Note: What follows is a guest post from my friend and fellow beer appreciator Paul Davis. He’s on top of brewing trends in the southern region of the US, and shares some of his more recent finds:
A new crop of breweries is redefining what it means to be a true microbrewery.
I’m certainly a fan of a number of brew houses that have an eye on significant distribution, but lately I’ve been gravitating more toward breweries with a defined small-batch focus. Since they brew in smaller quantities, these establishments have free rein to create a wide variety of innovative and flavorful libations.
One drawback: Don’t get too attached to a particular beer since it could take an eternity for the brewer to revisit a recipe you love. But the upshot is that you have the chance to discover something new every time you visit. As a home brewer, I relish any opportunity to become inspired!
That brings me to my latest discovery: Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton, N.C. For out-of-staters, the town is located in the North Carolina foothills about an hour east of Asheville, which has become a hotbed of brewing activity. The taproom is small and cozy – a renovated Trailways bus station – but there’s enough room for a good-sized bar, several tables and a nice view of the brewing equipment.
Fonta Flora opened in October 2013 with just seven barrels and five beers on tap. By the time I visited, the offerings had expanded to more than a dozen beers, each with its own character. Whenever possible, the brewers turn to local ingredients, including Riverbend malt, for their creations.
The brewery’s tent pole is the Urban Monk, a Russian imperial stout with an ABV of 9%, more or less. When it arrives, you immediately notice the creamy head, perched atop a delightfully dark beer. The full-bodied brew gives away discernible tastes of chocolate first, then bourbon before finishing off with vanilla and a hint of toasted oak. And no alcohol bite!
If bottled and distributed, Urban Monk would give local N.C. mainstays Bourbon-Barrel Aged Sexual Chocolate (by Foothills) and Event Horizon (by Olde Hickory) solid competition. Fonta Flora will, fortunately, fill growlers and swing-top bottles.
The brewery’s small-batch mentality rocks your world with Urban Monk because the brewers are constantly experimenting with the beer by adding ingredients or tweaking the aging process to create various permutations.
During my visit, they had the Valentine Monk, aged on Defiant Whiskey oak spirals with chocolate cacao nibs and a ton of raspberries. Fonta Flora also had the Cured Monk, which introduced a charcuterie board to the aging process. (Another popular variation, Tropical Monk, includes toasted coconut, but it wasn’t on tap during my visit.)
An aggressive rotation, along with the brewery’s preference for experimental offerings, also meant that Irish Table, a dry Irish stout that won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, was unavailable. Deflating, yes, but it also provides the perfect excuse for a return trip.
I tasted a number of beers across a spectrum of bold and delightful to one-dimensional and underwhelming.
The highlight for me was the Year of the Wood Sheep, an Appalachian-style farmhouse Saison brewed with rice grits and aged with miso and turmeric. It was a smooth drink, consistent with farmhouse Saison, but the turmeric was surprisingly pronounced and appropriately blended.
The Oyster Stout was another solid offering, slightly reminiscent of Flying Dog’s Pearl Necklace. Beets Rhymes and Life is a daring beet-based Saison; it was tasty, even if the beets overpowered the brew’s beer components.
Very few beers at Fonta Flora left me disappointed. My least favorite was the Alpha Vs. Beta Carotene, a carrot-infused IPA, which curiously lacked any noticeable carrot attributes. The brewer could have done a better job on the flavor profile of this particular beer.
All in all, I have to give Fonta Flora credit for pushing the envelope and showing a willingness to be nimble with their rotations. The dark beers, in particular, are fantastic and worth the brief detour from Asheville to check out. I’m holding out hope that, the next time I visit, they will have a new batch from the Monk series, Irish Table on tap and a variety of well-blended creations for sampling.