Asheville’s 12 Bones Smokehouse has long established itself as one of the area’s top barbecue restaurants. Famous for dishes such as blueberry chipotle ribs and pulled pork, its fans include Michelle and Barack Obama and a steady stream of regulars.
The business is now building a reputation for craft beer as 12 Bones Brewing, which opened in May, turns out an assortment of suds at the restaurant’s new South Asheville location on Hendersonville Road. Offerings range from a small-batch coffee chocolate blonde ale to a blueberry hefeweizen, a Kölsch and the requisite multiple IPAs.
Brewery and restaurant owners Angela and Bryan King have overseen plenty of expansions at 12 Bones since taking over from founders Tom Montgomery and Sabra Kelley in 2012. The original River Arts District location had plenty of funky charm, but the building was cramped, had limited parking, and the customer line frequently stretched across the parking lot. In early 2017, the business moved to the Foundation property, just shy of a mile down Lyman Street from the initial spot.
Last year, fate forced 12 Bones to abandon its former South Asheville location in favor of a much larger space at 2350 Hendersonville Road, enabling Bryan King to realize his longtime goal of joining the craft beer industry. “It was one of those things I thought about — having a brewery one day. But we were so busy with the restaurants,” he says. “And there are a lot of breweries in Asheville. When we realized were going to have to move our South Asheville store because of the widening of Sweeten Creek Road, we started thinking if a brewery was something we should consider.”
King adds that the restaurant was already selling “a good bit of beer, even with being mostly a lunchtime operation,” and the new location could easily accommodate a brewhouse. “It’s 12,000 square feet, too big for just [the restaurant],” he says. “We thought, ‘Let’s do the brewery.'”
With 36 breweries in Buncombe County, most of them in Asheville, King feels that pairing 12 Bones Brewing with the restaurant gives his beer operation an edge. “It’s pretty hard to open just a brewery in Asheville now,” he says. “You really have to bring a little more to the table. You need to have food — and we knew we had that component.”
King adds that the brewery’s location has a colorful past. “It was a mop factory and it was a furniture store for a while. It was an armory at one point,” he says. “I was told that [a previous tenant] used to sell porn out of the back. The police came and raided it. That would have been the section where the brewery is.”
The Kings had an advantage in prepping the structure for its new life, having done a rehab on the Foundation property that included tearing down some walls while leaving others in place. In contrast to that building, which King says was “a mess — very dirty and dilapidated,” the Hendersonville Road site was “largely empty and cleaned out.”
The building was developed with the 12 Bones restaurant on the south end and an event space in the middle. The far northern end houses the brewery and its tasting room, complete with a bar, couch and comfortable lounge seating. There are also a half dozen wooden tables made from a tree that fell on Bryan King’s father’s property, all of which contribute to what he calls “a little bit of that coffee shop vibe” that encourages “people to stick around and hang out.”
The beer is crafted by Milwaukee native Scott Hettig. The brewing veteran has worked for businesses in his hometown and Cleveland, Ohio, as well as in Germany and, most recently, as brewmaster for Mighty Miss Brewing Co. in Greenville, Miss. At 12 Bones, he brews on a 15-barrel system built in Portland, Ore., and four 15-barrel fermenters. He also uses a small pilot system to turn out one-off batches.
King notes that the beers served in the restaurant are “more approachable, a little lower in alcohol, whereas in the brewery we can be little more experimental with a higher ABV.” Hettig has turned out around 20 beers since the brewery opened in May. “It’s been fun seeing what people like and getting ideas,” King says.
Like many breweries, 12 Bones finds IPAs to be hot sellers — specifically the You Wanted a Hit American IPA (6.6% ABV). “It’s king right now,” he says. “I Iove IPAs, but I never just wanted to only have that. We sell a lot of kölsch. We get people who come in, and they’re Bud Light drinkers, and that’s where your kölsch comes in.”
The brewery has so far not established a flagship beer, and King is unsure if he wants to. “We are still tweaking [the business],” he says. “Maybe we will have a few flagships.”