An impromptu tour of Highland Brewing Co.
I recently returned from a family road trip to the North Carolina mountains, but like any good beer traveler would do, I managed to fit in some brew-related stops along the way.
I most looked forward to the stops in Asheville, which recently retained its Beer City USA moniker. Because we traveled through the town both ways on the trip, I sketched out a few must-see-if-possibles. One was the Highland Brewing Co., the most widely distributed beer out of Asheville’s 10 breweries and the city’s first.
The visit was to be on our return trip, after driving the breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway south from Grandfather Mountain to Asheville, before continuing for our overnight stop in northern Georgia.
We drove into the parking lot at 4 p.m. sharp, just in time for the daily tour, only to discover a nearly empty parking lot and a sign informing us that there was no tour that day (It was Monday, July 5, technically a holiday). Though discouraged, I thought I might still visit Highland’s tasting room.
So I approached the entry door, which had a device on it that instructed visitors to press a green button, wait for a green light and enter. I did that. The brewery seemed rather dark and deserted, but I heard some music blaring from a stereo, so I wandered in the direction of the sound. A lone employee worked in a lighted area.
The brewery was officially closed! But the employee, Dave Byrn, turned out to be a most gracious and knowledgeable host. I, my wife and my daughter were treated to an impromptu tour of the brewery, and Dave served us a flight of Highland’s on-tap brew. He showed us the refrigerator room, stacked high with kegs, pallet racks of various types of hops and some wooden wine barrels, earmarked for a future brewing project.
While pouring samples for my wife and me, Dave told us of how Highland started in the basement of Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria in downtown Asheville in 1994 until it grew too large for the limited space. Eventually, the brewery landed in its present home in the old Blue Ridge Motion Pictures in East Asheville. Highland now produced more than 16,000 barrels a year; this year, the number should be around 18,000.
Dave also showed us the brewery’s new, nearly finished tasting room adjacent to the brewery. Within the 12,000-square foot space sits three metal shipping containers (the huge ones that oceangoing freighters transport – two are 20 feet long; the other is 40 feet) that are the new brewery offices. Glass walls in one corner surround a “pilot brewery” to brew smaller batches of specialty brews. Of course, the tasting room has a bar and plenty of area for customers to sit and for local musicians to play.
The tasting room is expected to be open with the next few months, said office manager Barb Cole. In the meantime, she said, a lot of customers are taking advantage of The Meadow, an outdoor area open on Fridays where folks can bring their families during the summer months.
Oh, and the beer
Dave kindly poured some samples of:
St. Terese’s Pale Ale: A crisp and refreshing pale ale that undergoes dry hopping for just a touch of bitterness (IBU: 24, ABV: 5.2%).
Gaelic Ale: The brewery’s flagship brand is a malty, amber American Ale with a hoppy undertone (IBU: 32, ABV: 5.8%).
Kashmir IPA: As it should, this IPA has a stronger hop presence than the others, and holds up to some of the best IPAs I’ve tasted. A blend of five different hops is used in this beer. (IBU: 60, ABV: 5.6%).
Oatmeal Porter: Black, malty with a hint of roasted chocolate flavor on the palate and a nicely balanced hops presence. My wife’s favorite. I was pretty fond of it, too. (IBU:32, ABV, 5.8%).
Black Mocha Stout: Yeah, the name describes it pretty well. Robust sweetness, coffee flavors, clean finish, and yummy. (IBU: 25, ABV: 5.3%).
To cement my respect for Dave’s knowledge of the Asheville beer and food scene even further, he recommended a nearby barbecue joint for dinner: Ruby’s BBQ Shack. The place had a very roadside honky-tonk vibe, but with a nice selection of craft beers alongside the macro offerings and a good Southern cooking menu. Upon Dave’s recommendation, we ordered the beef brisket, which was one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
For more information on the brewery or to schedule a tour, check out Highland’s website.
For more photos from the impromptu tour of Highland Brewing Co., go here.