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.