Explained: Asheville’s Cold Mountain obsession

A vintage capture of the original bottles before Highland's big 2018 rebrand. | Photo via Highland

As the pumpkins find their way into the compost bin and the holiday lights begin to display at The Biltmore and beyond, we Ashevillians know it’s also time for another important seasonal tradition: the release of Highland’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale.

Known as the first local beer to gain a cult following, this particular brew has whipped WNC residents — and beer fans across the East Coast — into a frenzy for the last 25 years. But why all the hype? 

Let’s take a look at the history, and how you can taste it for yourself.

Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain, left, with Highland founder Oscar Wong. | Photo via Highland

The origin story: First released in 1996, this holiday ale gets its name from Charles Frazier’s famous novel (later turned into a movie) and the natural landmark itself, which looms over Pisgah National Forest at 6,030 ft elevation. 

For the last two decades: A righteous party has accompanied the beer’s release, and over the years, the fanfare has grown to attract swarms of locals, as well as travelers from all over the country. According to Hospitality Director Nikki Mitchell, some folks even get engaged at the event

The modern day Cold Mountain. | Photo via Highland

The recipe: No version of this spiced winter ale is ever exactly the same, which certainly adds to the hype of each batch. With the added help of Highland’s brewmaster and “sensory scientist,” the flavor profile is evaluated, discussed, argued over, and eventually decided by employees. The process generally begins in April all the while, locals wonder how this year’s flavor will fare in comparison to other years.

This year’s release: From Thurs., Nov. 11-Mon., Nov. 15 there’s daily programs + drink opportunities at the original brewery, plus select events at the S&W Downtown Taproom. For sale, there’s the flagship brew, plus the Imperial, Coconut, and Super Spice blends.

Can’t make the events? Starting Nov. 15, Cold Mountain will also be available at select retailers. Track it down with this beer finder.  

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