Tapping into Appalachia
Dale Heinlein never thought he’d set roots down 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, the first microbrewery in Highlands and 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 bachelor of fine arts 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 slowly felt creatively unfulfilled. Yes, he did have input on numerous projects, but it was always someone else’s vision and not his coming to fruition.
“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 in 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 wanted.”
So, Heinlein decided to leave all behind, the production work, the hustle and bustle of Atlanta, and head back to the mountains of his youth to capture his dream — 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.
A social hub
With his plans to launch a brewery in motion, Heinlein spent the better part of the last few years getting together the funds, permits and location readied. 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,” he 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.”
Heinlein noted that his family stretched back several generations in Highlands, with Satulah Mountain being where they would 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.
This past June 21, 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.”