The tamales and tortillas are long gone from the old El Chapala restaurant on Merrimon Avenue, under the also closed Stein Mart department store. The latest business to occupy that space is unlike anything the Asheville beer community has seen before.
Rye Knot combines a craft brewery with a distillery and a restaurant. It’s the first local brewery to also make distilled beverages.
The co-owners are brewer/distiller Bob Byron and Jimi Rentz, longtime owner of Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria on Biltmore Avenue. Rentz was also the producer of the Brewgrass craft beer festival but is no longer actively involved in that annual event, which helped put Asheville on the national beer map.
Byron had the idea of combining a brewery and distillery and pulled Rentz into the project to use his considerable experience in the hospitality and entertainment industry.
“North Asheville needed something like this,” says Rentz, who lives about three blocks from the new business. He adds that Rye Knot will target local customers rather than the tourists who often frequent Barley’s.
It took about 18 months to get the old El Chapala transformed into Rye Knot. “It was in rough condition,” Rentz says. The new business opened in August with both indoor and patio seating. As the temperature drops in late fall and winter, heaters will keep the patio space comfortable.
The restaurant serves what Rentz calls “plated pub food” by chef Ben Dunbar. The menu includes such items as wings, sausages, salads, burgers, Brunswick stew, smoked meatloaf and house-made bologna.
Rye Knot has 14 beer taps with three or four reserved for house brews, including an IPA, oatmeal porter and stout. The first batches of rye and corn liquor are aging in barrels.
The venture marks Byron’s first job as a professional in the alcoholic beverage industry. He attended the Craft Beverage Institute at A-B Tech “to learn to be a better homebrewer and distiller” and says he’s using a three-barrel brewing system and a 135-gallon still. For now, his products will only be sold in house.
A former business partner proposed opening an Asheville restaurant with a distillery. That person dropped out of the project, and Rentz was asked to join.
Byron says his IPA is outselling every other beer he has on draft, including the guest brews, and that business overall has been solid.
“We fill up every day,” he says. “I think that we primarily serve the people of North Asheville. But we just had a couple in from Boston who found us on Google. We really haven’t had a marketing plan other than word-of-mouth and social media.”
Byron is an Asheville native who spent 24 years in the U.S. Navy, eventually deciding to return home. He says he’s been connecting with the local brewing community. “Many of my cohorts that I went to brewing school with are working for [local breweries], and some of the brewery owners have come by to offer help.”
Rye Knot is at 868 Merrimon Ave. Tasting room hours are 4-9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday and noon-9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Tuesday. For more details, visit ryeknotco.com.