Tucked into a corner building on the edge of downtown Morganton, North Carolina sits Fonta Flora Brewery. The brewery focuses on local agricultural ingredients in its beer, even foraging for them if necessary. The focus applies not only to the ingredients in its beverages, but also to the names of its offerings, with names such as Alpha vs. Beta Carotene for their carrot IPA. The outfit is still quite young (opening in late 2013), but it’s already making a name for itself across the US. In a little over two years since it opened, Fonta Flora earned two GABF gold medals: one for its Irish Table in 2014 and another for Beets, Rhymes and Life last year. We’re well aware of the quality brews the North Carolina brewery puts out, having named it to the Paste Best New Breweries of 2014 list.
Fonta Flora has done well in getting its beers out in central and western North Carolina, with regular brewery-only bottle releases for its more special brews. Among those brewery-only releases is a series of so-called Appalachian Wild Ales, which began with the wine barrel-aged Vestige Wither (with local fennel) and Vestige Bloom (with local kiwi) last year. The series has expanded since those first two offerings, incorporating different fruits in some of the more recent beers. One of those is Meemaw, a red wine barrel-aged sour with local wild cherries, Montmorency cherries and cherry wood.
Meemaw pours a reddish color, so you get a sense of what the beer was made with from the jump. This is something Fonta Flora does consistently with its agriculturally rooted approach. There’s a perfectly white head that fades immediately, leaving no trace of excess carbonation. The nose of the deep pink beer is a mixture of funk and cherry tartness, and I think I get the faintest hint of smoke as well. While the beer itself isn’t smoked, cherry wood was used during the process, which could explain the earthy aroma.
The nose sets you up for the first sip nicely, as the mixture of wild yeast funk and tart cherry flavors dance nicely on the palette. There’s a punch of sour at the front that fades to a flavorful blend of funkiness and fruit. If you like sour beers, there’s plenty of that here, but you can also taste the other ingredients along the way. Meemaw is a very drinkable wild ale, one that doesn’t leave you feeling like the enamel is being stripped from your teeth. The carbonation is nearly perfect for this style, providing just the right amount without having a soda-like spritziness. (Proper bottle conditioning certainly played a role there.)
As it warms, Meemaw remains consistent in the nose, but I get more fruit with each sip. The funk intensifies a bit too, but to me the fruit comes out more as the beer gets warmer. You begin to get a sense of the nuance that goes into making these wild ales too, as the yeast, cherries and even the cherry wood and barrel offer a layered flavor. There’s no question the brewery is doing some great things by focusing on local ingredients. Meemaw is a perfect example of how Fonta Flora’s on-going quest is weave local agriculture with its beers is producing stellar results.
Brewery: Fonta Flora Brewery
City: Morganton, North Carolina
Style: American Wild Ale
Availability: Limited, Brewery-Only Release
_Billy is the host of The Brewcast, a beer podcast that never records on a regular schedule. You can follow his drinking habit @beardbrews on Twitter.