Morganton is probably not at the top of your travel list.
Likely you’ve sped past it on I-40 on your way to or from the mountains.
The small town in the foothills of the Appalachians is home to the North Carolina School for the Deaf, Broughton Hospital (a state psychiatric facility) and you might think not much else. I had a friend in law school who was from Morganton and she said she spent most of her childhood waiting to get out.
But Morganton is more than just a mountain-bound pit stop; in fact, it’s worth a road trip all on it’s own. After telling you my friend couldn’t wait to leave her hometown, why would I then tell you the hour and a half drive to Morganton from Charlotte is worth it?
Do it for a cold beer. Since you’re driving all the way there, may as well get two. And a growler to go.
My first trip to Fonta Flora Brewery was in June 2014. Based on the recommendation of a friend, we rolled into downtown Morganton full of skepticism, pulled up a bar stool, and left a few hours later with two full growlers.
Fonta Flora has been on our road trip itinerary ever since. We like it so much that we celebrated our engagement there in June 2015; smiling, laughing and basking in our post engagement glow over a few pints and a pizza from Moon Dog down the street.
My love for a brewery is definitely one part vibe and one part beer.
There are a lot of things I love about Fonta Flora. I love that the tasting room and brewery are one; you can sip a pint among the big tanks where all the action happens.
I love the rustic ambience of the tasting room, an old brick structure with wooden beams, wooden tables dotted with wildflowers in growlers, and a big wooden bar. I love that every time we visit, about every 3-6 months, always on a Sunday, the same friendly bartender is parked behind the bar. He’s a local teacher who likes beer and works at the brewery part time.
I love the soundtrack; usually a healthy mix of my favorite classic rock jams, featuring CCR, Paul Simon and The Beatles. I love the pride they have in the state of North Carolina; from the flag, to a giant outline of the state on a brick wall, to the pride and dedication they have in brewing with local ingredients and their partnerships with local farmers. On our most recent trip we noticed they’ve also started serving cheese and charcuterie boards with locally sourced cheese and meats.
And I love their beer.
As I sipped my first Fonta Flora brew a year and a half ago, I still remember telling AJ it was one of the first beers I ever had that tasted like the flavors and ingredients they said were in it (it was a Brass Monkey, still one of my favorites, brewed with Earl Grey tea, orange and coriander).
With “an emphasis on seasonal flora,” Fonta Flora brews a variety of unique and creative beers using local, foraged and farmed ingredients: like carrot IPAs, brews chock full of beets, dandelion saisons, porters with hazelnuts and wild ales full of paw paw fruit or cherries. Their taps rotate seasonally, so there’s always something new to try. I always opt for a flight to maximize the variety of beers I can try, and we usually head back to Charlotte with at least one growler (but more often, it’s two).
While Fonta Flora’s beer is worth the trip alone, there are a few other things for you to do in and around Morganton so you can make a day out of it:
- Work up your appetite at Lake James State Park or with a hike nearby in Pisgah National Forest.
- You’ll probably want lunch, so grab a pie from Moon Dog Pizza or some giant burritos from Mountain Burrito before bee lining to Fonta Flora. Tip: they let you bring in outside food, so bring your food with you because what’s beer than beer and pizza or beer and burritos?
- Get your growler filled and save some time for a stop at Catawba Brewing on your way out of town.
- Plan your trip for June 11, 2016 and buy tickets to the State of Origin Craft Brew Festival, a boutique craft brew festival featuring local breweries embracing North Carolina flora and fauna in the creation of craft beer (every brewery must bring craft beer that was created using ingredients grown in North Carolina).