After more than two years of planning and development, Fonta Flora Brewery’s Whippoorwill Farm expansion facility is nearly complete.
Located on a historic dairy farm within Lake James State Park, the operation — which features a 15-barrel brewhouse feeding four 30-barrel fermenters and two 30-barrel brite tanks — is already turning out beer that has been packaged and distributed throughout the region. A tasting room with a spacious outdoor patio overlooking Linville Gorge is slated to welcome guests with a soft opening in June.
The process of growing from the brewery’s 3.5-barrel brewhouse and taproom in downtown Morganton has been lengthy but rewarding, says Fonta Flora brewmaster and co-founder Todd Boera, whose education in sustainable agriculture at Warren Wilson College informed the brewery’s unique expansion plans. “It feels like returning home, in a way,” he says.
He acknowledges that the project is a bit unusual in the brewing world. “It may look unnatural to some people, putting a brewery in a barn in the middle of nowhere,” he explains. “But to us, it seems like this is what was meant to happen, this is where we’re supposed to be. I think this is going to be a true beer destination in the Southeast.”
A newly constructed barn shelters the brewhouse and 16-tap tasting room. Additionally, renovation is underway on the property’s historic stacked-stone farm buildings, which will contain specialized equipment for the production of mixed-culture beers.
The farm’s former milking parlor will be lined with foeders and divided by a narrow table where guests can drink — although construction on the foeder room will not be complete until 2019. Two 40-barrel foeders will arrive in May from Foeder Crafters of America, and plans to install a 60-barrel single-walled wine tank for blending and bottling are also in place.
An ancillary stone building will shelter a 40-barrel cool ship for the production of wild-fermented ales inoculated with native airborne yeast and bacteria. And a third stone structure will be used for bottle-conditioning but will likely be repurposed in the future.
A farmable plot on the property, which has already been tilled, will first be planted with heirloom melons for use in saisons and mixed-culture beers. Along with the melon seeds, obtained from Sow True Seed of Asheville, Boera also secured Bloody Butcher corn to be planted in the future as space permits. Fruiting trees such as persimmons and pawpaws have been planted as well, with the goal being to grow as many of the brewery’s specialty ingredients as possible on the farm site.
The leap from a 4.5-barrel brew kettle at Fonta Flora’s Morganton location to an oversized 15-barrel kettle boiling roughly 19.5 barrels of wort has been significant, but Boera insists that quadrupling Fonta Flora’s boil capacity will not lead to any change in the brewery’s commitment to using locally sourced ingredients. The first four cans of Fonta Flora beer have featured malts from Asheville’s Riverbend Malt House and Epiphany Craft Malt of Durham exclusively, as will the next two canned beers — a traditionally lagered maibock brewed with Riverbend Southern Select and Munich malts and a pale ale brewed with lemongrass from Warren Wilson’s garden to commemorate the installation of the college’s eighth president.
This dramatic expansion has led to other changes in the brewery’s business model, including the introduction of cans, plans for international distribution and another taproom scheduled for a late 2018 opening in Charlotte. Distribution of Fonta Flora’s packaged beers within North Carolina will continue to increase under the direction of new account manager and distribution strategist Walker Campbell, resulting in more packaged product hitting Asheville shelves in the coming months.
While the Whippoorwill facility will host festivals on its expansive outdoor lawn with scenic views of nearby Shortoff Mountain on the horizon, the brewery’s long-running State of Origin festival will not be one of them. Now in its fifth year, the 2018 State of Origin will be held 5-9 p.m. Saturday, June 9, at the Courthouse Square in downtown Morganton. It will remain there in subsequent years, according to Boera, who emphasizes the indefatigable support the town has shown to Fonta Flora and the brewery’s desire to showcase Morganton in return.
Though the venue remains unchanged, this year’s festival will feature an increased proportion of out-of-state breweries, while retaining the premise of featuring only beers brewed with ingredients local to their source. Notable national scale breweries joining this year’s lineup alongside returning favorites, such as Jester King and Scratch, include Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales from Denver, Plan Bee Farm Brewery of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Casey Brewing and Blending of Glenwood Springs, Colo.
Fonta Flora’s rapid rise to prominence in the American and international beer scenes has done little to distract the brewery from its local roots, and for Boera, that’s always been the point. “We’ve managed to, in less than five years, realize our dream,” he says. “I came into brewing through agriculture, and so in five short years to be able to take it back to the land the way that we are is pretty massive for us and for what we do. It’s going to be an amazing experience for people to come here and see this land and look at the gardens and look at the gorge. I can’t think of a better place to come and drink a beer.”