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Step Outside Asheville and Trek the Jackson County Ale Trail

Innovation Brewing North Carolina
Innovation Brewing. Innovation Brewing

Craft beer fans have long been familiar with Asheville, North Carolina, a vibrant, artistically minded town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. Breweries like Highland Brewing, Wicked Weed, and Burial Beer are based in Asheville and frequently cited as some of the world’s best. (Burial was our pick for Best Brewery when we visited Asheville for The Manual Awards in 2017.)

But just an hour’s drive outside of Asheville you can find Jackson County, an area of quaint small towns that embody that same free spirit and quirky style that made Asheville famous. Also like Asheville, Jackson County is growing its own scene of local breweries. When Nantahala Brewing Co. opens its second facility in the town of Sylva later this year, the county will boast one brewery for about every 10,000 residents — an impressive density for a scene that’s only just getting started.

The next time life takes you to North Carolina, check out these independent breweries in Jackson County.

Innovation Brewing North Carolina
Innovation Brewing. Innovation Brewing

Balsam Falls Brewing Co. is a husband-and-wife operation that opened in 2017. Located in downtown Sylva, it features up to 20 taps of its beer in the tasting room. The rotating offerings include favorites like Into the Mist Southern IPA and small-batch beers that feature locally harvested herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Balsam Falls isn’t afraid to branch out, with saisons, sour beers and a brut IPA making appearances on its tap list.

Innovation Brewing also has its home base in Sylva.  Its 7-barrel brewhouse provides the capacity for up to 30 beers on tap at the site. Year-round releases include Hoppy Camper IPA and Phat Chance Amber. Innovation’s owners also run Pie Times Pizza Co., conveniently located next door.

Whiteside Brewing North Carolina
Whiteside Brewing. Nick Breedlove

In June, Innovation Brewing opened its Innovation Station outpost in the town of Dillsboro. The taproom there boasts 32 taps and a creekside porch to accompany Innovation’s beer-aging facility and pilot brewing system. Both the main brewery and Innovation Station are dog-friendly.

Located about 30 miles away, Cashiers is home to Whiteside Brewing Co. Whiteside opened in June of this year and is on the same property as Laurelwood Inn, creating a unique “bed and beverage” destination. Whiteside crafts a wide range of beers including coffee stouts, pale ales, and altbiers in addition to the ever-popular IPA. It also has a diverse food menu and features an outdoor deck and lawn to take in the mountain scenery. The brewery’s motto is the aspirational “mountain life in a glass.”

You can learn more about Jackson’s County beer destinations at Jackson County’s tourism website.

Lee Heidel
Lee Heidel is the managing editor of Brew/Drink/Run, a website and podcast that promotes brewing your own beer, consuming the…
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