Tag Archives: Cold Mountain Winter Ale

Warm up with winter warmers

winter_warmerI like to tell my out-of-town friends that here in North Florida, we have two seasons summer and two weeks of winter. Most people laugh and think I am kidding when I say that, they truly do not believe we have anything resembling cold weather. But, because we do have winter weather, we can have a legitimate discussion of Winter Warmer beers.

The history of Winter Warmers leads us to two older brews; Wassail and Strong English Ales. While Wassail is slanted more towards holiday imbibing with its aromatic spices, Winter Warmers are geared to warm drinkers from the inside out by pushing the alcohol content to between 5.5 percent and eight percent.  Today, it is common for brewers to apply the name Winter Warmer to any dark, malt forward strong brew that may or may not contain spices or flavorings.

Something to keep in mind when drinking this style of beer is that colder is definitely not better. While this adage is true with many styles of beers, Winter Warmers tend to release their fullest flavors as they warm. The ideal serving temperature for these hearty brews is 45 degrees to 55 degrees.

Since we are coming to the end of the Winter Warmer season, if you want to try some of these luscious ales, you should brave the cold weather and seek them out now.  Some to look for include:

North Peak Brewing Company – Blitzen Festivus Ale

This beer pours a deep red color and produces an active and healthy head. It smells of dark fruits like cherries, raisins and plums. The first sip reveals a hoppy bitterness and perhaps a touch of spiciness lent to the brew by the addition of rye in the mash.

SweetWater Brewing Company – Festive Ale

SweetWater has been producing this winter favorite for several years now. As a matter of course, I usually purchase several 22-ounce bombers every year and cellar them to savor beside the next year’s iteration. Over time, this brew smooths out and becomes pure, silky decadence.  It pours a dark chestnut brown with a light brown, frothy head. The aroma is heavy with spices like cinnamon and mace and the flavor is malty with plenty of cinnamon that reminds one of a cinnamon roll.

Highland Brewing Company – Cold Mountain Winter Ale

One of the oldest Winter Ales on our list, Highland has been brewing this beer for 19 years. Each year they make subtle changes to the brew making it a favorite for cellaring. After pouring into a glass, the aroma hints at hazelnuts, vanilla, cinnamon and piney hops. Upon tasting, flavors of toffee, vanilla, dark fruits and spices are revealed.

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Posted by on December 21, 2016 in Beer


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Highland Brewing company releasing 2015 Cold Mountain Winter Ale

CMWA_litreWhen the trees are at their peak of autumn color and the air in North Carolina has taken on a distinctly cooler snap, Highland Brewing Company releases one of its most coveted brews, Cold Mountain Winter Ale. The seasonal release is a malty, spiced ale that is named for Cold Mountain in the Blue Ridge range. The release is accompanied by a festival bringing together lively music, food trucks and plenty of Cold Mountain on tap.

If the name Cold Mountain seems familiar aside from the brew carrying its name, it is because it shares its name with a best-selling novel by Charles Frazier and later a major motion picture. The novel, published in 1997, won the National Book award in its year of publication. The movie, starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renée Zellweger, won an Academy Award for Renée Zellweger’s performance as a supporting actress. Both the novel and the movie follow the story of a Civil War deserter’s journey home to his wife and home on Cold Mountain.

The beer is not named for the novel or the movie, rather it is named for the mountain itself as are many of Highland’s other beers. But, the historical contexts of both are, in a way fitting on a personal level for me. After going through a difficult divorce and enduring several years of depression I made a November journey to Asheville and the Cold Mountain release party with my girlfriend in 2013 and proposed to her in front of the entire event. And, this year, we will return to the event to celebrate one and half years of marriage and enjoy the pleasant company of our friends at Highland along with the wonderful beer they are releasing.

Highland Brewing Company was founded by Oscar Wong who, after retiring from a career as a successful civil/structural engineer, landed in Asheville in 1994. He started Highland Brewing “as a hobby” in the 3,500 square foot basement of Barley’s Taproom in downtown Asheville. Over time his brewing ambition grew and the brewery moved to its current location.

The Cold Mountain Release Party takes place on Thursday, November 12 with bottles of the brew going on sale at 4:00 p.m. Bottles of Cold Mountain will be sold in a variety of sizes ranging from a special one-liter, swing-top bottle, 22-ounce bombers and 12-ounce singles. Guests may purchase a limited number of each size bottle or choose to purchase a bundle that includes one, one-liter bottle, two bombers and one case of 12-ounce bottles for $50.

