Many craft beer enthusiasts may agree that one of the best parts of their hobby is getting to explore a wide range of flavors and styles. Such is also true for the men and women who make local beer, including Trace Redmond of Highland Brewing Co.
As research and development brewer at Asheville’s oldest brewery, Redmond works on its 3.5-barrel pilot system, helping create the many small-batch beers found at the tasting room’s bar. Up to a dozen pilot and barrel-aged beers are on tap at any given time, letting Highland visitors try out some new concoctions.
Redmond took over from popular Highland brewer Hollie Stephenson, who left Asheville in 2017 to become head brewer at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House in Baltimore.
“I was very happy that she offered me a job and also welcomed me not only to Highland but the brewing community in Asheville,” Redmond says. “She’s really great at fostering and building relationships with suppliers and other brewers and keeping an open mind and exploring styles.”
Coming to Western North Carolina from Michigan, Redmond says he was well-versed in styles popular in the Midwest state, namely stouts and IPAs, but now gets to experiment with a range of brews in Asheville, which he feels has a more diverse beer scene than his former home.
Redmond started working on the pilot system after another brewer was injured and a collaboration with Urban Orchard Cider Co. had to be turned out quickly. Fortunately, by that point in his career, he’d already brewed on six different brewhouses, including the big Highland system. Redmond took to the pilot setup without additional instruction and has since brought in an increasing number of his colleagues to test recipes of their own.
“We do a Brewer’s Series where production brewers can come into the pilot room and try out something,” he says. “That’s fun, getting the whole team involved. We do beers where we are trying to execute a concept for distribution, and this is the workshop.”
He continues, “We try out new hops. We’ve been working with French Broad Chocolates a lot, exploring the idea of beer and chocolate, like chocolate stouts and chocolate IPAs. And then there are the crazy ideas — it might turn out terrible or it might be awesome. It’s that spirit of trial and error and exploration.”
Highland is brewing one or two new beers each week and is on pace to have produced 95 pilot beers for 2018. As for future releases, Redmond keeps an ever-growing notebook of beer styles he wants to explore.
“It’s great to engage the brew team to keep me fresh and to keep everybody fresh,” he says. “For me, this is a dream job. It’s a joy to experiment and do it every day.”