Welcome to this week’s installment of Know your Brewer. We had the privilege of interviewing Highland Brewing’s Brewmaster Hollie Stephenson. Highland Brewing is one of the most popular breweries in North Carolina and produce awesome craft beers such as the Gaelic Ale, the Black Mocha Stout and it’s seasonal Cold Mountain Winter Ale. On March 3rd, Highland Brewing will release their newest year-round craft beer Daycation IPA at their taproom and brewery in Asheville, North Carolina. Read with us as we catch a glimpse behind the process of Brewmaster Hollie Stephenson and learn more about the brewer behind your favorite North Carolina craft beer.
North Craftolina: Tell us a little bit about how you got started in the craft beer industry and how you got to where you are now?
Hollie Stephenson: I worked in government relations in DC for about 6 years before I made the career change to craft brewing. I got a certificate in brewing from Brewlab in Sunderland, England and then worked my way through the ranks at Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego, CA before moving to Asheville to work for Highland Brewing Co.
NC: You’ve been in Asheville now for two years, how’s life treating you in the Carolinas?
HS: I love Asheville. It has just about everything I could want outside of a big city. It is some of the most beautiful landscape in the world, and everything is very accessible. Also, living in another craft beer mecca is great. I’m enjoying my new home.
NC: One of your most recent popular beers is the Black Watch Double Chocolate Milk Stout, can you tell us the inspiration behind that beer?
HS: Black Watch actually came out of our pilot room. One of our bartenders, Jay Unger, brewed it with our pilot brewers and it was a taproom favorite, so we scaled it up for production. I really enjoy milk stouts, and being able to use chocolate from French Broad Chocolates, here in Asheville, was an awesome opportunity to promote Local.
NC: What is your favorite thing about being a brewer?
HS: There are a couple sides to this question. On the front end of things, I love the challenge and process of researching and developing new recipes. However, seeing the final product come to fruition, making something that you love to drink, and seeing others enjoy it is a really great feeling.
NC: Any special plans in the future of Highland Brewing or Hollie Stephenson?
HS: This industry is always changing, and the same goes for Highland. We are constantly working on new concepts for releases for both this year and next year. We are releasing another new year-round beer this year (Daycation IPA, releasing March 3rd at the brewery). Also, we’re working on some exciting small batch releases for 2017 and 2018.
NC: In your time as Brew Master at Highland, what differences have you seen between the craft beer industry in North Carolina compared to San Diego?
HS: There are so many differences between the beer scene in Asheville and the scene in San Diego. However, I think the most interesting difference is the culture that drives what we make and drink here. It has become clear to me that craft brew scenes (driven by brewers and consumers) are not all created in the same image. The scenes in San Diego and Asheville are organically different and that is a good thing. You can see regional differences all over…in Texas, and in New England too, for example. Regions and places are doing things differently to suit their own speed, to operate in their unique environments, to suit their own tastes, and to connect with their own local consumers. It is something awesome and diverse about this industry. You get a different “feel” for craft beer depending on where you are drinking it.
NC: What do you wish you knew when you started compared to what you know now?
HS: I have no regrets. I have found that in this job you are constantly learning and moving forward, so I couldn’t possibly have known what I was really getting into when I started.
NC: When you’re not busy brewing awesome beers, what do you do?
HS: When I’m not brewing beer, I am usually visiting other breweries and drinking it. Seriously, my hobby is also my job and it is awesome. But aside from beer, when the weather is good, I’m usually hiking with my dogs or floating on a river.
We would like to extend our thanks to Highland Brewing and to Brewmaster Hollie Stephenson for taking the time out from her busy schedule to answer our questions and share with us a little bit of the magic that goes into making every craft brew we enjoy.
Drink local, stay hoppy!