I once called it the “Elf on the Shelf” of beers. Manic Tweets and Facebook updates always fly on the day that Asheville N.C.-based Highland Brewing Company’s legendary Cold Mountain Winter Ale graces the taps of area restaurants, pubs and store aisles. “Where are you seeing it? #coldmtn” “Hearing that the Ingles on Merrimon is already sold out!” “ColdMtn just spotted at the Chocolate Lounge! #winning”
Why, you may ask, does a seasonal beer like Cold Mountain create such a cult-like frenzy every late November in the hip mountain oasis of Asheville? Hundreds mob the brewery’s tasting room on the release date to see live bands and get a crack at the first batch of Cold Mountain; Picture hordes of festive imbibers rapidly scurrying outside to their cars with armloads of the rare 22-ounce bottles and cork-topped cobalt blue liters.
There’s a lot of hype around Cold Mountain because it’s just that damned good. Plus, it’s scarce. Cold Mountain takes four times longer to brew than any of Highland’s other products, which naturally limits its availability and gives it that artisan-handmade authenticity that people fall all over themselves to consume.
Starting as a meticulously brewed English-style brown ale, the gang at Highland then stirs in their own special blend of herbs and spices that often incorporates vanilla, hazelnut, cranberries, cinnamon, raspberry and God knows what else. Every year the recipe changes slightly delivering all sorts of new notes and nuances to the new season’s batch, and this year does not disappoint. The beer is creamy, lightly hopped, with just a hint of spice. It’s Christmas in a bottle.
Although Asheville’s original brewery now sells their delicious goodness in 10 states, it’s uncertain how much, if any, will leave the city due to the demand and the scarcity. Check your favorite local beer store if you’re in that 10-state golden zone. If you can’t find it, consider a road trip to Asheville to experience this year’s vanilla-rich batch of seasonal love. You might as well include a hike to the now famous literary and Hollywood- recognized peak while you’re in the hood. But be sure to pack along one of those cobalt blue liters to celebrate on the summit. You will thank me later.
City: Asheville, N.C.
Style: Festive and lightly hopped English-style brown ale
Availability: Now. Limited. Hurry. #winning