In 2004, Kuhn bridged that international gap by opening Heinzelmannchen Brewery in downtown Sylva. The focus is finely crafted German beers, while the motto is “Purity, Freshness, Tradition.”
“Typically, when you go to any local pub or brewery in Germany, each has their own style of beer,” he said. “The beers are fresh, with very distinct flavors. They’re not overly hoppy, with more to balance than anything else. There tends to be a high alcohol content, too.”
SEE ALSO: Breweries west of Asheville
Growing up in Germany, Kuhn remembers his family enjoying local brews or making their own beverages. His grandfather and uncle both worked in the nearby malting factory. They would bring home sacks of grain to make beer, with a newly minted growler always on the table for any passerby to enjoy.
“Most of those beers were brewed to socialize with, to drink with meals,” Kuhn said. “That style of balance was light, clean and fit with anything. There was a breakfast beer, a lunch and dinner beer. It was all good and all drinkable.”
Moving to Chicago when he was 12, Kuhn was exposed to a variety of popular European beers emerging from Wisconsin and parts of the Midwest. As an adult, he became fascinated with all of the different styles and tastes of craft beer. He soon found himself in the Marines Corps and later in the heath care industry.
While in the Marines, he would take camping trips to Western North Carolina. The region was reminiscent of his homeland. It was a sentiment that settled into his head like a seed that slowly began to grow. Soon, he found himself raising three sons. He realized how he’d like to provide them with a backyard wilderness. It was time for a move, it was time to relocate to Jackson County and find a home in Sylva.
“I liked that proximity to go camping was a half hour or so being here, rather than four or five hours to do the same thing from Chicago,” he said.
After relocating to the Smokies, Kuhn had difficulty tracking down the beloved styles of beer he had become accustomed to in the Midwest.
“It was really hard to find craft beer. It was Budweiser or Miller, and that was about it,” he laughed. “So, I started brewing my own beer. I became better and better at it, and people liked it. They said I should go into business, then I opened the brewery.”
When he started his establishment, the craft beer scene in Asheville had just started to bud into an industry. As more and more breweries popped up, Kuhn found himself a member of a brotherhood, one that was competitive but friendly and filled with support and camaraderie. The idea of “the more, the merrier” entered the mindset of the brewers, which in turn has resulted in a beer boom for Southern Appalachia.
“It’s a collaborative environment. We all help each other out and ask questions,” he said. “We all have our struggles, but we overcome them and have adapted as things moved along.”
For the better part of the last 12 years, Kuhn has been married to Sheryl Rudd, who now serves as the president and marketing manager for Heinzelmannchen. A North Carolina native from Raleigh, Rudd spent her time bouncing between Florida and her studies at Western Carolina University. Her time at WCU always stuck with her, even after graduation. Coming back to the area, she ended up in Sylva, where she was a massage therapist. Once she married Kuhn, she found herself at the epicenter of his passion – craft beer.
“I’ve always enjoyed all of the unique flavors craft beer offers,” she said. “I like being able to see how it works by watching Dieter home brew. It was great seeing how the whole operation worked.”
With the couple running the show at the brewery, the story of the Heinzelmannchen began to unfold. Gnome-like creatures that live in the Black Forest, the heinzelmannchen’s are known to be helpful in German folklore. They visit proprietors at night and assist in their chores, leaving the business owner with more time to give back to the community. It’s a notion that translates perfectly to what Kuhn and Rudd have setout to do.
“I keep waiting for them to come and clean my brewery,” Kuhn smiled. “They’re a concept for doing the best you can, doing it right and providing something that someone can appreciate.”
And it’s that two-way street of support between the brewery and Jackson County that has made the dream of craft beer in Western North Carolina come to fruition.
“It has to do with support of agencies, people in the community and, of course, the customers,” Rudd said. “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.”
“It’s a challenge in many to do this, but it’s a labor of love and I enjoy it,” Kuhn added. “I love sending beer to people, talking about beer and collaborating. We’re already planning our next steps and are aiming to get beyond that point.”