Beer Scout: Brewing Appalachia

SMALL-TOWN PERSONALITY: Although Morganton is a small market, the beers brewed by Fonta Flora head brewer Todd Boera have a loyal following. Photo by Thom O'Hearn
SMALL-TOWN PERSONALITY: Although Morganton is a small market, the beers brewed by Fonta Flora head brewer Todd Boera have a loyal following. Photo by Thom O'Hearn

Fonta Flora, Morganton’s newest brewery, showcases local malt,  fruits and vegetables in its beer 

If you’ve ever met Todd Boera, co-owner and brewer at Fonta Flora in Morganton, you probably remember his foot-long beard. Fittingly the former Catawba Brewing Co. head brewer launched his new venture with a beer called Hop Beard IPA. It has quickly become a taproom favorite. 

However, it’s the other beers on the board that are quickly putting Fonta Flora on the map. On any given day, you’ll find as many saisons on tap as the much-larger Wicked Weed in Asheville, and all of them are focused on brewing as locally as possible. 

“Saying you ‘serve local food’ or ‘brew local beer’ is something that can get lost in translation pretty easily,” says Boera, who laments that some restaurants and breweries push “local” more as a marketing tool than as a way of production. “However, there are a few of us who actually do brew local.” 

For Fonta Flora, brewing local starts with the malt; Riverbend Malt House of Asheville provides the malt it uses in all its Belgian beers. While you might think many Asheville brewers would have already switched to Riverbend, in reality Fonta Flora is one of the only breweries pioneering its use as a base malt for core beers rather than for just seasonals or special releases. “We can’t use Riverbend in every beer yet because every ingredient has a flavor,” says Boera. “So I stick to the beers that work best for the malts they produce now. … It may be hard for established brewers to do that, but I think it’s up to us [brewers] to try these new regional ingredients and figure out what works.” 

Many beers are also brewed based on what’s in season and what’s inspiring to Boera at any given moment. Some are only brewed once. For example, Fonta Flora brewed Local Kiwi!? Belgian Blonde after Boera made an accidental discovery at Fox Farms. “I was driving out to Burnsville to buy some corn, and while I’m up there the farmer shows me these kiwi bushes. I couldn’t believe we were growing kiwis right here [in WNC]. So I bought all the kiwis he had for a beer.”

The Story So Far

While you might think a taproom filled with saisons and beers featuring local produce is a stretch for a small market like Morganton, Fonta Flora already has a dedicated following. After opening weekends-only in October, it has been filling the pub every day of the week since November.

“Sometimes people are bummed out at first when they try to order something [like a lager], but that usually turns into them trying something new that they like. Since we have table beers and other mild offerings, what seems obscure at first can end up quite popular with the light beer crowd. … People need more credit than they get. Almost everyone is willing to embrace what’s going on [with craft beer],” says Boera.  

The understanding that the people of Morganton would embrace a creative local pub comes in part because the partners have all lived in Morganton for years. In addition to Boera, who has lived there for five years, co-owners Mark and David Bennett were born and raised in Morganton. It also didn’t hurt that the Bennetts’ parents are English immigrants, so they had firsthand experience with the English pub culture they wanted to bring to Morganton. 

Since Fonta Flora started with a focus on the pub, the brewing operation is a modest size: 3.5 barrels, or about 100 gallons per batch. The owners make enough beer to keep the tap lines flowing at Fonta Flora, and they send a small amount of beer to places like Thirsty Monk in Asheville on occasion. “We’re not opposed to getting more beer to Asheville eventually. … We’re just trying to keep from overextending ourselves too fast,” says Boera. “We want any growth to be slow and intentional. And we never want to get so big that we have to change what we do now when it comes to sourcing our ingredients.”

Upcoming Events

If you can’t make the drive to Morganton anytime soon, there are a couple of Asheville Beer Week events where you can try a beer from Fonta Flora. It will have 10 of its beers, including Hop Beard IPA and many of the saisons, at the Thirsty Monk on Friday, May 30, for a tap takeover. It will also have a beer and an experimental malt vinegar at the All Souls Pizza Grazing in the Grass dinner on May 28.

Alternately, you could make a day of it and head to Morganton on June 14 for Fonta Flora’s inaugural State of Origin beer festival. The event will feature about 20 North Carolina breweries serving beers that feature local ingredients at the Morganton Courthouse Square. Tickets are $35.

For details about the All Souls Pizza dinner, click on the “Events” link at ashevillebeerweek.com. Details and a link for State of Origin tickets are available at fontaflora.com.

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About Thom O'Hearn
Thom O'Hearn covers beer and brewery news for Mountain Xpress.

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