Not far from Asheville, NC there’s a small town called Sylva. It feels like it was plucked right from the vine of Americana – a perfect piece of small-town America set to an alpine backdrop where everybody’s friendly and there’s a story in every building. While each building holds its own unique charm and charming proprietors, three contain breweries, which combine to form a wonderful cross-section of the American brewing scene. From the first-generation Bavarian-owned brewhouse to the bootstrapped alternative joint, all willed into being by any means necessary, what is known as the Jackson County Ale Trail has something for everybody.
Heinzelmännchen – Dieter Kuhn and wife Sheryl Rudd are the team behind the oldest brewery in Sylva, which has been around for about 13 years. Straight outta’ Bavaria with the beers to boot, the walls of Dieter’s cozy brewery are adorned with custom-made steins, baby pictures and caricatures of his beaming countenance.
(All photos by Nick Breedlove)
The beers are made with love – all 531 of last year’s barrels were brewed by Dieter, and though it’s located in downtown Sylva, North Carolina, the water is similar in character to his home region of Bavaria, allowing Heinzelmännchen to produce authentic German beer.
Dieter and Sheryl will happily walk you through their currently-tapped lineup, and since it’s their beer, they can tell you exactly what flavors to look for.
Though the beers I tried were all delightful, among the favorites was the Gopher Ale, a pilsner with a light hint of malt made to go with any meal, which was also the first beer Dieter brewed. Hoppy Gnome was also a standout – a thunderously dry-hopped Pilsner (think double IPA with minimal bitterness), and perhaps the most memorable, the Heavenly Gnome. This is a bit of a rarity – the Kilted Gnome Scottish Ale, which was delicious in its own right, aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels.
The result is a mix of sweet vanilla and boozy heat mixed with a mild lacto-character, a 'happy accident.' Dieter was kind enough to bust out a bomber of this bad boy, as his kegged reserves tapped out just as we arrived.
Heinzelmännchen brings the best of Germany to Sylva, while matching the local charm. Be on the lookout for its divine Beer and Chocolate pairings with local family-owned chocolatier Baxley’s Chocolates. We followed Baxley’s owner down the block to Heinzelmännchen for a personally guided tour of the pairings, which produced astounding complementary results. The White Chocolate Lime Truffle followed with a swig of Weise Gnome Hefeweizen was, for lack of a better word, heavenly.
I could go on about where the name Heinzelmännchen comes from (Spoiler alert: it involves gnomes), but it would be better told firsthand by Dieter.