The microbrew industry has found a comfortable niche in a tourist region that prides itself on outdoor activities, Appalachian culture, arts and Southern hospitality. In fact, the tourist traffic passing through the mountains could be the key to the expansion of local breweries hoping to broaden their market beyond their loyal hometown fans.
“This area is a vacation destination for the state, and all of these tourists are interacting with our companies while they’re here, and now, they want our products where they live,” said Kevin Sandefur, owner of BearWater Brewing. “If we’re making that kind of lasting impression, it’s great, and it says a lot of the breweries here and what we’ve all accomplished in such a short time.”
With BearWaters, Frog Level and Tipping Point in Waynesville, Heinzelmannchen in Sylva and Nantahala in Bryson City, all five establishments started out on the ground floor of a dream molded into a reality. Each has had numerous obstacles to overcome, whether it be simply the long slog of entrepreneurship or trade-specific hurdles like getting your product noticed in a sea of other flavors and brands.
“It’s all about consistency. If you’re not making good beer, you won’t be in business long,” said Clark Williams, owner/brewmaster at Frog Level. “It’s about increasing production while maintaining consistency. It’s challenging, but it’s something we can do, will do and have done.”
Through their own blood, sweat and tears, with uncertainty and risk at every corner, all five breweries have persevered, each with a loyal clientele and firm footing in an industry still evolving.
“The beer is flowing; the people are drinking it; the people are liking it,” said co-owner/brewmaster Scott Peterson of Tipping Point.
But, the journey has only begun. The first phase is now complete — the local breweries have a firm toehold and established local customer base. That leaves the future wide open for exploration and innovation.
“Overall, there’s still lots of room for growth in this business, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens,” said Joe Rowland, co-owner of Nantahala. “For now, we’re all making what we make well, but soon we’ll be making things outside of our comfort zone, focusing on making better quality, more unique products.”
And within all of these delicious brews is the secret ingredient, the flavor that sets the tone for everything — the customer. A brewery is nothing without those who saddle up and lick their lips when a fresh, cold one is placed in front of them. The interaction is a two-way street, where the community supports the establishments and the breweries support those in their own backyard.
“It has to do with the support of local agencies, people in the community and, of course, the customers,” said Dieter Kuhn, co-owner/brewmaster of Heinzelmannchen. “Everyone has been supportive of us. Yes, we’ve worked hard. We’re still here, but we couldn’t have done it all without the support.”
By the numbers
BearWaters (est. 2012)
120 barrels their first year, with 2013 on track for 250 barrels, while an expanded facility will bring their numbers to around 2,500 barrels by 2015.
Frog Level (est. 2012)
Pushing 450 barrels a year, with plans and new equipment to eventually hit 2,000 barrels.
Heinzelmannchen (est. 2004)
Began at 100 barrels, with 350 barrels for the end of this year, with plans to expand into a new facility in 2014.
Nantahala (est. 2011)
Hit the starting line at 300 barrels and is running 1,000 barrels this year, with hopes of 3,500 barrels in the coming years using newly installed equipment.
Tipping Point (est. 2012)
Brewed 200 barrels during its first year, with 300 barrels aimed for next year.