This past Saturday, a good friend of mine and I took a little tour around the NC Foothills to our west, hitting up Fonta Flora & Catawba Valley Brewing in Morganton, Howard Brewing in Lenoir, and Olde Hickory in Hickory. We also ate at Root & Vine, a local Morganton restaurant that was very good, and had what might be the best potato salad I’ve ever tasted!
The area is great for a day trip – the breweries are spread out enough that you’re not in danger of over-indulging (if you’re smart), but close enough that you don’t feel like you’re driving all the time. Based on my experience, next time I’d just do Fonta Flora, Howard and then Olde Hickory, since Catawba Valley doesn’t have a lot of brewery-only drafts. Each town is about a half-hour away from the next, so even with a late lunch (around 1:30 pm) and then visiting all 4 breweries, we were back and finished with dinner at OH by around 8:30 pm.
Since Howard Brewing doesn’t open their taproom until 5 pm, you almost have to get a late start or plan on spending a long time at Fonta Flora and/or Catawba Valley. The good news is that Fonta has a comfortable taproom and beers well worth spending your time savoring.
Fonta Flora is one of the newest of the breweries in the Foothills, and I was extremely impressed with their lineup. They are doing a lot of unique styles for NC and most of them work really well.
Appalachain Patersbier – a belgian session ale, clocking in at 4% and just released the Friday before I visited. It was very drinkable, with just a hint of banana and some sulfurous notes, and ended up being one of my favorites.
Local Kiwi – it tasted just like kiwi on the front-end, but the fruitiness and the hops clashed for me on the finish, leaving a artificial fruit flavor that reminded me of Juicy Fruit gum. Might just be my taste buds. It could be very good if the finish was not as noticeable, because that first taste of fresh kiwi is amazing.
Urban Monk – their “almost” imperial stout. Even at 9.3%, it does manage to hover on the line between a stout and a imperial stout. Lots of chocolate and roast with some coffee notes, but not as thick and heavy as a typical imperial, it finished with a lot of hoppy roastiness. I really liked it, but I think there was a bit too much of a “burnt” finish to make it really great.
Beets, Rhymes and Life – a beet saison which is a startling shade of purple/red. Lots of earthy character from the beets, you can very clearly taste them. I did not get any pepper notes from the saison yeast, only a very faint hint of banana, which was disappointing. I think a good dose of pepper could have really made this something special. As it was, I went back and forth on liking it. The color tricked my brain into expecting something sour, and then there’s nothing but very earthy beets!
Hop Beard IPA – a solid IPA with lots of lemony zing to it and a nice finish. One of the better NC IPAs, I think.
Holden Rye IPA – I love rye IPAs, so I was a little disappointed in this one. Still solid, but I was hoping for more. Lots of spiciness, but a little dominating and one-dimensional.
I’ve had most of Catawba Valley’s beers, since they’ve been around since 1999 and distribute fairly widely now, and as mentioned they don’t have many brewery-only releases. The only thing on tap at the brewery that I’ve not seen in distribution was a single hop series IPA, which I tried and found uninspiring. Only worth stopping in because I’d never been to the taproom before, but I’d skip this one in the future in favor of more time at Fonta Flora. Their regular lineup is fine, but the taproom doesn’t offer much beyond that. They do have some pool tables, a fairly large stage for music, and had basketball projected on a huge screen while we were there.
Howard Brewing is relatively new, and they must have some big plans, because they’ve got pretty large brewhouse for a new operation. They have 2 levels, although the upstairs looks mostly unfinished so far. The tap room is a pretty cozy space in the basement, with large windows looking in on the brewery itself. Upstairs also has huge windows overlooking the brewery and I could see a very cool space developing upstairs in the next few years. I’d had a few of their beers, since they jumped into distribution from the outset, but I’d only tried 2 of the 7 brews on tap. They also had a guest tap, which was an Olde Hickory beer on Saturday.
Action Man – their Vienna Lager, which they can and distribute. Extremely good Vienna style and even better fresh, I’ll be drinking a lot of it this spring I think.
Weekender Pilsner – a very neutral pilsner, this is definitely a hot-day pounder. Inoffensive is how I’d describe it.
Porter – a pretty standard roasty porter, with a fair amount of caramel to it. A good example of the style.
Lake Fever Black IPA – another very good example of the style. Like a lot of their stuff, it wasn’t mind-blowing, but it was above average.
Single Hop IPA – single hops are interesting to see how an individual hop tastes, but I’ve yet to have one that stood out to me. I don’t even remember which hop they used. My pallet was pretty much gone by this time anyway.
After Howard, we drove back to Olde Hickory for dinner and a glass of their Irish Walker barley wine, which is fantastic and was a great way to end the day (along with the huge plate of wings). In all, I’d highly recommend going and checking out our neighbors to the west one weekend, it’s a lovely trip!