Brews News: Oscar Wong wins, The Thirsty Orange and Barley’s Angels

Oscar Wong wins NC’s small-business person of the year

Oscar Wong, president and founder of Highland Brewing Co., Asheville’s first legal brewery, is North Carolina’s Small-Business Person of the Year. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers the award to one person from each state annually.

“It’s an honor and a reflection of our being in the right time and the right place and the right community with a superb team,” Wong says.

Wong, with then-brewer John McDermott, opened Highland in 1994 in the basement of the Biltmore Avenue building where Barley’s Pizzeria & Taproom is now. Highland has since become the city’s largest beer producer, relocating in 2006 to the former Blue Ridge Motion Pictures headquarters (a much larger facility). And last year, current head brewer John Lyda and his team turned out more than 22,000 barrels of beer. Highland now employs 22 full-time employees and seven part-timers.

Wong will attend the National Small Business Week conference in Washington, D.C. in late May.

Highland was recently the featured brewery on, the national Brewers Association’s online magazine. Wong wrote about his philosophy of business and craft beer, saying, “The business of artisanal beers inspires me because it covers such a wide range of human accomplishment, societal needs and personal development.”


The Thirsty Orange: new beer fest

The next, closest beer fest to WNC will be held on April 14 in Johnson City, Tenn. The first Thirsty Orange Brew Extravaganza will take place outside of the town’s Mellow Mushroom. This is the first festival in the U.S. to partner with the Brewers Association’s Support Your Local Brewery campaign. Also, all of the proceeds will benefit Pints for Prostates.

The event will include a sampling of more than 40 craft beers from around the Southeast plus special brews and Cask Ales made only for the Brew Extravaganza, including special offerings from Foothills Brewing of Winston-Salem. The fest will also mark the first time that Pisgah Brewing, based in Black Mountain, will sample their beers outside of North Carolina.

“This is a chance for customers to taste local and southern beers that they might not be aware of, and hopefully that leads to greater support for the local breweries,” says Stephanie Carson, co-founder of the festival.

General Admission tickets are $30 and VIP tickets are $38. VIP ticket holders gain access to the festival at noon and also get to enjoy a special beer and artisan cheese tasting. General ticket holders may enter at 1 p.m. Tickets are available at

Barley’s Angels Southeastern Bound

The first meeting of the Southeast Regional Barley’s Angels chapter will also be held at The Thirsty Orange Brew Extravaganza in Johnson City, Tenn on April 14. This group is a leg of The Pink Boots Society, a national networking and education group supporting women working in the beer industry. Barley’s Angels is a growing collection of individual chapters around the world for female craft beer enthusiasts. The group focuses on education, and the new Southeast chapter will offer guided beer and food pairings, followed by presentations from women in the beer industry, according to Erica Nelson, one of the organizers who is head of quality control at Highland Brewing. “By starting this roaming regional chapter we are hoping to help get women (and men) all over the area excited about good beer,” Nelson says. Stay tuned for further details about meetings of this group.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.