How to Survive a Landslide

Some Sylva, North Carolina residents have been paying attention when you ask for Heinzelmännchen for nearly a decade. Partially due to the very German name, which is pronounced Hine-zul-Men-shen. The other part is because you can take a trip to Deutschland in your mind with just a sip of their malt-forward beers.

The creation of husband and wife team of Dieter Kuhn and Sheryl Rudd in the town of about 3,000 people — 50 miles southwest of Asheville, North Carolina — nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. Heinzelmännchen is entrenched in the past with historical beers and styles while keeping an eye on the present when it comes to people’s tastes.

Kuhn and Rudd are excited because the days of brewing small batches of kegs at a time will soon be over as they plan to upgrade to a new brewing system, which will multiply the brewery’s production six fold. “Instead of spending 16 hours to make 10 kegs I can take seven to eight hours to do 60 with the new system,” said Kuhn, who currently brews with a 7 1/2 barrel mash tun, and two 10-barrel fermenters. The plan is to have a new facility opened by the end of 2014 with a 30-barrel system in place in a new 5,000-square-foot facility.

“That is a whole next-level of brewing,” said Kuhn. “I have the basics down but it’s going to be a different world soon. I am comfortable with what’s next.”

Along with Heinzelmännchen’s traditional German selections, like Pils, Maibocks and historical ales, its also experimented with the Hoppy Gnome. “I got the idea to make a hoppier beer and took our Gopher,” explained Kuhn. “It’s a basic Pilsner brewed as an ale with a little more hop flavor by dry hopping it on a keg-to-keg basis.”

Kuhn used a Randall element to extract the flavor and aroma of the hops while cold. “It kept us in the progression of a hoppier beer, but it still was malty,” he said. “I started to experiment with English grain and hops and we occasionally make an imperial Gnome ale … a basic IPA recipe. And we sold a lot of it because it was a new hot style at the time … but we kept up our traditional line of ales.”

The brewers have also experimented with a Double IPA with Orange Blossom honey from Florida, using Maris Otter and Mosaic. “That’s been a really good seller for us,” Kuhn said.

“We have turned a lot of females that drank wine on to our beers just because of [being malt-forward],” Rudd said. “We have the smoother, milder flavors.”

Wine-drinking women, along with undergrads from the local college, Western Carolina University, has reached a far cry from when the brewery’s growler filling station was a place for home brewers and maybe a few professors from WCU.

“I pay attention to what people like, but I also want to put forward a history of German beer,” Kuhn said. “We want to be known as Sylva’s brewery.”

Heinzelmännchens are mythical gnome-like creatures found in the Black Forest of Germany. They are said to be rarely seen, however always helpful to creatures and people alike. Like the Heinzelmännchens, Kuhn has been helped by area brewers in the past to help switch the brewery from an extract outfit at the start into an all-grain brew house in 2009.

“We got Old Hickory’s [Brewery] old mash tun unit,” Kuhn explained. “It perfectly fit for what we needed at that time. But now it’s well worn and ready to be shot to the moon.”

The new facility will be located at the Great Smokey Mountain railroad depot, which Rudd feels will help bring in tourists and beer connoisseurs alike.

Although, it wasn’t going so smoothly half a decade ago when the brewery had to “tighten the belt” because of a tanking economy along with a few rears of nature that blocked traffic into Sylva from the west and north. “We hung on for dear life,” Rudd said. “We were almost on an island because you couldn’t get to us from the north and west because we had three road closures due to landslides, including I-40. So anyone trying to come to us from Tennessee had a hard time getting to us. We just put our heads down, tightened out belts and did our best to stay open.”

Now, it will be a footnote in the blossoming brewing business outside of the Asheville area.

“Three years ago, three breweries opened in Waynseville and then Innovation [Brewery] opened up here,” said Rudd. “So that has been a nice addition because now we get some of the Asheville crowd. Either they were on their way back from Atlanta or they were coming from over the mountains from Gatlinburg. We’ve been a destination for people, but now we really are a destination now with seven of us west of Asheville. … So things are going good … it’s a good business to be in.”


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