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New brewery to round out Jackson’s craft beer scene

fr innovationbrewingNicole Dexter and Chip Owen might be the only brewmasters in Western North Carolina who left Asheville — the Mecca of microbreweries — in the rearview mirror when looking for a good spot to make craft beer. But the two young entrepreneurs have a good feeling about their new business venture in downtown Sylva.


Innovation Brewing is set to open its doors next month and begin sharing its craft selection of Belgian, pale ale, hoppy IPA and porter style suds with the laid-back Jackson County community.

With only one other brewery in the town — just a hop and skip away from Western Carolina University — Owen and Dexter thought the area was ripe for another.

“This area could use a few more breweries,” Dexter said. “We’d been looking at towns all over the place to start a brewery. We came here, and we really liked it.”

Meanwhile, Owen was motivated to take his nine-year hobby of homebrewing to new heights after being laid off three months ago from his job as a mechanical engineer. 

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“Getting laid off actually lines up perfectly,” he said. “Brewing seemed to be my passion.”

Meanwhile, Dexter left her job as a bartender at Asheville Brewing Company and jumped onboard, moving with Owen to the Sylva area. Now the pair is working round-the-clock to renovate the pub space and the adjoining one-barrel brewery for their planned Oct. 19 opening.

Sylva’ first hometown brewery, Heinzelmännchen Brewery, opened in 2004, charting the course as the first microbrewery to venture west of Asheville. 

Seasoned Heinzelmännchen brewmaster Dieter Kuhn welcomed the new brewery with open arms. Kuhn has met with the new owners and even offered his assistance as they get up and running.

“I was pretty excited about the prospect of another brewery coming to Sylva,” Kuhn said. “That’s the same way I started out.”

Despite being just two blocks down the street, rather than viewing Innovation Brewing as a competitor, Kuhn expects each brewery to fill a niche and attract more beer tourists overall to the area. Heinzelmännchen is also eyeing new, bigger digs at the vacant train depot in Dillsboro, with hopes to move within the next six months. 

Innovation Brewery aims to be a true neighborhood pub for Sylva. They won’t have televisions, just a friendly spot for locals and tourists to enjoy some real Appalachian get-to-know-ya, with pub-favorite pastimes like cornhole, darts and live music on the patio.

“We just wanted a pub atmosphere where people can enjoy craft beer and people can enjoy each other,” Dexter said.

While the two are still figuring out what they’ll offer for food, they plan to start slowly with pizza by-the-slice, keeping the menus of local restaurants on hand.

Though Innovation might try to distribute its beer in the future, the focus for now is quality batches to serve at the pub and giving downtown Sylva another notch in its life-after-dark atmosphere.

“What we’re trying to do is help downtown draw more people and have more of a nightlife in the area,” Owen said.

Innovation is located at the junction of Mill and Main streets next to Papou’s Wine Shop.

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