Boone-Based Brewery Brings Beer and Bites to Mills River

Tapping Into Community: (L-R) Nathan Kelischek and Chris Zieber, founders of Appalachian Mountain Brewery, have created a beer-centric hub in rural Mills River.

Finding a cow in Mills River is easy. Drive far enough down a twisty backroad, and you’re sure to stumble across a herd of Belted Galloways grazing on alfalfa or a lone Jersey chewing its cud. But finding a juicy hamburger in this rural locale (particularly one cooked in a real kitchen rather than a food truck) is a different story — a story that Appalachian Mountain Brewery (AMB) is fixing to change. 

In June, the Boone-based company opened a taproom at the corner of Boylston Highway and North Mills River Road, becoming one of two sit-down eateries on the strip (the other being Mills River Restaurant). 

AMB’s taproom dishes up elevated Southern fare.

The culinary addition has been embraced by natives and transplants alike. When Bold Life visited, AMB was packed with a motley of customers. There were the outdoorsy types with ripstop pants and beanies, the church folk still dressed in their Sunday best, the young millennial families with tattoos and toddlers, and a handful of farmers wearing their mud-splattered overalls with pride. 

Apparently, smash burgers topped with housemade aiolis, crunchy onions, fresh veggies, and melty cheese are a great unifier. But executive chef Michael Harwell serves way more than quarter-pounders. 

Formerly of Bhramari Brewing Company in Asheville, Harwell has developed a menu packed with Southern-inspired delicacies like homemade cornbread, fried green tomatoes on a bed of creamy grits, and smoked pork served with a sidecar of collard greens. Even the Bavarian-style pretzel has an Appalachian twang thanks to a warm apple butter dipping sauce. 

“The driving inspiration for our food is taking familiar Southern dishes and elevating them with fun, interesting ingredients,” says Harwell. “[We want to] take the taste of grandma’s kitchen and bring those flavors into today’s times.”

Now, whether or not your Appalachian meemaw would approve of AMB’s selection of wine, house cocktails, and award-winning craft beer is to be determined. But we sure do. 

Brews on tap in early winter ranged from classic pale ales to eccentric porters. During our boozy sojourn, we nursed a Great American Beer Festival gold medal-winning pale ale called Boone Creek. It was smooth, sumptuous, and super sessionable. And that’s by no accident. 

Boone Creek is a gold medal-winning blonde ale with hints of orange and wildflower honey.

According to Nathan Kelischek, co-founder of AMB, he and cousin/business partner Chris Zieber are “really diligent about looking at beer in a scientific context — from choosing the right malts to selecting the right water profile.” 

This meticulous approach has provided a strong foundation since 2013, when Kelischek and Zieber opened Boone’s very first brewery. Five years later, AMB was acquired by Craft Brew Alliance, which was swallowed up by Anheuser-Busch — the most massive brewing conglomerate in the world — in 2020. 

But earlier this year, Kelischek and Zieber did the unheard of: They bought themselves back from Anheuser-Busch. Though the move raised eyebrows, it was calculated, says Kelischek. “Now that we’re back at the helm,” he notes, “we’re able to be more innovative and release creative one-offs into the wild.”

The buy-back also gave the cousins the latitude needed to open a taproom near their native Asheville. 

“We’ve been wanting to come to Asheville for quite a long time,” Kelischek confirms. 

He and Zieber began eyeing the Mills River property back in November of 2021. They were instantly smitten with the spot, which is positioned less than 10 minutes from North Mills River Recreation Area. 

“The location is great because we’re right at the entrance of Pisgah National Forest, which fits with our passion for the outdoors,” says Kelischek, who majored in environmental science at Appalachian State University. Coincidentally, Zieber also majored in environmental science at the University of North Carolina. 

But the brewers’ decision to settle in Mills River was about much more than lunchtime bike rides and weekend camping trips. When vetting different locales, they searched for an up-and-coming town in need of a neighborhood gathering spot — a place to grab a burger and a beer while catching up with friends. 

“We wanted to provide a space where everyone feels welcome,” says Kelischek. “We wanted to become a community hub for Mills River.”  

Appalachian Mountain Brewery Taproom and Kitchen (46 North Mills River Rd., Mills River) is open for lunch and dinner Sunday through Thursday, 11am-9pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, the eatery stays open until 10pm. For more information, call 828-393-5618 or visit

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