By Carol Viau
It’s an entrepreneurial success story that Highland Brewing Company will celebrate its 22nd anniversary this year. In the world of craft breweries, that’s a long time.
Highland Brewing Company’s founder and owner Oscar Wong, said that craft beer movement has succeeded because “grabbing a beer is convivial.” It’s certainly more than that.
Through the leadership of Wong, brewmaster and vice president, John Lyda, and Wong’s daughter, president and family owner, Leah Wong Ashburn, Asheville’s first craft brewery has enjoyed a long run of success.
The brewery is known for its year-round beer line-up, including Gaelic Ale, St. Terese’s Pale Ale, Oatmeal Porter and Black Mocha Stout — plus popular seasonal brews, such as Cold Mountain Winter Ale (which was Asheville’s first seasonal winter ale) and Clawhammer Oktoberfest.
But Wong, Lyda and Ashburn, are not resting on their laurels. Ashburn and crew got the ball rolling with head brewer Hollie Stephenson to introduce 12 new year-round beers in 2016.
While Highland brews more than 50 different beers each year, counting production and small batch brews, it hasn’t focused on new additions to its year-round repertoire — until now.
Highland management gathered to figure out “what they wanted the company to look like, then tapped into its entrepreneurial roots,” said Jennifer McLucas, Highland’s marketing director.
The result is Highland’s 2016 introduction of 12 new year-round brews and seasonals. (See the information box for a listing of the new Highland year-round brews).
The new West Coast-style IPA was developed by head brewer Stephenson and released to a packed house at Highland on New Year’s Eve.
In addition, McLucas said Highland will begin canning two of its new brews in May, just in time to be easily portable for outdoor adventures in the summer — Highland Pilsner and Mandarina IPA.
The majority of Highland’s products will continue to be bottled said Molly McQuillan, Highland’s marketing coordinator.
McQuillan said Highland also is proud of its upcoming March 5 collaboration with Asheville Brewing to benefit the Pink Boots Society, when female brewers all over the world form teams and collaborate on a Gose-style beer. The International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day, which aims to raise the profile of women in the industry and aid education, is held each year around International Women’s Day, March 8.
Highland has a real story here, since women hold 40 percent of management positions at the company.
While the 2016 news is about the new brews, Highland has not forgotten its base. Ashburn feels sales of Gaelic Ale — the brewery’s “workhorse” — will continue to grow. And, Cold Mountain Winter Ale will have its 20th anniversary this year. McLucas said the brewery plans something “really special” to mark the anniversary.
Highland is putting the finishing touches on its events calendar for the year. McQuillan is looking forward to the Night Flight 4.5-miler July 9, which will end with a dance party at the brewery, well equipped with a large stage and disco ball.
Highland’s new 2,800 square-foot event center, with its “industrial chic” décor, has hosted events such as last November’s Cold Mountain Brunch.
Also in the works is a big addition to the event center — a rooftop area with a shipping container bar. The rooftop area boasts a 360-degree view of the area, Mt. Pisgah, and on a clear day, a view of Cold Mountain.
“The event center is a great space for weddings, business meetings, receptions and concerts,” McLucas said.
And what does the president of the company like to drink in the expanded Highland line?
“I’m a mood-based drinker,” said Ashburn. “If I had a beer right now, it would be the new Saw-Whet Saison.”
In the opinion of this writer, the Saw-Whet Saison is an excellent choice.
Highland Brewing is at 12 Old Charlotte Highway, Asheville. Tours are free and offered seven days a week. For more information, call (828) 299-3370 or visitwww.highlandbrewing.com.
* * * * * * * * * *
Highland Brewing Company’s 2016 additions to its portfolio:
Three year-round beers
• IPA (introduced in January) — hop-forward, West Coast IPA, with hints of tropical fruit and citrus from Pacific Northwest hops.
• Pilsner Blanc (May) — classic pilsner, but dry hopped with German Hallertau Blanc hops.
• Mandarina IPA (July) — lower-gravity IPA hop-bursted with five pounds of hops per barrel, for aromas of melon, strawberry and tangerine, over a malt body.
Three new seasonals
The seasonals are named after a land feature or species protected by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.
• Saw-Whet Saison (introduced Jan. 29) — named after a tiny owl found in the higher elevations of the Southern Appalachians.
• Early’s Hoppy Wheat (April) — named after Early’s Mountain, which frames Sandy Mush, an agricultural corridor.
• Lost Cove Kolsch (June) — crisp and refreshing German-style kolsch, and is named for a Prohibition-era hide-out-turned-ghost-town in the Nolichucky River Gorge.
Two Warrior Series beers
Bold and high gravity, the Warrior Series “pushes boundaries.”
• Tasgall II Scotch-style ale (release party Feb. 26) — an updated version of Highland’s vintage Scotch-style ale. Tasgall means ‘cauldron of the gods’ in Norse mythology.
• Rye India Pale Lager (May) — an IPL with Carolina rye.
Four Kinsman Project beers
This project explores infusions of year-round styles with all-natural ingredients.
• Black Mocha Stout (January) infused with vanilla beans, freshly ground cinnamon sticks, dried chipotle peppers and cacao nibs.
• St. Terese’s Pale Ale (April) infused with blackberries and raspberries.
• Highland IPA (July), infusion ingredients to be announced at a later date.
• Oatmeal Porter (September), infusion ingredients to be announced at a later date.