Sylva’s Main Street plays host to three breweries in an easily-walkable, scenic one-mile stretch – called the Jackson County Ale Trail.
Whether you enjoy sipping a smooth golden ale, something hoppy or a dark IPA, Jackson County’s breweries have you covered.
North Carolina boasts more craft breweries and brewpubs than any other state in the southeast and Jackson County has a commitment to quality local brews.
The Jackson County Ale Trail starts at Sneak E Squirrel, winding its way by Mark Watson Park, beside Sylva’s Historic Courthouse (often called the most photographed building in the United States), down Sylva’s Historic Main and Mill Streets to Innovation Brewing. Along the route of the ale trail are great restaurants to grab a bite, antique shops and more.
Each craft brewery offers flights (samplings of many beers), pints, growlers and either have food on site or allow you to bring your own.
Last year, Sneak E Squirrel owner John Duncan (who goes by Duncan) joined the scene and opened his family-friendly brewery after outfitting a former car dealership for brewing, complete with a full kitchen. Duncan’s focus is on bringing together neighbors and families into a fun, safe environment.
He offers 13 beers on tap and terms their selections well balanced. “We don’t go for extremes, except for our ‘Beer of the Week’, and then it’s anything goes. We do very good renderings of classic styles,” Duncan said.
“We specialize in game meat, but that’s where normal takes a left turn. From ‘Bambi in a blanket’ to ‘Silence of the Lamburger’ to the upcoming, completely ingredient random ‘Heisenburger,’ the madness never stops,” Duncan said of the Squirrel’s food offerings.
The Sneak E Squirrel recently joined two other well-established craft breweries in the area, including Heinzelmännchen, known as “Your Gnometown Brewery.”
Innovation Brewing, now in its third year, is growing and doing so sustainably. This year they installed 100 solar panels on their roof to help cut their carbon footprint by half.
This year they’ve expanded operations and now have 32 brews on tap, a homemade ginger ale and three ciders. A seven-barrel brew house, Innovation has a handful of mainstay traditional ales as well as several IPAs and a number of seasonal and experimental beers for you to try on your brewery tour.
“We like to push the envelope by creating fun and unique beer styles using non-traditional beer ingredients such as beets, cilantro, basil and cucumbers to name a few,” said Nicole Dexter, who owns the brewery with her husband Chip. In addition to brews, Innovation has the Cosmic Carryout food truck on hand seven days a week and the brewery is pet and family friendly.
Balsam Falls Brewing Co. Balsam Falls Brewing features over a dozen beers on tap including a rotating selection of IPAs, pale ales and sours, along with six staple beers regularly on tap. Husband and wife partners in the brewery, Corey and Laurie Bryson, plan to utilize fruits, herbs and even vegetables in their brewing treatments. “Our goal is to have something different on tap every time visitors come in, and we will focus on seasonal pints based on local ingredients,” says Corey. His family grows blueberry bushes, apple trees, cherry trees and grapevines, and those flavors will be instilled into the beer.
The Brysons plan to grow several of his own hops. Balsam Falls Brewing’s name is not just an homage to a local waterfall. Balsam in old English is known as restorative. As Corey says, “We thought it was appropriate for beer. After hiking and biking people want something restorative to drink.”
Next year a new brewery will join these three in the southern end of the county – Whiteside Brewing in Cashiers.
A tip to enjoy Jackson County’s Ale Trail: List and rank the beers by appearance, aroma and taste, during your brewery tour, and try a beer that appeals to those senses.