Highland Brewing Company is old enough to drink its own beer! Can you believe it’s been 21 years? It seems not so long ago that Highland was a wee little lad in a small mountain town, the only brewery in Asheville, NC. Things sure have changed.
Every region has its brewing pioneer, and Western North Carolina has Highland. They have done a lot to turn Asheville into Beer City USA. Until 2012, it was the largest brewery in North Carolina, and remains the largest native NC brewery. Newcomers from the West, Oskar Blues and Sierra Nevada, are bigger. Even New Belgium is building a new brewery in Asheville. Yet, those western breweries have been welcomed into the local beer family. The Asheville beer community is a tight knit group. They compete, but they also collaborate and support each other. And no one embodies that spirit more than Oscar Wong, whose mantra is “honesty, integrity and respect.”
Oscar, a retired Nuclear Engineer, founded Highland as a second career in the basement of Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria. After dumping a few batches, he brewed an Amber Ale that is now known as Gaelic Ale, still Highland’s biggest seller. Wong started the brewery with repurposed dairy equipment, but the current brewhouse can make 50,000 barrels a year, with room to grow.
To celebrate its 21st anniversary, Highland is throwing a birthday bash on Saturday, April 11 at the brewery & taproom. They’ll have a special birthday beer release and a Highland mascot look-alike contest. Ready your kilts & bagpipes! Stay tuned for more details about the party.
Highland is not resting on its laurels and has big plans for the next 21 years. Leah Wong Ashburn has succeeded her father as Highland’s president and has a lot of initiatives in the works. Highland’s sustainability efforts spurred them to install solar panels that can produce up to 324 kW, powering many of the breweries operations. They also capture rainwater and use it for greywater and irrigation. While part of the roof hosts the solar array, the rest will be a roof-top beer garden with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Highland is also installing a new bottling line what will operate at double the speed of its current line. More beer!
Highland recently hired a new Head Brewer, Hollie Stephenson, formerly of Stone Brewing. Check out the YouTube clip to hear her story in her own words.
Highland distributes throughout the Southeast. You can find their beers in Washington DC, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee. They’re also growing beyond the South, recently launching in Ohio. Those lucky Buckeyes.
Anytime of the year try their Gaelic Ale, Oatmeal Porter, St. Terese’s Pale Ale, Kashmir English-style IPA and Black Mocha Stout. Also, look for Highland’s seasonals: Cold Mountain Winter Ale, Devil’s Britches Red IPA, Little Hump Spring Ale, Razor Wit Belgian Wheat Summer Ale, Clawhammer Oktoberfest and Thunderstruck Coffee Porter. The year-round brews are great, but we look forward to the seasonals. I think having them only a few months a year makes them even more special. Can’t wait to try that sessionable IPA Hollie mentioned in the video!
We’re big Highland fans and enjoyed our visits to the brewery. They have a great team of people who care passionately about what they do. June and I had the chance to meet Oscar in Nashville as he was visiting town with Mark, Highland’s TN rep. Oscar was friendly and kind, a very cool dude. We’re happy for him and his team.
Happy birthday, Highland! Cheers!
Thanks to Anne-Fitten Glenn and her great book on Asheville’s brewing history for details of Highland’s early days. Get it on Amazon, Asheville Beer: An Intoxicating History of Mountain Brewing.
Thanks to Molly at Highland for info about the 21st birthday festivities and future plans. All photos courtesy of Highland Brewing.