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One tradition that pairs perfectly — Thanksgiving and the search for Cold Mountain Winter Ale

By Paul Viau | Nov 02, 2016
Photo by: Carol Viau AN OSCAR FOR COLD MOUNTAIN'S 20TH — Drink to Cold Mountain Winter Ale, which celebrates 20 years as Asheville's longest-running seasonal. Pictured is Highland's founder, Oscar Wong, with the 20th anniversary commemorative one-liter bottle for the brewery's iconic winter ale.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. A time to stop and reflect on all those things we are thankful for — friends, family, health, happiness, love, marriage — I could go on and on and on, for I have been truly blessed.

And one of those blessings in my life (shared wholeheartedly by my wife) over our years in Western North Carolina is Highland Brewing’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale.

I know many of you out there are saying/thinking, “Here comes another column on craft beer.”

Well, in my defense, we are coming up on the season when craft beer enthusiasts in North Carolina and beyond are almost singularly focused on one goal, one beer, one grand tradition — getting our hands on what is considered WNC’s quintessential winter ale.

Case in point, I recently participated (aka — ‘watched’) a veteran brewers’ collaboration between Highland Brewing and Frog Level Brewing for special release this coming Veterans Day.

While the mash tun was churning, guess what Clark Williams, owner and brewmaster of Frog Level, and I were talking about? No surprise here — We were mapping out a strategy to score a case of Cold Mountain.

This year Cold Mountain Winter Ale promises to be more highly sought after than ever — as Highland celebrates the 20th anniversary of Asheville’s longest-running seasonal.

Did you know? Cold Mountain was initially crafted as a Highland’s ‘Holiday Ale’ in 1996, in an effort to “spice things up a bit,” by stepping outside Highland’s core line-up of beers.

The following year, the name was changed to Highland’s Winter Ale, to lengthen the seasonal availability. That same year, Asheville native, Charles Frazier published the much acclaimed novel, ‘Cold Mountain,’ which was an instant favorite of Highland’s founder, Oscar Wong.

And so, Cold Mountain (the novel) became the name of Highland’s winter seasonal — Cold Mountain Winter Ale.

This iconic beer was a tribute to the novel, its namesake mountain and the Highland Brewing tradition of naming beers after geological features of Western North Carolina.

The circle became complete when Charles Frazier, himself, became a visitor to the brewery.

Frazier is not alone. Cold Mountain Winter Ale is a fan-favorite to many ‘round these parts’ and the rush to get it will begin soon.

As many of you know, Cold Mountain Winter Ale is slightly different from one year to another. The spice profile — a well-kept company secret — is truly a team effort.

For the past 20 years, employees (almost all of them) gather at the brewery early on a Sunday morning — hungry and decaffeinated.

All are instructed, “Don’t drink coffee or eat breakfast before coming — If you brush your teeth, do it at least one hour before you arrive.”

Highland’s brewmaster, Hollie Stephenson, and Highland sensory scientist, Anna Sauls, don’t want anything interfering with the taste buds as the group is given samples of Cold Mountain with a variety of spice profiles.

Flavors are evaluated, discussed and ultimately — the profile of that year’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale is decided.

Long time WNC craft beer enthusiasts are quick to tell you which year was their favorite Cold Mountain Winter Ale. Highland’s marketing coordinator, Molly McQuillan (who has tasted them all) likes the 2010 vintage.

It’s all a matter of personal taste preference, but I must tell you — Highland has really risen to the occasion for the 20th Anniversary version of Cold Mountain Winter Ale.

How do I know? — I can’t tell you.

Suffice it to say, it pays to be in the right place at the right time.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary milestone, Highland is selling 1 liter (22-oz.) commemorative “bombers” of classic Cold Mountain, along with (drum roll) 1 liter bottles of a one-time Imperial version of Cold Mountain — with a little bit bolder, bigger flavor profile and 8 percent A.B.V.

Which is the perfect segue to the question that is no doubt now on your thirsty lips — How can I get my hands on 20th Anniversary Cold Mountain Winter Ale?

I can’t tell you my elaborate plan, but I can reveal that there is a twitter tracker for Cold Mountain Winter Ale that should start trending soon.

I can also tell you that the three-day introduction extravaganza for Cold Mountain starts at 4 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 10.

Cold Mountain will be served in the Highland tasting room, event center and rooftop beer garden. Imagine having a pint of Cold Mountain Winter Ale on Highland’s rooftop bar, with a view of the actual Cold Mountain in the distance.

Cold Mountain specialty casks (flavors are remaining secret) will be poured in the Highland meadow. Food trucks will be on-site and live music will add to the festivities. There is no admission charge.

The per person sales limit has not been announced as yet. Check the Highland website for information (www.highlandbrewing.com).

The allocation of Cold Mountain for sale will be divided between Thursday, Nov. 10, Friday, Nov. 11, and Saturday, Nov. 12, at the production side of the brewery. Thursday and Friday sales will start at 4 p.m. and Saturday sales begin at 2 p.m. Highland’s tasting room opens at noon Sunday, but there will be no packaged beer allotment for that day.

This is a popular event, so Highland expects some traffic and lines. Carpooling is encouraged. The brewery will have overflow parking, and starting at 5 p.m., shuttles will run regularly between the overflow parking area and the brewery. Parking attendants will be present to help with directions.

If you can’t find your way to Highland Brewing for the Nov. 10-12 Cold Mountain extravaganza, look for Cold Mountain Winter Ale arriving at retail outlets staring Nov. 14.

Carpe Diem, because allotments of this iconic ale will sell out quickly.

Wishing you all an early, Happy Thanksgiving — hopefully relaxing by the fireplace with a Cold Mountain Winter Ale in hand.