by Julie Holt

When the family business is beer, passing the baton to the next generation means careful
attention to both the business and the product. Leah Wong, president of Highland Brewing Co.,
and her father Oscar, the brewery’s founder, disagreed about when it was time to turn over the
keys to the brewery.

“First he turned me down. Then I turned him down,” says Leah. It was 2011 when the two finally
agreed that the time was right.

Oscar’s influence is still evident at Highland, even as the brand evolves. According to Leah, her
parents always embraced a social atmosphere and welcomed new neighbors and friends into
the fold. Now Leah brings that inclusive sensibility to Highland’s culture. Her focus on a
collaborative effort in everything from beer to branding means she works closely with staff to
hone the company’s mission.

Highland’s recent rebranding is the result of Wong and her team carefully weighing input from
staff and customers. “Even our newer staff saw potential for our brand to better reflect our beer.”

The new logo reflects the very foundation of Highland’s past and their vision for the future.
Nestled in the lush mountains of western North Carolina, the brewery itself has become iconic in
Asheville, the Beer Mecca of the East. Their property attracts tourists of all kinds and is family
friendly. From the beautiful hilltop brewery to the rooftop bar, renovated tasting room and event
center, Highland is a destination in itself.

And did we mention the Meadow? The property features on open, tree-lined grassy field which
is host to live music and events, or just regular visitors seeking a quiet place to enjoy a delicious
brew and gorgeous mountain views.

Highland, founded in 1994, is the oldest brewery in Asheville. While they currently can their beer
and distribute to seven states, Wong says wider distribution is not their goal. With such an
incredible property and a booming beer tourism business, Highland has shifted the focus to on-
site sales, a change from their start, which was centered in distribution.

This direct-to- consumer emphasis is what drives the craft community, and that interaction
informs both the beer makers and the beer drinkers at Highland. Wong says she especially
loves introducing new craft beer drinkers to their specific gateway beer.

“I love speaking to women who drink red wine and introducing them to our Black Mocha Stout,”
she says. “The complex, layered character is a great intro to beer.”

Speaking of women drinking craft beer, how has Wong’s involvement in the business been
received? “I’ve had a great experience. Everyone I’ve worked with is open-minded, aware,
smart.”

When I asked how her experience has been different than a man in her position, she laughs,
“Well, I’ve never been a man, so I’m not sure.” It is this easy demeanor and her thorough
understanding of and passion for the product that transcend any preconceived expectations of
gender roles in the profession.

Despite the beauty of the venue, the new branding, even the inclusive environment, Leah Wong
assures me that the driving force for Highland Brewing Co. is simple and clear.
“We lead with beer,” she says. And the quality and flavor is proof.

You can find Highland beer across the state of Tennessee or visit their brewery in Asheville, NC.
Visit their website at highlandbrewing.com for more information.