Brewing with spices is a fine line. Too much, and you’ve created a cloying, syrupy mess. Too little, and well, what was even the point? This particular conundrum has confounded many a brewer of seasonal specialties, from fall pumpkin ales to winter warmers.
Well I’m here to tell you about one regional delight that hits the balance just right: Highland Brewing Company’s Cold Mountain. The longtime Asheville, North Carolina-based brewer has been offering its winter ale since 1996, and the fanfare only builds each year. The release captures the attention of drinkers throughout much of North Carolina and Tennessee, even spawning a helpful and aptly named Twitter account.
Once you track down a six-pack (or a few), crack a bottle and grab a glass to reveal a totally transparent amber-bodied beer with a complex aroma. The malt, yeast, and spices work together to bounce your nose from holiday rolls to pies and sweets and even a hint of after-dinner spirits.
My favorite aspect of Highland’s Cold Mountain is that the brewery switches up the spice blend each year, making each release unique while still feeling familiar enough to fall under the Cold Mountain name. 2020’s version is heavy on the nutmeg with a punch of dark fruit. Warm winter spices and a nutty roastiness from the malt bill round things out, with no note too forward. Highland chose quality of flavor over volume, and opted for subtle complexity where other brewers are more heavy-handed with spices.
It’s these choices that allow just the right amount of spice to shine and make Cold Mountain the winter warmer I look forward to most each year.