Welcome to my new column here at Mountain Xpress. Some of you know that I have been covering the Carolina beer scene since 1994, when Asheville’s first craft brewery, Highland Brewing Co., turned on its equipment at its original home in the basement of the Barley’s pizzeria building on Biltmore Avenue.
I was down there on that historic day when the first batch of Celtic Ale (since renamed Gaelic Ale) went in the tanks. A lot has sure happened since then.
Who would have figured that it would begin a journey that transformed Asheville into the nation’s East Coast beer capital?
Over the years that have followed, I’ve reported on each of the 23 other breweries that have opened in Asheville and Buncombe County, and the 60-plus around the Western North Carolina mountains, and the growing brew scene in Upstate South Carolina. Another wave of breweries is poised to open in coming months in Asheville and in the Greenville, S.C., area.
And we will keep the coverage coming here in Xpress, where I will now be part of the best beer reporting team in these parts. New beers, new styles, new breweries – we will be on top of it all.
Since Highland was the first big local beer story, I figured that it would be a good place to begin this column. It just released the wildly popular Cold Mountain Winter Ale, including a new, limited higher-alcohol imperial version, which was sold only at the brewery. The bottled Cold Mountain is going be tough to find in stores now, but the draft will be in good supply through the winter.
Highland, like many of Asheville’s original breweries, has been finding ways to shake up its product line. No brewery can get along with just a few classic beer styles anymore. Highland head brewer Hollie Stephenson has done a remarkable job of bringing new beers into the fold in 2016, including the Mandarina IPA, which became one of the company’s biggest-selling beers in 2016, and the crisp Pilsner, which sure cut the heat during the summer.
Now Highland is thinking ahead to 2017 and will release more new packaged beers to join its line. These new brews will all be bottled and will be showing up in both specialty brew stores and in groceries with better beer selections. You can also try them as they are released at the brewery.
Southern Sixer IPA, arriving in January, will feature six American hops bringing citrus notes and a touch of pine and green pepper notes. This new seasonal, 6 percent alcohol, is named for the group of six Appalachian Mountains that are over 6,000 feet in height.
Next is the new 4.9 IPA, due in February as a year-round brew. It is flavored with Mosaic, Centennial and Citra hops.
Imperium Russian Imperial Stout is the latest player in Highland’s Warrior brew series and will also arrive in February. This 8.5 percent brew will include Counter Culture coffee, hand-cut vanilla and toasted coconut.
Big Briar Tart Raspberry Ale will make an appearance in April, hopefully as spring weather arrives. It will be a seasonal selection.
These are just for starters. Highland will have more beer releases in the second half of 2017. And of course, there are always new small-batch beers on tap in the tasting room every weekend.
Follow Tony Kiss on Facebook at Carolina Beer Guy and on Twitter at BeerGuyTK and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.