October 8, 2014

Sylva, NC: Heinzelmännchen Brewery

As you're driving across western North Carolina this fall, enjoying the changing colors, consider stopping in Sylva, North Carolina. This small town about an hour west of Asheville hosts one of the oldest craft breweries in the area: Heinzelmännchen Brewery.

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Before there were Wicked Weed, Hi-Wire, or even a notion of New Belgium opening a brewery in Asheville, there was Heinzelmännchen. Husband and wife team Dieter Kuhn and Sheryl Rudd opened Heinzelmännchen Brewery in 2004, survived the Great Recession, and are now poised to expand their brewery and become a serious player in the regional beer market.

The Brewery

The current brewery is located at 545 Mill Street in downtown Sylva, a town of fewer than 3,000 people. Though Sheryl and Dieter have become well-known entrepreneurial figures in the area and regulars come in on a daily basis, the brewery relies heavily on tourist traffic from out of town. Dieter spoke fondly of a pair of friends who came through Sylva when the brewery first opened ten years ago. They’ve stopped in every year since when they pass through for their annual camping trip, and now bring their kids along as well.

German-born Dieter Kuhn has personally run the brewhouse for the past ten years, specializing in well-balanced, German-inspired ales. Many of Dieter’s recipes are influenced by the old style of brewing in Germany, where each village would have its own brewery to service the local population. In addition to a rotating line-up of 8-10 draft taps, Heinzelmännchen also serves two homemade soft drinks -- a root beer and a birch beer -- which are popular with the kids.   

The Beers

Among the beers I tasted on my visit were Roktoberfest, a rich, toasty, malty-sweet festbier, and Ancient Days Honey Blonde Ale, a pale, lightly-hopped blonde ale made with locally-sourced Catamount honey. The honey contributed a spicy complexity to an otherwise straightforward beer. All of the beers were well-balanced, though Dieter makes a couple IPAs for the hop heads, including Orange Blossom Imperial IPA and Gnarly Gnome, a 7% ABV Black IPA.

Future Plans

Having established themselves in WNC, Sheryl and Dieter have reached the limits of their current space and are planning a new production facility just down the road in Dillsboro. The new, 30-barrel brewhouse will increase production significantly, enabling Heinzelmännchen to put their beers in cans and bottles, thereby reaching droves of new customers.

The Heinzelmännchen expansion will have a significant economic impact on the surrounding area. The new space will have room to serve up to 144 people, creating a good number of local jobs. The new brewery will occupy an abandoned rail depot, offering an opportunity to revitalize an older part of town. To finance the project, Sheryl and Dieter have begun raising money through a crowd-sourced funding campaign, in which supporters earn rewards for their contributions. Some of the higher-level gifts can be split among a group of supporters.

Aerial concept of the new Heinzelmännchen Brewery.

As Dieter puts it, Heinzelmännchen has been developing the customer relationship “one glass at a time.” That customer-oriented business-style and economic investment will surely have a positive impact on the brewing industry of WNC. 

The future home of Heinzelmännchen Brewery.