Fonta Flora brings North Carolina saisons and fruit beers to Atlanta

Opened in late 2013 in Morganton, N.C., Fonta Flora Brewery has been creating unique “Appalachian-style” beer using grains and malts from the state and fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. But until last week, its coveted farmhouse-style saisons and fruit, vegetable and wild beers weren’t available here.

During a launch party at the Brick Store Pub in Decatur, Fonta Flora brewmaster Todd Boera sat down at a table lined up with six of his beers and talked about his unlikely journey to co-founding one of most talked about small breweries in America.

“In one way, it’s a pretty common story, I think,” Boera said. “I became a pretty obsessed homebrewer. The difference for me was that I learned how to bake bread from my grandfather at a really young age. That led to brewing, and that realization of fermentation and crafting something.”

Boera was born and raised in Cleveland. But he moved from Ohio to western North Carolina to attend Warren Wilson College, where he persuaded his professors to allow him to pursue an independent course of study focused on beer.

“I was homebrewing like crazy and studying the history, archaeology, microbiology and chemistry of brewing, just running the gamut,” Boera said. “At the same time, because it’s a working college, everybody has to have a job on campus, and I was on the garden crew.

“And so as I was becoming more obsessed with brewing, I was gardening whenever I wasn’t in class or brewing. That’s when I started thinking about what I could grow to put in beer. And that’s what led to Fonta Flora being the way that we are.”

After graduating from Warren Wilson, and spending some time traveling in Europe, Boera moved back to North Carolina and took a job at Catawba Brewing in Morganton.

“They gave me the opportunity to craft some really cool beers,” Boera said, “But as with anything, the time came when I had the opportunity to open up Fonta Flora with my business partners, and that was a great decision.

“At the time, there just weren’t many people doing what we were doing. There were really only a handful of us that could tell the story of brewing with local ingredients and trying to brew with a sense of place.”

Going further in the direction of creating terroir in its beers, Fonta Flora recently opened a second, larger brewery in Nebo, some 25 minutes from Morganton. Called Whippoorwill Farm, it’s located on the site of a historic dairy farm and surrounded by Lake James State Park.

“In Morganton, we experimented with countless styles and some really cool and fun beers, and then the time came when we all wanted a little more,” Boera said. “We didn’t want to be a crazy big production brewery or take over North Carolina. We’re still brewing on a four-barrel system at the pub, and now we have a 15-barrel system at the farm.

“We chose that system based on the availability of ingredients, and making sure that if we were going to brew a beer with beets or sweet potatoes or sassafras leaves, we would have enough. So we let the ingredients dictate what size system we would brew with. We have been brewing at the farm since January. And we just opened up our tasting room at the farm over Labor Day weekend.”

Asked about the move to distribute Fonta Flora beer in the Atlanta market, Boera was enthusiastic.

“We get tons of people from the Atlanta area coming up to see us, and it’s always been that way” he said. “It’s less than a four-hour drive, so we thought what an incredible audience, in a massive city, with so much culture, we should bring some of our beer here.”

Exactly which beers will be available in Atlanta in the coming months is to be determined. But here are a few that were on offer at Brick Store Pub and other Atlanta beer bars last week:

Big Shrug — A tart, dry Appalachian wild ale brewed with fennel and blackberries.

Crushed Velvet — A crisp, dry, roselike fruit beer brewed with local muscadine grapes.

Errday — A dry, mixed-culture Belgian-style petite saison fermented in oak foeders.

Waves and Perms — A double IPA with local malts and local scuppernong grapes.