Highland Brewing – what started as one man’s hobby has caught the attention of craft beer lovers around the world
When Oscar Wong started Highland Brewing in the basement of Asheville landmark Barley’s Taproom, he could only dream about what was to come. Now, more than 25 years later, Highland Brewing is the oldest, most successful craft brewery in the Asheville area.
Wong has earned the nickname of “the godfather” of craft beer in western North Carolina. He began his foray into brewing as a hobby, filling the first kegs of Highland Beer in 1994, to the delight of the Asheville community.
Growing from one keg to a 50-barrel brewhouse
Back then, Highland could produce about 6,500 barrels of beer each year. Today, they brew nearly ten times that — with plenty of room to expand. They brew five days a week, four times each day in their 50-barrel brewhouse. With 27 fermenters and seven tanks, the brewery cranks out 320 bottles per minute (or 800 cases per hour).
Asheville is known as “Beer City, USA,” with more than 30 craft breweries in the immediate area and more than 60 more in surrounding cities. And adding a jewel to that crown, Highland Brewing was voted the No. 1 brewery in the South by Southern Living readers.
Wong couldn’t be happier about Highland’s role in Asheville’s craft beer culture, saying, “The initial thought was that Asheville might support two to three local hometown breweries, and within one-an-a-half years of Highland starting there were three craft breweries.”
Holding onto tradition while embracing the future of brewing
As the oldest family-owned brewery in the southeast, Highland shines today as a beacon of entrepreneurial success. After Wong’s retirement, his daughter, Leah Wong Ashburn, assumed leadership of the organization.
While she seeks to preserve the history of Highland’s unique basement origin, she also recognizes the need to evolve.
“Highland’s track is a longer track than most area breweries. We’ve had a lot of conversations about how to keep evolving. The challenge is to be ‘new,’ and keep up with beer drinkers’ evolving tastes, but also, to be authentic,” says Ashburn.
Ashburn took a bold step forward and introduced a new logo and brand identity to the Highland community in 2018. In doing so, she embraced the changing landscape of craft brewing in Asheville while preserving the iconic feel of Highland’s roots.
She says, “We needed to have a fresher identity — to be more up-to-date and a forward-facing brewery. It was scary, yet exciting to do something bold. The new logo is clear and iconic. It stands out when you go to the grocery.”
Delivering more than great beer, Highland Brewing is a sought-after gathering place
Highland Brewery attracts beer connoisseurs from all over the globe for its classic and seasonal brews and its ever-changing twists on iconic favorites. With a rooftop bar that seats more than 300 and an events center that can accommodate groups of up to 700 people, it’s a popular destination for weddings, corporate events, and reunions.
As the brewery continues to grow and modernize, one thing is sure: the Wong family will center their love of the Asheville community in everything they do.
As Wong puts it, “We are proud of Asheville — and we want Asheville to be proud of us.”