

The only issue where we might disagree with Director Harris’ is her original comment that “anyone” who attended Mecktoberfest should be tested. In our view, while anyone should certainly get tested if they feel the need, there is no specific reason for anyone who attended Friday, Sunday or early Saturday to be worried at all. All social distancing practices were in place and working fine during those times.

The only attendees that absolutely should get tested are those that attended during the period where things were less than perfect (i.e., Saturday evening). However, she has since revised that position with the following statement, “If you went there and didn’t wear a mask and didn’t social distance, you should be tested.” At this point, however, it may be moot as the event was now more than two weeks ago and we are outside the incubation period.

Following Director Harris’ statement (which we do not believe was made with any malice whatsoever), some local Charlotte television and internet media outlets launched into a feeding frenzy at OMB’s expense. The social media “cancel” culture has since also kicked into high gear. As with all hearsay, the story always gets better (or worse) at each leg of the journey. Today, wild assertions about the event, OMB and how we operate are being thrown around on the internet, virtually all of which are false.

Although we accept that Saturday evening was less than perfect and regret that deeply, we also reject any assertion that the rest of the event was not exceptional, and that our day to day operations are not as safe or safer than any other restaurant or brewery in this city.

Every brewery, bar and restaurant in this country is facing very difficult challenges in these unprecedented times. Many small local businesses will not survive this pandemic. Given that, we are disappointed that some in our local media chose not to try to understand what actually happened at Mecktoberfest, but instead have seemed more interested in crafting a sensational narrative since Director Harris’ original statement.

That being said, we would like to re-iterate the following to our customers and employees:

• – We take this situation very seriously

• – We will learn from this experience

• – The safety of our guests and staff has and always will be our number one concern

• – Our staff will continue to wear masks as they have always done since the mandate was enacted

• – We will continue to keep our facility “pristine” and disinfected every day during COVID and after it runs its course

• – We will continue to follow all local, state and federal guidelines, and enhance our efforts to ensure compliance by all our guests on site when they are unable to social distance

• – Our restaurant and Biergarten remains a safe, relaxing place.

OMB considers itself a part of the Charlotte community. We employ almost 150 of our fellow citizens, buy from dozens of local vendors, and have paid millions in taxes over the years which get reinvested in our community through our local and state governments. We have always strived to enhance the quality of life in this community in our own small way by providing a safe, relaxing location at the brewery to enjoy a beer and a bite with friends.

Notwithstanding this unfortunate turn of events, we will continue our mission, learn, improve and move forward. We very much appreciate those friends who have supported us during this unprecedented situation. We are also local. So if you are a fair minded person seeing and hearing all these negative stories and commentary about OMB on TV or the internet, and you’re not sure, we’d simply ask that you visit the brewery at your convenience and judge for yourself.


John Marrino, Founder


2020 has been a nightmare. Breweries have NEVER faced a more difficult year, as Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, no doubt, understands…

And beer festivals will remain in limbo for breweries and organizations…

Damned if you do and endangered if you don’t.

About is the nations' leading source for the Best Craft Beer News, Reviews, Events and Media.
Scroll To Top