The State of Origin Craft Beer Festival is my idea of the perfect beer event to satisfy the foodie within you. There is no better occasion anywhere, anytime, to experience the terroir of North Carolina as expressed in beer. Nor is there a better event at which to experience the craft brewers’ mastery of incorporating locally-sourced ingredients into beer.
State of Origin Festival is state of the art
Last year’s State of Origin Craft Beer Festival was really good, but this year’s was even better. This year, breweries brought more beers with a wider array of local ingredients.
Organized by Morganton’s Fonta Flora Brewery, there’s no other craft beer festival quite like it.
Todd Boera, Fonta Flora’s brewer and co-owner, is the spirit of the festival. His passion for incorporating local agriculture shines through in everything here.
“People really pushed the boundaries and did what we asked them,” Boera said when explaining the direction the festival has grown.
“We are excited about pushing the limits of North Carolina agriculture and celebrate what can be grown in the state.”
Top notch local ingredient suppliers
North Carolina brewers are blessed to have the Riverbend Malt House in Asheville that produces a nice variety of barley, wheat and rye malts—all made from North Carolina-grown grains. Boutique US maltings are all the rage right now, but Riverbend has a head start on most of them.
Another important resource for NC breweries is Echo View Farm. Echo View grows Cascade, Nugget, Chinook and other popular hop varieties on its property at Weaverville, NC, just outside Asheville. It is the largest producer and processor of NC hops.
Festival promotes taste bud euphoria
To participate in the festival a brewery must bring beer that has at least one local North Carolina ingredient.
While some of the beers featured Riverbend malt as their only local ingredient, many others stretched the envelope. Birch twigs, honeysuckle, basil, dill weed, lemon thyme, hops, cherries, peaches, apples, pawpaws, elderberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, juniper berries, Kousa dogwood berries, pine needles, dandelion flowers, acorn flour, cucumbers, honey, sea salt, and more: all ingredients grown or foraged in North Carolina.
About 1,000 lucky souls made it through the gates to experience this sensory delight. Unlike the typical beer festival at which beer fans line up for the highly-rated big-name brews, at State of Origin you dive into the unknown.
If you are just a big hophead or barrel-aged imperial stout kind of guy, this festival may not be your cup of tea. For those who appreciate a wider palate of flavors, experimentation, and stretching limits, this is a don’t-miss event.
That is not to say that there were not a few beers with a whisky-barrel heritage or a hop-forward profile; however, flavors like basil, dill, and elderberries got more attention. Sours were everywhere.
Twenty-five breweries and cideries participated in State of Origin this year. Breweries and cideries from the Appalachian region of North Carolina were most dominant, with Charlotte and Triangle area breweries right behind.
Mystery Brewing Company of Hillsborough, NC, makes its name by being an “all seasonal, all the time” brewery. Their lengthy book of beers may be unmatched in the state. Not unexpectedly, the brewery brought some creatively brewed beers with an experimental edge.
If you can imagine it, someone can brew it in North Carolina. That includes a beer flavored like a dill pickle.
One small North Carolina brewery that has developed quite a national following is Asheville’s Wicked Weed. Known for its experimentation with barrel-aged funky beer, the brewery’s pours proved popular at State of Origin too. It was the first brewery stand to run out of beer.
Old and new abide together
At State of Origin room is made for both novice and experienced breweries. Alongside veteran breweries, such as Highland Brewing Company of Asheville, you’ll find a brand new brewery such as Newgrass Brewing Company, soon to open in Shelby, NC.
All day long you see the interactions. Brewers from one place visiting someone else’ booth tasting and discussing how they dealt with a particular set of ingredients. New beer ideas are generated on the spot, expanding the beer universe.
Larger breweries use local ingredients too
North Carolina’s largest craft brewery is Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, located at Mills River. Even a large craft brewery with well-established products finds benefit in experimenting with new recipes and ingredients. State of Origin provided the impetus for Sierra Nevada to brew a small batch of local strawberry ale. It was the only the ninth batch of beer brewed on Sierra Nevada’s new pilot brewing system at its Mills River brewpub.
Cideries join their brewing brethren
McRitchie Ciderworks of Thurmond, NC joined the day in a unique way by offering samples of Snakebites. A snakebite is a mixture of apple cider and stout.
Food is not an afterthought
A variety of local food vendors rounded out the offerings. Pretzel, barbecue, and baked goods were all around.
Music all day long
A line up of bands ran from festival beginning to end. Styles ranged from alternative, to folky, to bluegrass. Never was the music so loud that it got in the way of conversation of beer enjoyment.
The festival takes place in Morganton, NC, on the grounds of the historic Burke County Courthouse. Fonta Flora Brewery, the host brewery, organizes the festival. Morganton is also home base for Catawba Brewing Company. In addition to brewery visits, Morganton is a good staging place for the numerous mountain and water related activities the region offers.
Click on the to thumbnail photos enlarge additional photos from State of Origin 2015.
Participating breweries at the festival included:
- Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Boone
- Birdsong Brewing, Charlotte
- Blind Squirrel Brewing, Plumtree
- Burial Beer Co., Asheville
- Catawba Brewing Company, Morganton and Asheville
- Fonta Flora Brewery, Morganton
- Fullsteam Brewery, Durham
- Haw River Farmhouse Ales, Saxapahaw
- Highland Brewing Company, Asheville
- Lenny Boy Brewing, Charlotte
- Lookout Brewing, Black Mountain
- McRitchie Ciderworks, Thurmond
- Mystery Brewing, Carrboro
- Newgrass Brewing Company, Shelby
- Olde Hickory Brewery, Hickory
- Pisgah Brewing Company, Black Mountain
- Salud Beer Shop and Brewery, Charlotte
- Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Mills River
- Steel String Brewery, Carrboro
- Triple C Brewing, Charlotte
- Trophy Brewing Co., Raleigh
- Twin Leaf Brewery, Asheville
- Wicked Weed Brewing, Asheville