Three years after the Lobster Trap opened, the general manager came back from an oyster-shucking contest more excited than usual. He had experienced something more memorable than the oysters themselves: a stout brewed with them.
“A big light went off in my head when [the brewer] told me that,” says Billy Klingel, the owner of Oyster House Brewing Company, who was an employee of Lobster Trap at the time. “I already brewed … and I knew that if I could create a beer like that, I would have a really unique product.”
Amy Beard, the owner of the restaurant, thought so too. In February of 2009, the first Oyster House beer — Moonstone Stout — hit the draft lines. “I made 60 batches that first year, and they knew we’d never make a profit with it [since the setup was so small and labor-intensive],” says Klingel. “But it was a sort of marketing tool for the restaurant … something to get people to stop in that wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Moving out of the trap
Fast-forward from 2009 to 2012. Oyster House had a capacity of 70 barrels per year — a small amount compared to other breweries in town, but enough to max out the system inside of The Lobster Trap. To brew more beer, Oyster House would have to find a new home.
“I’ve been working downtown since 1998, and I like downtown. But I’ve been a West Asheville resident for 10 years. I love it here: the community, walking to everything, great bars,” says Klingel. “It’s where I wanted Oyster House.”
However, it was tough for Klingel to find a new home for the brewery anywhere in West Asheville — especially on Haywood Road. He looked at any building open, even longshots. Eventually, something close to perfect came up.
“This place [625 Haywood Road] is one I’ve drooled over since my wife and I moved to Asheville. It’s a standalone building, which is unbelievable. We not only get the space we need for the brewery and kitchen, we also get 14 parking spots, a stoplight, and one of the busiest restaurants in town [Sunny Point] across the street,” says Klingel.
What to expect
If you ever went when the building was Viva Deli, the interior of Oyster House will be somewhat familiar. But there are some key differences. Instead of a deli case, a handmade bar with embedded oyster shells is the largest thing in the room. The space itself is a bit larger, as what used to be the back office is now a hallway to the kitchen and a bathroom for guests. And the whole interior has been painted royal blue.
On the beer side, the mainstays from The Lobster Trap will make their way over, mostly unchanged: the Moonstone Stout, of course, as well as the Dirty Blonde and Patton Avenue Pale. The IPA will be retooled slightly, “pumped up a bit,” according to Klingel. There will also be a couple of new Oyster House beers soon after opening. A “vegan” version of the Moonstone Stout — brewed without any oysters — will hit the taps, as will a saison for the summer months.
At any one time, Klingel plans to keep about five house beers on tap. With 12 taps and at least one hand-pump at opening, that means there will always be plenty of guest beers available as well. “We’re still working on the list, but it will be beer that beer junkies want,” says Klingel. “You’ll see Bells and Founders, probably Stone, and definitely Foothills — I love their beer. There will be beers from other Asheville breweries, too. Maybe a Green Man Porter, and French Broad Kölsch or Wee Heavier.”
Prices are not yet set, but Klingel hopes to keep pints at $4 or $4.50 for most beers. They will also do half-pints and flights with 3-ounce glasses.
Klingel stresses that Oyster House is a brewery first — they just happen to serve food. There will be some salads, red beans and rice, and shrimp.
However, it’s clear he’s excited about the oyster program. “We’ll have raw oysters, grilled oysters, fried oysters, blue cheese fried oysters … featuring about seven or eight different varieties of oysters whenever we can,” says Klingel. He plans to source some locally, here in North Carolina, and also bring in oysters from Virginia, New England, Canada (British Columbia) and Washington State.
With a new building, new beers, and plenty of oysters, what’s the owner looking forward to most? “I am super excited to ride my cruiser to work, and to have my wife and daughter walk up to have lunch with me. That’s going to be amazing,” says Klingel.
Oyster House Brewing, 625 Haywood Rd., opens 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to midnight Saturday and Sunday. Check Oyster House’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/OysterHouse-Brewing-Company) for the last-minute information.