Carolina Beer Guy: Green Man Brewery’s local roots originate from Jack of the Wood pub

EVOLUTION: Joe and Joan Eckert opened Jack of the Wood in 1997. Until 1999, the downtown pub housed Asheville's second craft brewery, Benefit Brewing, which later became Green Man. Photo by Jack Sorokin

Does anyone remember Benefit Brewing?

It was Asheville’s second brewery, and it opened in 1997, tucked in a small corner at the Jack of the Wood pub. Jonas Rembert co-owned the operation with Andy Dahm, and they left in 1999 to start French Broad Brewing Co.

The Jack of the Wood brewery then took the name Green Man, found new ownership and moved to Buxton Avenue, becoming the first brewery in the now-busy South Slope brewing district.

Beer is no longer made at Jack of the Wood, but many of the pub’s original elements remain. It’s still a downtown hot spot, and founders Joan and Joe Eckert, who still own it, have maintained the original English and Irish vibe. The old-time mountain and Irish music jams continue, and the venue extends a welcoming feeling to regulars and newcomers alike.

The Eckerts moved to Asheville from Philadelphia in 1991 and opened a vegetarian lunch counter at the downtown YMCA. Two years later, they expanded the business into a full-service restaurant on Wall Street, and while Laughing Seed Café was an immediate hit, they wanted something more.

Back then, says Joe Eckert, “There were no neighborhood bars in Asheville.” He wanted to do something similar to the ones he’d known in Pennsylvania, but with an atmosphere reflecting his and his wife’s heritage. “We had English and Irish backgrounds,” he explains. “Joan worked in our local pub in Philly. That’s where we met.”

The connected building underneath Laughing Seed, which fronts on Patton Avenue, was available, and the couple set to work creating the pub. Although local philanthropist Julian Price had helped get Laughing Seed going, Joan Eckert says she and Joe used the restaurant’s profits to build Jack of the Wood. In those early days, City Bakery was located on one side of the Patton Avenue space, with the pub and brewery on the other: There was “yeast everywhere,” Joe Eckert recalls.

While the pub was under construction, Rembert came in and asked the Eckerts what they thought about brewing in the new space. Fresh out of brewing school, Rembert was eager for an opportunity in a downtown that at that point had exactly one — Highland Brewing Co., just under Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria on Biltmore Avenue.

“I thought it would be great, but I didn’t have the brewing resources,” Joe Eckert says. “So Jonas bought equipment and built the brewery back where the dart boards are now.” Rembert and Dahm owned and operated Benefit Brewing and sold beer to Jack of the Wood. After they departed, the Eckerts took over the brewing side, hired other brewers and named the business Green Man Brewery after the mythical character of English and Irish lore.

In search of more space, the Eckerts eventually moved the brewery to an industrial area just off Coxe Avenue and opened a small tasting room called Dirty Jack’s. “I came up with that name,” Joan Eckert says. “At first I thought it would be Dirty Joe’s but then settled on Dirty Jack’s.”

The pub business continued as usual at Jack of the Wood, but in 2010 the Eckerts sold Green Man to Dennis Thies, who still runs the brewery. “We just didn’t have the people to manage it,” Joe Eckert explains.

A number of celebrities have passed through Jack of the Wood and Laughing Seed over the years. Woody Harrelson, Sandra Bullock and Willem Dafoe all visited while shooting movies in the area, and actress Andie MacDowell, who lived in Asheville for many years, was known to occasionally visit Dirty Jack’s.

Although the Eckerts are no longer married, they still run the Laughing Seed and Jack of the Wood as a team. At least one of them is at one of the businesses most every day, maintaining what Joe Eckert calls “an ongoing passion.”


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.