Highland Brewing Turns 21, Announces New Head Brewer and Future Plans

2015 marks an exciting time for Highland Brewing, Asheville's original craft brewery, as it celebrates its 21st year in business. Today, Highland Brewing’s new president, Leah Wong Ashburn, announced new initiatives for 2015 and her vision for the next 20 years.

“We want to be the brewery of choice in the southeast,” said Ashburn. “To us, being the brewery of choice isn’t defined by size. We want to grow deeper into the region by connecting with customers based on the quality and authenticity of our beer and brand.”

Continuing the tradition that her father and Highland Brewing founder, Oscar Wong, created, Ashburn’s vision includes a combination of great beer, community involvement, and a responsible culture that is sustainable for employees and the environment.

“To sell in limited states and remain relevant to consumers throughout the southeast, Highland has to be of a certain size and have certain resources. We have to be big enough to innovate,” said Ashburn.

Currently, Highland Brewing is in the middle of its biggest facility expansion to date, which will double the production area and create space for hosting large events. On sunny days, Highland is also running on solar power thanks to a new solar array partially covering their 180,000 square-foot building, which was installed last month.

So, what’s next?

New in 2015 for Highland Brewing:

  • New Head Brewer Hollie Stephenson: Hollie Stephenson joined Highland Brewing on January 12th, 2015. She previously worked at Stone Brewing where she began as an Assistant Brewer and rose to the role of Brewing Supervisor. She holds a certificate in Practical Brewing from Brewlab in Sunderland England, a Masters in Government from Johns Hopkins, and a Bachelors in Political Science from George Washington University. “What attracted me to Highland are our shared values of quality, integrity, and respect,” said Stephenson. “I’m excited to be part of the growing Southern craft beer scene and work with a brewery that has a rich history and a clear direction for the future.”

  • 21st Birthday Celebration: Highland Brewing turns 21 in April, which is coincidentally also North Carolina Beer Month. The birthday party is on Saturday, April 11, and will include a birthday beer release and Highland mascot look-alike contest.
  • Rooftop Beer Garden: With the help of a Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) grant, Highland will open a rooftop event space where guests can enjoy a pint while taking in the views of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s protected hillsides and Mount Pisgah.
  • Sustainability Initiatives: Infrastructure and planning are now underway to channel rainwater from the roof and use it for greywater, irrigation, and possibly additional power production.
  • New bottling line: Arriving in January, it will take months to assemble and run trials. The new line will be about twice as fast as the current line and with new automation features, it positions Highland for long-term growth.
  • New Beers: In partnership with the Asheville Symphony and its Asheville Amadeus week, Highland releases Wolfgang 1756 in March. It is a Vienna-style lager. In May, Highland will introduce a new seasonal beer, Lost Cove American Pale Ale, named after a legendary North Carolina ghost town on the Nolichucky River. In addition, over 60 new beers will come from the pilot room in limited quantities this year.


It Takes a Village To Build Beer City

“People will want to know where the brewing industry started in Asheville and Highland will always have that story to tell. We want the Asheville community to be proud of Highland as its first craft brewery,” said Ashburn.

While Highland was the first legal craft brewery in Asheville since Prohibition, it took a community of visionaries who set the stage for Highland to open here. Ashburn cites Highland friends and local leaders Lou Bissette, Bill Byrne, Karen Tessier, John Kram and “so many other legends” among the examples of people who developed Asheville into an inspired city with a vibrant food and beer scene.

“Then a brewing community emerged with the arrival of other early breweries like Asheville Brewing, French Broad, Green Man and the Wedge, and now we have national craft brewers here. They all contribute to the community spirit.”

Beyond the visionaries and breweries, Highland is thankful for support and partnership from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, Economic Development Coalition (EDC) for Asheville-Buncombe County, BB&T, and their distributor network. 

“We are fortunate in that our network is populated with skilled business leaders,” said Ashburn.


About Highland Brewing

Highland Brewing Company rolled out its first kegs in December 1994. Built almost entirely of retrofitted dairy equipment, the original brewery was in a basement in downtown Asheville.

The Highland brand is sold in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington D.C.

Their year-round brews include Gaelic Ale, Oatmeal Porter, Saint Terese’s Pale Ale, Kashmir English-style IPA, and Black Mocha Stout. Special brews are available on a seasonal basis and include Lost Cove American Pale, Clawhammer Oktoberfest, Cold Mountain Winter Ale, Thunderstruck Coffee Porter, Little Hump Pale Ale and Devil’s Britches Red IPA.

To learn more about Highland Brewing visit