Archived Opinion

Beer town bragging rights go west of Asheville

I heard about this story from the Facebook crowd, so I imagine some of you have already read it. There was a story in this past Sunday’s Raleigh News and Observer that had this to say about Waynesville and Sylva:

To find the most beer-soaked town in North Carolina, look past the much-acclaimed Asheville. Thirty miles to the west sits Waynesville, a small town of 10,000 nestled between the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. It’s here where you’ll find four craft breweries – one of the highest brewery-per-capita ratios in the state (

A possible rival is nearby Sylva, a smaller outpost in Western North Carolina where 2,700 people share two breweries.


If you’re a craft beer lover and like to hangout with like-minded souls — or if your business is to entice tourists — you just have to love this story. Those of us outside the sphere of Asheville appreciate getting some of the attention that is always getting heaped on the mountain region’s leading city. 

As an editor who likes to encourage reporters to go beyond the story that’s right in front of their face, I appreciate the fact that this writer looked past the Asheville-Beer City reputation to get out west to the towns we call home and find out what’s happening. There’s a lot more than just beer out here, but hey, how can anyone not love the burgeoning craft beer movement.

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The article didn’t pretend to be a legit, statistical poll, but let’s play with the numbers. The comparison was of the towns, not counties. In this respect the article was dead on. Here is the data: Asheville’s population is 87,000 with 17 breweries; Waynesville has 10,000 people and four breweries (if you count soon-to-open BooJum Brewing, which the writer did, and the already open Bearwaters, Frog Level and Tipping Point); Sylva has two breweries (Heinzelmannchen and Innovation) and 2,700 people. 

Doing the math with those numbers, Sylva has one brewery for every 1,350 people; Waynesville has one brewery for every 2,500; and Asheville has one brewery for every 5,117 people. So Sylva holds down the claim as the most beer-sodden town in the mountains. Cheers to you, Sylva. (P.S., not to split hairs, but Nantahala Brewing in Byson City serves a town with just 1,400 residents, so it is right on Sylva’s tail. Even more impressive is Satulah Mountain Brewing in Highlands, supported by a full-time population of a little over 900.) 

If you do the numbers on a countywide basis, things change. Buncombe has 244,000 souls, Haywood has 59,000 and Jackson County comes in at 40,500. Once again, do the math and you come up with one brewery for every 14,353 people in Buncombe; one brewery for every 14,750 people in Haywood; and one for every 20,250 people in Jackson County. In this analysis, Buncombe ekes out a win as the craft beer drinker’s best bet, but just barely beating Haywood.

So for anyone who doesn’t think this region’s craft brew industry is a key part of our current tourism draw, think again. This is more evidence, and I’ve written in the past about meeting upper middle-class travelers who came to Western North Carolina specifically to tour some of its breweries. 

The moral of this story, of course, is to drink more local beer so more local breweries will open and help our local economy. That means we can continue this insightful and meaningful dialogue about beer. This is heady stuff.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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