Tapping into Macon County
Dale Heinlein never thought he’d set down roots in his hometown of Highlands.
“Living in Atlanta, in suburbia, with the summer heat and traffic, I had to get back to the mountains, back to nature, back to the earth, back to the rivers to cool off,” the 34-year-old said. “I’ve spent most of my life in Highlands and when I came back, I just started to notice so many things about my surroundings I either didn’t know about or had forgotten — there is so much to learn and discover everyday here.”
Heinlein is the owner/brewmaster of Satulah Mountain Brewing Company, the first microbrewery in Highlands, and in Macon County. Standing behind the counter of his business, Heinlein is all smiles when it comes to seeing his dream come to fruition, to see the fruits of his labors flowing out of the taps for all to enjoy and partake in.
“I want to give people fine, locally crafted beer, but I also want to revive the local history, share the history, and share the stories with each other,” he said. “It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s so rewarding to watch folks enjoy the beer and converse about the area and why they love being here.”
Lights, Camera, Action
Following high school, Heinlein headed for South Florida, then to Atlanta where he eventually received a degree in media production from American InterContinental University. He soon found himself doing graphic/web design, event production planning and work on independent films.
And although he traveled the country doing productions, Heinlein began to feel creatively unfulfilled. Yes, he did have input on numerous projects, but it was always someone else’s vision being realized and not his.
“I liked what I was doing, but I was constantly doing things only tailored to our clients or for other projects,” he said. “I was traveling so much, fly into a city, work the event, leave, fly home. You never really got to interact with people or see the cities.”
It was around this point in his career that Heinlein started to take an interest in craft beer. While back in Highlands, a friend brought over a home brew kit purchased in Sylva. The two tinkered around with flavors and batches. Heinlein then discovered pale ales, a style of beer that really struck a chord with him. While visiting a friend in Washington state, he saw the immense impact of craft beer on the local economies and societal culture.
“Craft beer is a way of life out there,” he said. “It provided so many jobs and had a huge impact on the opportunities for people — everything was tied somehow to craft beer.”
Back down in Atlanta, Heinlein continued his love of home brewing. But, as work took up more and more of his time, he found himself not dedicating as much attention to craft brewing as he truly wanted to.
“I home brewed for about eight years, and it was a real hobby for me,” he said. “I really loved the idea of paying attention to detail, the intricate processes involved and having to stay on top of the entire process at all times. But I never got to do it as much as I wanted.”
So, Heinlein decided to leave it all behind — the production work, the hustle and bustle of Atlanta — and head back to the mountains of his youth to capture his dream of opening a brewery.
“You get so wrapped up in everyday life that you sometimes forget about what you want in life and all the incredible things around you,” he said.
Connecting The Dots
With his plans to launch a brewery in motion, Heinlein spent the better part of the last few years getting together the funds and permits, as well as readying the location. All that seemingly remained was a name — what would he call his business?
“I’ve always wanted everything with this brewery to stay rooted in this area,” Heinlein said. “Satulah Mountain is the central mountain in Highlands. It’s a focal point of the community, and also a big part of the history and storytelling on this area.”
The brewer noted that his family stretched back several generations in Highlands, with Satulah Mountain being where’d they hike, wander and soak in the beauty of Western North Carolina. The mountain has played a large role in his life, and even was the spot where he proposed to his fiancée.
“Every time I hike or drive by Satulah, I notice something different, something I might not have noticed before, and I just love that,” he said.
On June 21 this year, Satulah Mountain Brewing officially opened its doors in Highlands. Though currently on a half-barrel brewing system, Heinlein will soon upgrade to a barrel. He’s got upwards of eight of his beers on tap, with other local brands also offered. Right from the get-go, the establishment has been busy, with folks from every direction and background milling about. It’s the exact atmosphere Heinlein had envisioned, a longtime dream now becoming an everyday reality.
“I get local families with kids here, people playing board games, tourists from out of town, folks from the biological center or the land trust,” he said. “They’re all interacting and learning about this town and area. People are making connections and enjoying what I have to offer — everyone is having a good time.”
Want to go?
Satulah Mountain Brewing Company is located at 454 Carolina Way in Highlands. Alongside several taps of handmade craft beer, they also have live music on select Friday nights. In-house selections include their “El Numero Dos” (India pale ale), “Tuckasegee Gold” (golden ale), “Mountaintop Belgian Treat,” “Sunset Saison” and “Hollyberry” (blueberry/raspberry wit). Their hours are from 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 to 10 p.m. Sunday.