May 25, 2019
The life of an American brewery feels like it exists on a scale like one of our pets. In the same way cat and dog years move at a factor faster than humans, the quick pace of the U.S. industry can make these businesses age rapidly in a variety of ways. If you’re not new, or at least keeping up with the latest styles and trends, life can come at you fast. So when a brewery starts hitting milestones — not just its first few anniversaries, but long-tenured ones — it’s kind of a big deal. That’s what brought me to Asheville, North Carolina recently, where one of the state’s largest and most important breweries hit its silver anniversary, marking 25 years in business. There’s a bunch of special history for Highland Brewing Company. It was the first brewery to open in Asheville’s city limits since Prohibition and third in the state. And if you want to get a good idea of how Highland came to be, check out my 2017 story on Good Beer Hunting. You’ll hear several references to it in this interview with founder Oscar Wong and family owner and president Leah Wong Ashburn. It’s not required reading to enjoy this conversation by any means, but you will get some fun, additional context. But let’s get back to this talk. When I sat down with Oscar and Leah, the goal was to look across Highland’s history. Past, present and future. There may be almost 7,500 breweries scattered across the country, but there aren’t a lot with the kind of longevity and point of view of business like this one. After building its success in Old World styles like an English-inspired Pale Ale and Porter, the last few years have been about rapid evolution. This is an old company in beer years, but that doesn’t mean the Highland team hasn’t learned some new tricks. So let’s hear it: how does a brewery last and change over a quarter-century? This is Oscar Wong and Leah Wong Ashburn of Highland Brewing. Listen in.