Carolina Beer Guy: Highland’s head brewer leaves Asheville for Guinness’ Maryland brewery

IRISH EYES SMILING IN BALTIMORE COUNTY: Hollie Stephenson is leaving Highland Brewing to become head brewer at the new U.S. Guinness brewery in Maryland.
IRISH EYES SMILING IN BALTIMORE COUNTY: Hollie Stephenson is leaving Highland Brewing to become head brewer at the new U.S. Guinness brewery in Maryland. Photo courtesy of Highland Brewing Co.

Highland Brewing Co. head brewer Hollie Stephenson is leaving the company this week to take a major role with Guinness at its new U.S brewery in Maryland.

Stephenson, who has been at Highland since early 2015, will be head brewer at the Guinness U.S. site in Baltimore County — a $50 million version of its Dublin, Ireland, brewery. She will be working with Peter Wiens, who was recently named Maryland brewmaster, and the team of brewers at the Guinness St. James’s Gate brewery in Dublin.

The Maryland brewery will make Guinness Blonde American Lager, among other beers, but Stephenson says it will not brew the company’s famous stout, which will continue to be produced in Ireland. Formerly of San Diego’s famed Stone Brewing Co., Stephenson says she’s excited to join the Guinness team and be part of the iconic brewery’s storied history but notes it is bittersweet leaving Highland, where she has built up the company’s brand to include many new beers.

“I’ll be leaving behind incredible co-workers and friends, an amazing beer portfolio that we have built together, and a family that I love dearly — [Highland founder] Oscar [Wong]  and [president] Leah [Wong Ashburn],” Stephenson says. “I feel privileged to have worked for the pioneers of craft [beer] in North Carolina. So, yeah, this decision was not without weight. Also, I love Asheville and all that this city’s beer scene and beautiful surrounding landscape has to offer. All will be sorely missed.”

Stephenson will not be immediately replaced, though the company will begin a search for a new head brewer “in the next couple of months,” says Wong, who opened Highland as Asheville’s first craft brewery in 1994. He adds that Highland’s team of employees is well-trained and prepared to keep the company going.

“She leaves behind a strong team. We are not in a rushed situation,” says Wong, who credits Stephenson with “bringing us into the modern era of beer styles” with such products as Mandarina IPA, Daycation IPA and Highland Pilsner. Her departure will not impact this year’s release of Highland’s wildly popular Cold Mountain Winter Ale, which Wong says will be rolled out in early November.

Stephenson’s last day at Highland is Friday, Aug. 18, the same date as the release of the brewery’s new Radical Departure IPA, a New England-style IPA, which be sold on-site only in cans.

Stephenson is only the third lead brewer in Highland’s history, following founding brewer John McDermott and longtime brewmaster John Lyda, who worked there from 1994 until February 2016.

Follow Tony Kiss on Facebook at Carolina Beer Guy and on Twitter at BeerGuyTK.

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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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2 thoughts on “Carolina Beer Guy: Highland’s head brewer leaves Asheville for Guinness’ Maryland brewery

  1. John Connor

    That’s sad for us but happy for Hollie. Highland has been churning out some great beers in the past 2 years I hope they will keep up the creativity. I wonder what motivated the move?

  2. Tony Kiss

    Guinness contacted her about the job.. Hard to turn down a jump like that!

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