Guests at the release party will enjoy music from several bands and specialty kegs of Cold Mountain. They will also be treated to the opening of the brewery’s new event center. For full information about the release party and bottle pricing go to the event’s web page at:

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Posted by on November 6, 2015 in Beer Releases


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Love and Hops with Marc Wisdom: Highland Edition

Generally, when you see a grown man wearing a skirt a number of questions come to mind. You might wonder why, you might wonder if the loony bin had an escape, you might wonder where he got his shoes. But, over the next few weeks, you might also wonder whether northeast Florida is being invaded by the Scots. Because the skirt you are likely to see men wearing over the next few weeks aren’t skirts at all, but kilts. Yes, the Highland Games are coming at the end of February and kilts are the thing to wear. But, this year a new event has been added, the Scottish & Import Beer Festival. To be held at the Morocco Shrine Auditorium, Friday, January 28, the event will highlight Scottish brews and is sponsored by Highland Brewing Company of North Carolina.

The games are an annual event involving feats of strength and skill. But, tossing telephone poles and huge granite stones is thirsty work. The Scots, being the resourceful souls they are, worked that out thousands of years ago. They have a long tradition of brewing thirst-quenching beverages that handle that job admirably. In fact, the Scots have one of the most ancient brewing histories on the planet. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of ales having been brewed over 5,000 years ago in Scotland by the Celts. Later, breweries began to spring up in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Scottish brews were traditionally maltier than other beers and brewed with bittering herbs to flavor and preserve the beer. This led to a widespread belief that beers in Scotland used fewer hops than in England. Evidence shows, however, that Scottish brewers used hops as extensively as other brewers and imported them from around the world. Regardless, here in the United States, beer that is low in alcohol and hops is often called Scottish Ale.

By now, you are probably wondering if I am going to give you a few beer recommendations. Well, the answer is most definitely, yes. Here are just a few for you to look for.

• Belhaven Brewery was established in 1719 is known for its outstanding Scottish ale.
• Wellpark Brewery founded in 1740 produces Tennents Lager and Tennents Super.
• Traquair House Brewery operates out of a castle once occupied by Mary Queen of Scots and is known for its Traquair House Ale.

Oscar Wong knows a thing or two about Scottish Ales. As founder, owner, and chief cleanup guy, at the Highland Brewing Company, he has been brewing beer since a custodian in the engineering lab during grad school showed him how. Wong and several of his friends brewed beer until they graduated. Then, for 26 years he set brewing aside to work as an engineer and raise a family.

In 1994, after having sold his design firm, Wong met up with an award winning brewer in need of assistance to get a brewery off the ground.. With the encouragement of his wife he dove back into the world of brewing on a much larger scale. They decided on the brewery name as a nod to the original Scot-Irish settlers of the region.

Originally, the concept was to put together a small local brewery in the tradition of the small breweries that dot European communities. But, economy of scale and increasing demand quickly made it clear that production would have to be ramped up. At the end of 2010, Highland had sold over18,000 barrels of beer, which is roughly equivalent to 4.5 million pints of beer.

Highland adheres to classic brewing methods and follows the German purity laws for many of their beers, departing from them only recently in their Winter Ale. True to Scottish form, Highland’s beers tend to be maltier than most beers. This calls for more grain per batch.

They currently produce five regular styles of beer available year-round: Gaelic Ale, Oatmeal Porter, St. Terese’s Pale Ale, Kashmir IPA, and Black Mocha Stout. Highland also produces five seasonal beers which change from time to time. Currently they producing: Cold Mountain Winter Ale, Seven Sisters Abbey Style Ale, Little Spring Ale, Cattail Peak Wheat Beer, and Clawhammer Oktoberfest Lager.

As a relative new-comer to the Jacksonville market, Wong saw the Highland games as a logical choice for his company to sponsor for obvious reasons.

“The opportunity to have people taste our beers is what we wish,” Wong said. “Then they can make up their own minds on whether they will buy it in the future. The beer has to stand on its own.”

Other brewers who will be participating in the Scottish & Import Beer Festival include: Guinness, Newcastle, Sam Smith, and Belekus. Tickets are $10 in advance from the Highland games website (, $15 at the door, and $25 for VIP that grants you access to the venue an hour and a half before general admission ticket-holders.

So, break out your kilt, fire up the bagpipes, and head out to the Festival Friday night. While your there be sure to stop at the Highland Brewery booth and sample some of their brews. And for Pete’s sake, don’t ask what’s under the kilt.

Long live the brewers!


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Posted by on January 27, 2011 in Beer, Beer Styles, Beer Tasting, Imports


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