Tapping into the future: Nicole Dexter of Innovation Brewing
It’s nearing lunchtime in downtown Sylva. The noonday traffic passes by a small building that houses Innovation Brewing. Inside, Nicole Dexter is checking equipment, hauling bags of hops and malt, all the while ready to take on another day amid her dream.
“Things have been going really great,” the 28-year-old said. “Our numbers are much better than we projected or anticipated.”
Co-owner/brewer at Innovation, Dexter and her fiancé, Chip Owen, recently celebrated their first year in business. What started as a passion that evolved into an idea and rolled onward into a reality, the couple’s craft beer endeavor is growing fast. On any given night the taproom is filled with locals and the curious alike, all gathering in what is rapidly becoming a social centerpiece of the community.
“I didn’t realize we were going to make such an impact on this town when we came here,” she said. “I think in the beginning I was looking at things through a narrower lens and thinking about ourselves within the business. We always wanted to contribute to the community, but it has been amazing seeing how welcomed and embraced we’ve become in Sylva.”
Bitten by the bug
Originally from Pennsylvania, Dexter was raised in Florida. Early on, she didn’t know much about craft beer, let alone having an interest in the industry. But, that all changed when she took a job as a teenager at a brewery in Pennsylvania. She began to learn about the art of brewing, an ancient knowledge that slowly planted a seed in her head, one which would blossom in due time.
“It was then I realized what craft beer was — a craft,” she said. “I began visiting breweries around the country and knew that this was an industry I wanted to be part of.”
Dexter then found work at Asheville Brewing. After four years there, she and Owen decided to take the leap and launch their own entity in Western North Carolina.
“Going into my jobs at the breweries, I never thought I’d own my own brewery, but it just developed,” she said. “We felt we should go for it. Craft beer is what I’m knowledgeable about, passionate about, and I just love the whole community in the industry.”
With Innovation on the map, and a reputation for great, quality beer flowing through Southern Appalachia, Dexter feels justified in her career pursuits. She is doing what she loves and is always looking ahead, always improving herself and the products put forth.
“I like that I’m not limited in my growth,” she said. “Where as hard as I work and as big as this company is going to grow, I’m not just working on an individual scale, not trying to get a promotion. I’m trying to grow this company as a whole, and the harder I work, the better the company will be. I put in endless hours and that’s because I want to.”
The family that brews together
And yet, with all of the continued camaraderie that exists in the craft beer industry, one thing is very noticeable — there aren’t many women involved. Dexter doesn’t see that as a “boy’s club” mentality. She simply notes that is just how it is right now, with more and more females finding their way into the microbrew workforce.
“People ask me about that a lot, but I don’t really think of the brewing industry as male dominated even though it definitely is. It’s just like I have a lot of brothers,” she smiled. “None of the men in this industry make it feel like a male-dominated industry. This is a select group of people passionate about this who are going for it. I never feel out of place when I’m at meetings or when we’re doing events — I’ve never felt anything but welcomed by the industry.”
Though Dexter has always felt completely accepted by her community and industry, there is one small thing that continually has her shaking her head.
“I bartend here a lot and sometimes people will assume I’m just the bartender, they’ll come in and say, ‘Hey, can I talk to the guy that brews here?,’” she laughed. “And I’ll say, ‘Sure, what do you need?’ They instantly have this look on their face of ‘whoops.’ I find it humorous, but it’s just one of those things that people don’t realize that it’s not just a guy in charge — it’s fun to take people by surprise with that.”
Dexter points to the strong presence of female-run businesses in Sylva. Establishments like City Lights Café, Soul Infusion Tea House & Bistro or Mad Batter Food & Film are all mainstay spots for people, events and a strong sense of community. Dexter also noted the importance of the “Women in Business” luncheons that are put on by nearby Southwestern Community College.
“It’s nice to be approached by different organizations that are women-run, that acknowledge your accomplishments, and there is that sense of pride for me being one of the few women in this industry,” she said. “This town has the strongest community feel out of any town I’ve ever lived in. I’m not sure if it’s partly because of all the female-run businesses, but we have this sense of community support. There’s a strength in this town and I feel so happy to be part of it — the magic of Sylva.”