Since opening four years ago, North Carolina’s Fonta Flora Brewery has built its reputation well beyond its hometown of Morganton, gaining national and international attention for its use of unique ingredients and commitment toward brewing creations it calls “Appalachian wild ales.”
For years, the only way for beer enthusiasts to try a variety of mixed-culture Saisons, barrel-aged sours and other styles made with locally-sourced ingredients was to go directly to the source, unless showing up at a special event or partnering on a beer trade. In a small way, that’s set to change in the near future.
In January 2018, Fonta Flora expects to open a new production space that will increase annual volumes from about 400 to 2,500 barrels, allowing for more kegs, bottles and additional R&D. It’ll all be done in a uniquely Fonta Flora way with a focus on agriculture and connection to land situated on a historic farm site in nearby Nebo, with its taproom and farm opening to the public in April.
“I don't think that we ever dreamed of how well we would do and how much attention we would get from just being a little three-and-a-half barrel brewery in a sleepy, 15,000-person town,” says Fonta Flora co-founder and brewer Todd Steven Boera. “That kind of continues to enamor me.”
Business partners and co-founders David and Mark Bennett secured around $1.1 million via bank loans to fund a purchase of nine acres of land as well as cover construction and equipment costs for the new 15-barrel brewhouse. The deal was made in partnership with the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, which purchased 40 acres in conjunction with the Fonta Flora deal, then donated their land to Lake James State Park. A grant from Burke County provides the brewery potential to recoup up to $150,000 depending on the number of jobs created once the brewery is operational. Boera says at least seven new positions will be offered, from financial officer and sales coordinator to brewer.
The 6,000-square-foot space will allow for brewing and fermenting clean and wild beers, with additional historic stone barns housing a coolship, a barrel-aging and sour facility, an office, and an additional 2,000-square-foot pole barn for bottle conditioning. Right now, Fonta Flora has about 100 barrels scattered across their taproom and basement storage spaces in downtown Morganton.
For drinkers, an increased production capacity means that in-state markets in Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham will receive curated allotments of beer self-distributed by Fonta Flora. Right now, the occasional bottle may show up in these markets, but not with any regularity and usually because of legwork by bottle shop owners.
Outside of North Carolina, Fonta Flora will look to send small amounts of brands to Charleston, South Carolina, Atlanta, New York City, and Portland, ME. Fonta Flora currently works with Rafa Distributing in South Carolina and Liberator Distributing in Georgia. Shipping beers outside Morganton is expected to start sometime in spring 2018.
“Every time we we release any of these super-sexy, fruited sour beers, we're only able to hold back really small portions because we really need to recoup our costs after aging and buying thousands and thousands of dollars worth of fruit,” Boera says. “So, in the future, this project is going to really allow us to create quite a library of our beers.”
Boera has a sustainable agriculture degree from Warren Wilson College, and he’s excited to make gardening and fresh produce a part of Fonta Flora’s footprint. About a third of the new nine acres will be used to grow fruit and vegetables with an eye to eventually expand beyond the initial purchase. Carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, and more could come from directly outside the brewery, as well as fruit. Since opening, Boera has sourced ingredients from nearby farms in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, so long as they were committed to “sustainable practice,” he says.
“We pay anywhere up to $5 a pound for black raspberries, so over the years, if we can acquire more land and really plant, an acre of blackberries or raspberries would really do a lot for us,” he says.
The change won’t impact relationships with area farmers, however, mostly due to the volume of produce Fonta Flora will need for its batches. To make its Rhythm Rug Wild Ale, for example, Boera sourced 2,000 pounds of strawberries from Concord, NC’s Barbee Family Farm, about 90 miles away. For its Bloody Butcher Appalachian Grisette, the brewery needed heritage Bloody Butcher red corn, along with sorghum cane juice and toasted sorghum seeds, from Fox Farms in Burnsville, NC, a 60-mile drive northwest through the mountains of Pisgah National Forest.
“It's kind of been a no-brainer for us to utilize all this stuff because it's here," Boera says. "It seems like a crime to me to order fruit puree from Oregon Fruit Products when we live in such a fantastic place for fresh, local fruit."