It’s hard to believe that Morganton’s Fonta Flora Brewery has only been operating since late 2013. With back-to-back Great American Beer Festival gold medals, national press accolades, and a host of world-class beers under their belts, it would be easy to assume that head brewer Todd Boera and the rest of the Fonta Flora crew have been around much longer.
Saturday Feb. 20, marks the brewery’s second Funk and Monk celebration in as many years, and the event promises to be an annual tradition.
Last year, Funk and Monk saw the release of two subsequently acclaimed fruited sour beers — Vestige Wither and Vestige Bloom — as well as eight variations on the brewery’s highly sought-after Urban Monk imperial stout. This year promises a different, more streamlined release, but one that hasn’t lost sight of its roots.
Whereas the 2015 release of Urban Monk allowed customers to purchase 32-ounce swing-top growler fills of any of the eight variants of Urban Monk on offer, this year will feature pre-filled 750-milliliter bottles of three of last year’s most popular takes on the base beer. This plan is intended to curtail the long lines that developed at last year’s event. The effort is in keeping with Fonta Flora’s constant attention to providing better bottle release experiences for supporters, a commitment that paid dividends at last month’s exceedingly orderly triple release of Land Trust, Sun Gold and Sal De Gusano.
Urban Monk, the beer, began as an art trade with the Morganton-based painter Marcus Thomas, who paints under the nom de plume Urban Monk. Thomas helped craft the beer in exchange for doing a portrait of Boera, which now hangs in the brewery. The last piece of the puzzle is a mutual friendship Thomas and Boera have with the owners of Bostic-based Blue Ridge Distilling Co., makers of Defiant whiskey. Defiant contributed the whiskey-conditioned oak spirals on which all of this year’s variants were aged.
This year’s Urban Monk offerings have been trimmed from eight to four, with a very limited quantity of bottled variants available. Five-hundred bottles of the base beer, aged on Defiant-soaked oak spirals, will be available at $18 per bottle with a limit of three bottles per customer.
The returning variants include: Tropical Monk, the base Monk aged on organic toasted coconut; MexiMonk, aged on Pure Intentions coffee, French Broad cacao nibs, organic vanilla beans, organic cinnamon, and organic cayenne; and Turkish Monk, aged on Pure Intentions coffee and organic cardamom seeds. About 100 bottles of each variant will be available with a limit of one per person, but those who miss out on bottles will be able to try all three on draft at the event.
Though the two Appalachian wild ales available this year are a part of Fonta Flora’s effort to “up the sexy factor,” according to Boera, and they are far more significant in their own right than a simple value-adder intended to help customers justify the trip to Morganton. Need a Hug is an oak-fermented sour brewed with locally sourced blueberries and elderberries, and Big Shrug is an oak-fermented sour brewed with local fennel and blackberries.
Boera notes that Big Shrug references last year’s Vestige Wither, also brewed with local fennel, and was inspired by a blackberry fennel slaw he devised while making tacos last summer. Both beers will be available in 500-milliliter bottles at $16 apiece, with a six-bottle limit on Hug and a five-bottle limit on Shrug.
And speaking of Wither, Boera mentions casually that he was not able to keep any bottles for himself last year, so anyone with a bottle or two hanging around in the beer cellar should consider bringing it to the party.
January’s release was well attended due in large part to the hotly anticipated Sal de Gusano, and Saturday’s festivities promise a robust attendance as well. Bottle seekers are encouraged to arrive early, as all offerings are expected to sell out, but as always, camping overnight is discouraged out of consideration to Fonta Flora’s neighbors. Boera states that, in spite of increased demand and lengthening lines, bottle pre-sales are not on the immediate horizon for Fonta Flora. “The problem with pre-sales is that it opens up too much room for proxies,” says Boera. “I like keeping it grassroots. The majority of the people I see at these releases are the same folks who have been coming and supporting us from day one, and I love that. That’s the best part for me.”
As for the aforementioned media accolades, in the first two months of 2016 alone, Fonta Flora has been praised in multiple outlets, including but not limited to Paste magazine and The Wall Street Journal and a ranking on Southern Living’s 2016 list of the South’s Best Breweries. When asked how the attention has affected him, Boera exemplifies humility: “It kind of doesn’t register. … We’re trying to be genuine with what were doing, using real ingredients and trying to tell a cool story about what we’re trying to achieve. It feels good when you work so damned hard. … There are some ridiculously long days, [but] we’re just trying to make sure that we make the best beer possible and give our customers the best experience that we possibly can. No matter where we get written up, nothing is going to change how we’re operating.”
Fonta Flora Brewery is at 317 N. Green St., Morganton. Doors open for the Funk and Monk celebration at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20.