It’s not unusual to hear chefs rattle off their locally sourced and thoughtfully foraged ingredients. (“These nettles? Found them in the field by the garage this morning.”) The farm-focused mentality is alive in craft beer as well, and a handful of American breweries have embraced it with gusto, including Morganton, N.C.’s Fonta Flora.
“It’s our mission not only to make some badass beers but to really put the agriculture front and center,” says Fonta Flora co-founder and brewer Todd Steven Boera. “It’s time-consuming and methodical and painstaking, but at the end of the day, it ends up creating a product that has quite the story to tell.”
Brewing distinctly Appalachian beers with foraged honeysuckle or N.C.-grown fennel feels natural to Boera, who earned a sustainable agriculture degree at nearby Warren Wilson College. “It’s been neat to realize that sustainable agriculture doesn’t only mean having land and farming, but also being able to incorporate incredible local ingredients at Fonta Flora,” Boera says. “If folks are coming from Arizona or New York or wherever, they’re going to have a beer here that they can’t find anywhere else.”
But it wasn’t those beers—the 75 percent of Fonta Flora’s taproom lineup that incorporates North Carolina ingredients—that put the brewery on the map. Last year, the brewery won GABF gold for a dry Irish stout, of all things, which still seems to unsettle Boera.
“I was thinking, ‘Cool, we won a medal,’ but afterwards when we analyzed it, we won a medal for a beer that we’re not even all about or that’s characteristic of our brewery,” he says. “I don’t want someone to first hear about Fonta Flora for our dry Irish stout.”
He’d instead point you to a bottle of Echoview Estate: a dry, earthy tripel made with barley, lemon balm, blackberry honey and Chinook and Cascade hops grown on Echoview Farm in Weaverville, N.C., and the first-ever beer to earn the “Appalachian-grown” seal from the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.
Boera’s ability to get his hands on these native crops—and then find drinkers enthusiastic about his sour and wild-fermented lineup—owes a debt to the brewery’s location. Though it’s only a 15,000-person town at the tail end of a rugged mountain range, Morganton is home to the sort of kayaking, gardening, generally outdoorsy people for whom local ingredients make sense.
Visitors have their best shot at picking up a 750-mL bottle of the latest release at the brewery itself; with a small three-and-a-half barrel system and only sporadic distribution in Charlotte and Asheville, Fonta Flora’s roots are dug firmly into Morganton. Boera admits, however, that is the whole point.
“You get Fonta Flora by coming to Fonta Flora,” he says. “We’ve built this place to be a welcoming hub.”
Boera’s 3 to try
Carolina Custard Appalachian Wild Ale: “As an Ohio native, I am obsessed with the paw paw, which is a North American native ‘tropical’ fruit that some say is reminiscent of a mango and a banana; it’s also known as Carolina Custard around my current neck of the woods. This beer was brewed with N.C. barley, rye and wheat and fermented clean with our house ale yeast, then transferred and refermented in white wine barrels by our house blend of Brettanomyces and lactobacillus, plus the paw paw fruit.”
Brutus Dandelion Saison: “Brutus was brewed with N.C.-grown barley, rye and wheat, plus foraged dandelions. The leaves and stems incorporate bitterness, and the flowers lend their earthy aromatics.”
Vestige Bloom Appalachian Wild Ale: “When I stumbled upon local kiwis growing high up in the mountains, I knew they’d have to go in a beer. Vestige Bloom was fermented clean and then refermented in white wine barrels with the kiwi fruit and a menagerie of Brettanomyces and lactobacillus.”
What’s with the name?
N.C.’s Piedmont region has no natural lakes; in the early 20th century, power companies dammed rivers to make hydroelectric power. One such company flooded a small sharecropping community called Fonta Flora just 15 miles from where the brewery currently sits, creating Lake James. That story inspired the brewery’s name and its logo: silhouetted houses underneath waves.