Beer Scout: Highland Brewing Co. debuts Warrior series

THE BREW CREW: From left, Drew Ashdown, Dirk Hillegas, Dave Stroman, Hollie Stephenson and Kevin Kellar take a break from brewing beer. Stephenson's double IPA is rated at 10% ABV with strong citrus notes. Photo by Pat Barcas

Quality and consistency. According to Highland Brewing Co. vice president Leah Wong Ashburn — and really, according to most anyone you talk to who is familiar with Highland’s beer — those two words sum up the company’s offerings. If you pick up a Gaelic Ale or a Black Mocha Stout, you know exactly what to expect.

But starting this month, Ashburn is hoping a new word might come to mind when you think of Highland’s beer: creativity.

“We want to let people know what we’re capable of,” says Ashburn. “We’ve had creative beers [from the pilot brewery] in our tasting room for a while now, but with [new head brewer] Hollie Stephenson on board as well as some other key new hires, this felt like the perfect time to expand the definition of what Highland beer is.”

To that end, Highland’s new Warrior series will take the spirit of the Highland pilot brewery to a wider audience with creative offerings in four-packs and kegs throughout the Highland territory. It will showcase beers with big aroma and flavor — and often they’ll be a bit bigger in ABV as well.

Why Warrior? “Scottish history is rife with warriors,” says Ashburn. “We wanted to stick to our brand and call on the history of the Scots, but still get across the nature of what we’re doing.”

Ashburn says the series will give both Highland faithfuls and those who don’t often buy Highland beer something fun to try. “There are a lot of adventurous craft beer drinkers out there, but, even take me as an example — it’s not like I’ll ever stop drinking Gaelic, but I like trying new things,” says Ashburn.

The first offering in the series is King MacAlpin, an imperial IPA. “It’s a big [10 percent ABV] IPA double dry-hopped with Centennial and Amarillo,” says Stephenson. “Basically, it’s the type of IPA [I enjoyed] when I lived in San Diego, and it’s a version of the style you don’t really see in Asheville.” King MacAlpin will debut Friday, July 17, with a taproom party at the brewery.

Future beers in the series are still under development, but Stephenson says to expect four-to-six Warrior series beers per year. She also says it’s not too early to get excited about the next release; it’s still being tweaked, but the concept is a brownie-flavored dark ale.

Look for the Warrior series on draft at the brewery and beer-focused bars that serve Highland starting in mid-July. Four-packs will be available at craft beer retailers and select grocery stores.

Other Highland Happenings

July is a busy month for the brewery, with three big events in addition to the Warrior series release.

On Friday, July 3, the brewery hosts its Island 2 Highland reggae festival night. Music starts at 6 p.m., with TreeHouse! followed by Chalwa at 7:15 p.m., and Mystic Vibrations at 8:30 p.m. There’s no cost to attend, although Highland is encouraging guests to bring their own lawn chairs and leave their pets at home. In addition to beer and wine, food trucks will be on-site.

On Saturday, July 11, starting at 8 p.m., the brewery will host its annual Night Flight race. Last year was the first year for Night Flight, but you wouldn’t know it by the numbers. More than 600 people ran the unique course that winds through the Beverly Hills neighborhood and Azalea Park recreation area, and Highland raised more than $13,000 for Asheville greenways.

This year, the course will be similar, and the race will again be followed by an after-party at the brewery. The $43 registration fee for the race will include a pint at the taproom and a commemorative T-shirt, and proceeds will again go to the Asheville Parks and Greenways Foundation. Regular registration is closed, but late registration continues through Thursday, July 9. Visit www.imathlete.com to sign up.

To end July with a bang, the Ale Share festival returns to Highland on Saturday, July 25, from 1-6 p.m. The event, which was created to help fill the local entertainment void on Bele Chere weekend, features a variety of Western North Carolina breweries serving flagship beers, seasonals and one-off specialty beers. Tickets are $35 for general admission and $50 for VIP, with all proceeds going to the Asheville Parks and Greenways Foundation. Visit the brewery’s website for additional information or www.etix.com for tickets.

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About Thom O'Hearn
Thom O’Hearn is a writer, book editor and homebrewer. Twitter: @thomohearn

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