By Gary Glancy
Three years ago while attending the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver as a freelance writer, I was sitting along press row during the awards ceremony, preparing for the announcement of a Western North Carolina medal winner that I could write about. When it was revealed that little ol’ Fonta Flora Brewery from Morganton had earned gold in the Irish Dry Stout category, I was stunned.
I was aware of the then one-year-old company, but walking away from GABF—the largest commercial beer competition in the world—with any medal, much less gold, is something that even the largest, most accomplished and iconic craft breweries in America cherish as the ultimate reward for what they do.
Of course, now such honors and prestige are becoming commonplace for Fonta Flora. Not only did the brewery snag another gold at GABF the following year, but the company known for producing unique beer styles with sometimes unusual ingredients (such as mushrooms) routinely draws visitors from across NC and beyond to its brewery and tasting room on North Green Street.
Fonta Flora’s economic impact on its hometown led local tourism officials to name the company the Burke County Attraction of the Year for 2017.
“Fonta Flora has been opened [four] years, and in that time has become a destination brewery that brings thousands of visitors to Burke County for our craft-brew scene,” says Ed Phillips, executive director of the county’s Tourism Development Authority.
The brewery also founded the one-day State of Origin Beer Festival in 2014, which showcases beer made in NC from local ingredients. The event packs the courthouse square in downtown Morganton each June.
“Head brewer Todd Boera is recognized nationally, and also internationally, for his contributions to very unique craft-beer styles,” says Phillips. “When the brewery does special bottle releases, there will be a few hundred people lined up on North Green Street in Morganton waiting to purchase their allotment. These people are from all over the United States. They [Fonta Flora] don’t ship it, so the only way to get it is to be here.”
While Fonta Flora is known coast to coast by hardcore craft beer fans, the brewery places extra focus on WNC ingredients.
One of its recent 750-ml bottle releases is a perfect example. Multi-grain bread from Underground Baking Co. in Hendersonville was used in the mash during production of the brewery’s Ticky Ticky Buzz, an ale that was also made with malted and flaked local grains, local wildflower honey and cardamom pods.
“By utilizing local grains provided by Riverbend Malt House (in Asheville) and foraging the countryside for wild flora, we are taking brewing back to its agricultural roots,” says the brewery on its website. “Past partnerships include bull’s blood beets from Bluebird Farm of Morganton, kiwis from Fox Farms and many more.”
Local beer enthusiasts will have their eyes on Denver and the GABF this month to see if these local rock stars can bring home more hardware.
Gary Glancy is a freelance writer, tour guide, bartender and Certified Cicerone® living in Hendersonville.