Highland Brewing’s Compass Points in a New Direction

POINEERS IN ASHEVILLE – Pictured is Highland’s president, Leah Wong Ashburn, with an array of Highland’s new packaging and its new look. Ashburn was named a James Beard Foundation 2018 semifinalist for the Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirit Professional category/ Photo courtesy Highland Brewing.

Highland Brewing Company, Asheville’s first craft brewery since Prohibition, has a new look and a new direction. The brand’s iconic Scotsman and his tartan plaid have been retired, and in Scotty’s place, a new pioneer’s compass points the way.

The brewery has a refreshed its design in labeling, packaging, point-of-sale materials, marketing — and in the brewery’s tasting room.

“Highland Brewing Company now features imagery of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a bold and iconic pioneer’s compass and the messaging that Highland is Asheville’s first brewery,” said Molly McQuillan, Highland’s marketing manager.

“Scotty has done more than his fair share of work the last 24 years,” McQuillan said about the iconic Scotsman, who used to occupy the inner circle of Highland’s logo.

“This isn’t about being new,” McQuillan said. “This is intentional, well-thought-out and researched. We wanted the brand ID to reflect Highland’s evolution.”

Highland has been working on redefining its brand identity for a year. The leadership team began researching Highland’s image, getting feedback from distributors and consumers — and commissioned a Nielsen study to gauge how consumers viewed the old Highland logo. A total of 74 percent of the study’s respondents felt Highland labeling and/or packaging needed to be changed in some way to accurately reflect the brand.

The marketing team found that the Scottish theme was confusing consumers (“Does it only make Scottish beers?”).

Even Highland employees did not mention “Scottish” when describing the top three things Highland brings to mind, instead focusing on connection to Asheville and the mountains, community and family.

It was time for a change.

“We’ve been refreshing our brand through our beer for over two years,” said Highland Brewing President Leah Wong Ashburn, referring to the company’s many new beers and the introduction of cans in the market. “We lead with beer. But in doing that, we created a divide between our beer and our brand. It was time to close the divide.”

Highland focused on four concepts inherent in its business model: authenticity, pride in its Asheville home, consistently excellent beer and leadership.

“We are Asheville’s Pioneers in craft beer,” said Ashburn, who has been named a James Beard Foundation 2018 semifinalist for the Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirit Professional category.

Highland worked with Helms Workshop of Austin, Texas, for six months of extensive research and development to shape the new direction. The firm was chosen based on its experience in craft beer, ‘compatible design aesthetic,’ and previous work with heritage brands. Plus, designer Christian Helms has a personal connection to WNC, having spent every summer of his childhood in Black Mountain.

The result is a new look featuring “imagery of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a bold and iconic pioneer’s compass and the messaging that Highland is Asheville’s first brewery,” McQuillan said.

The new logo uses a stylized pioneer’s compass, to symbolize Highland’s place as the pathfinder that opened Asheville’s first craft brewery since Prohibition.

“The compass symbolizes Highland giving direction to the industry, and the logo features a new, iconic ‘H’ (for Highland),” McQuillan said.

The plaid is gone, and instead, packaging and labeling feature wave-upon-wave mountains, with contemporary color blocking, different for each beer style. The seasonal brews will have artistic custom patterns, reflecting the respective season and beer theme.

With Highland’s brand refresh, bottles and cans sport ‘badges’ stating that Highland is a pioneer in craft brewing and that the brewery is family-owned, attributes inherent in Highland’s identity.

Founded by retired engineer and entrepreneur Oscar Wong in 1994, Highland Brewing is the largest independent family-owned brewery “born in the Southeast.”

“Highland Brewing has been a pioneer in beer since my father, founded the company,” said Ashburn. “Over two decades, we led with beer, and in recent years, we developed our beer portfolio significantly with fresh new styles. The result was that our beer and our brand were sharing different messages. I love that we are now aligning the message.”

The Highland tasting room re-opened Feb. 23 with the unveiling of the new branding and visual identity. Visitors will find the ‘same feeling,’ but now, the interior shipping containers are painted with the color blocking patterns of the mountains (used in Highland’s packaging) — and the seating has been reconfigured to be ‘a little cozier,’ McQuillan said.

There are plenty of reasons to visit Highland Brewing to see the new look. Try one of the many small-batch brews, or enjoy the year-round brews, including Highland’s flagship Gaelic Ale. For a taste treat, come to the ‘experiential release party’ for Imperium, Russian Imperial Stout, March 2, complete with a burlesque show. And, mark calendars for the April 27 release of Highland’s new seasonal, Stargazer White Ale, brewed with grapefruit peel, ginger and coriander in a tasty layered, refreshing brew.

Highland Brewing Company is at 12 Old Charlotte Highway, in Asheville. For brewery tours and tasting room hours, call guest services (828) 299-3370 or visit www.highlandbrewing.com.

By Carol Viau