By SCOTT BAUGHMAN
If you’ve driven down the main drag in the village of Chimney Rock recently, you’ve probably noticed things are hopping at the newly christened Chimney Rock Brewing Company outpost.
The former Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery has had more than just a name change, though, as new owner Rick Spruill and his family are working hard to put their own stamp on a village institution.
“We moved to the area full time two years ago but we have been coming to Chimney Rock for more than 20 years as a family,” Spruill said. “I’m getting ready to retire so my family and I decided we should work together to take over this operation.”
When previous owners Merri and Marc Fretwell got the devastating news of Marc’s diagnosis with terminal brain cancer, the Fretwell family knew they needed to prioritize family time over all else. They sold the brewery in Chimney Rock along with a brewing facility in Mars Hill and Taproom to the Spruill family.
“It was a very emotional sale,” Spruill said. “But my family and I had been doing a boy’s weekend trip here for 16 of the last 20 years and we loved this brewery. We knew we had to keep it going for future generations. We bought the whole operation that includes the brewing part in Mars Hill. My brother Scott Spruill is from New Jersey but will be moving to Mars Hill and overseeing the brewing part. And our sister Susan Echarte is also a partner and advisor.”
The entire original staff of the brewery have also agreed to stay on and continue toward the future.
Spruill says it was the location and the beauty of the surrounding nature was what drew his family here at first – but it was also the beer.
“My brother and I are big into craft beer,” he said. “I’ve been to 192 different breweries for craft beer from here to Alaska.”
As such an aficionado, customers can bet that Spruill is going to make the menu one that keeps the focus on the suds.
“We use 85 percent of the beer brewed in Mars Hill. It’s a 75-year-old theater that was converted it into a tap room and venue as well. They supply us with all our beer,” he said.
And the focus is not on profits above all else.
“We are not in it to become millionaires and the exciting part is the future,” he said. “Craft beer is just better to me. It’s like comparing a filet to a burger. I mean, a burger is great sometimes but there’s no comparison to that filet. Plus, the flavors are more intense so you drink less and you savor it more. And there are so many more flavors and nuances.”
For Spruill the beer is the star, but having Chimney Rock Brewing Company feel like a local hang out is a huge part of the formula for success.
“I’m very social guy and I’ve been a customer here for so long that I look forward to interacting with customers and being social now that I’m the part owner,” he said.
The outside and the logo aren’t the only things changing at the spot either.
“We’re doing Taco Tuesday, we are going to do some ball game gatherings,” he said. “It isn’t a sports bar, but we want to have things showing on the TVs. We want tourists to go home and tell everyone how much they liked it to bring people back and we want to have the locals love us.”
The brewery’s outdoor deck is also getting some improvements.
“We intend to put a four tap head downstairs by the river so you don’t have to climb back upstairs to get another beer. We will also try to add some table service with a few young adults to wait tables and do some food outdoors.”
He also adds that locals should keep an eye out for an official announcement of a grand opening soon.