Our final brewery visit in Asheville was on Tuesday, 2/25/14 to the first and longest standing brewery in the area, Highland Brewing Company. The brewery originally started in 1994 in the basement of Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria in the heart of Asheville and their first beer was the Gaelic Ale. For a few years, Highland was only sold on tap through kegs at Barley’s, but started gaining popularity fairly quickly. We got to speak with Asheville native and employee of Highland, Drew Stevenson, while we were there, and he informed us that downtown started to really get refurbished in the late 80s / early 90s just before Highland began brewing their first beer.
Highland has five year-round brews: a Gaelic Ale, an Oatmeal Porter, St. Terese’s Pale Ale, Kashmir English-Style IPA, and the Black Mocha Stout. Rather than having four seasonal offering like a lot of the other breweries we have visited, Highland has six which they brand under the tag ‘For Love of Beer & Mountains.’ All six of these seasonal brews are named after a feature of the Southern Appalachian landscape, and not only does each of the 12-pack boxes have an explanation of the area related to the beer, the Mountain Medley 12-packs also have a flyer inside that you can fill out in order to become a member of the oldest and most respected land trusts in the country – Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC). On the inside flaps of the boxes you will also find examples of plant and animal life that are being protected through the property related to that beer. There is a release party on a Friday for every seasonal beer and SAHC has a table set up so that people can find out more about who they are and what they do; $1 of every pint sale goes towards the organization and their continued efforts in protecting land and water quality. Highland also tries to have an educational component attached to each of the seasonal releases, where there is a free presentation that explains some kind of concept revolving around the area that the beer is named after. The next info-session is on March 7, where an employee from SAHC will come and give a presentation on the Highlands of Roan, where the longest stretch of grassy balds in the world is.
One of their seasonal beers is called Thunderstruck Coffee Porter. Although it is not named after the AC/DC song, and rather named after the Thunderstruck Ridge in the Plott Balsam mountain range which has one of the best views in the area, they still played that song during the release party. Another seasonal is known as Little Hump Spring Ale, which gets its name from Little Hump Mountain in the Highlands of Roan between North Carolina and Tennessee where the grassy balds are found. Devil’s Britches IPA is one more of their seasonals and it is termed after a trail at Cataloochee Ranch where a local rancher had once proclaimed “Lordy, that’s as red as the devil’s britches,” in reference to the fall colors at the time. The other three seasonal offerings are as follows: Razor Wit Belgian White Ale named after Razor Mountain in Barnardsville, NC, Clawhammer, which is the only lager they brew and is named after Clawhammer Mountain in nearby Pisgah National Forest, and Cold Mountain titled after the mountain with the same name. Drew stated that Cold Mountain is more of a ‘special release’ than a seasonal. Each year the recipe on that beer changes slightly – for example, one year it had a little more of a raspberry flavor, one year it was more vanilla, and this past year it was hoppier.
Oscar Wong is the Founder and Owner of Highland, and although his parents are Chinese, he was actually born in Jamaica in 1940. His love for homebrewing and beer was developed when he spent time as a student at Notre Dame. His motto is ‘Quality. Integrity. Respect.’ and he is always striving for Highland to be the best (rather than just the first) with a focus on consistency. His daughter, Leah Wong Ashburn, is now stepping in as a 2nd generation owner to lead Highland Brewing into the future. The brewery is having its 20th anniversary this year, which they will be celebrating with a party on April 19th. Also, throughout the year they will be releasing 20 beers for 20 years, 4 of which will be packaged in bombers and offered as special releases.
Night Flight will be a race to the brewery on July 12th and there will be many other events being held around Asheville throughout the year. There’s so much more that this brewery has to offer like hikes to the areas mentioned above, partnerships with multiple other charitable organizations, year-round canned food drives, and a goal to be 100% landfill free in the not-too-distant future. Huge thanks to Drew for giving us this detailed look into Highland!
Author: Michael Roberts