What started out as just a hobby for Oscar Wong in 1994, has turned into one of the Southeast’s leading native craft breweries. Highland Brewing Company was the first of its kind in Asheville and now the legacy of the brand is being handed down from father to daughter in what some call North Carolina’s royal family of beer.
Highland Brewing Company was the first legal brewing company in Asheville, North Carolina since prohibition. Aside from being a premiere modern brewery, HIghland’s success story goes even deeper.
“I had the opportunity to get into the brewing business,” said Highland Brewing founder Oscar Wong. People call him “godfather beer,” but this status came from humble beginnings.
Wong originally came to America from Jamaica, and started out making beer on his own. “I got going and treated it as a hobby for many years, not making any money, and it took about eight years to break even. As now, and then quality and consistency were key.”
Today, Wong’s daughter Leah Ashburn is president of the company.
“There’s a lot of beer in the market and I think that dad’s sort of American dream story of coming from Jamaica and getting an education here and starting two businesses and it going second generation to a female, I mean thats so American, that can’t happen anywhere else,” said Ashburn.
Working together in the family business is a meaningful experience for Wong and Ashburn.
“Working with dad is really special to me. You know, I’ve been his kid, but working as peers, as adults is a completely different experience,” Ashburn said. “You know dad and I talked many times a year for so many years about how I was feeling about highland.”
Wong added, “The trick was how do I talk her into [the president position], without pushing.”
Wong still comes to work every day. “I’m here every day, because I enjoy being here,” Wong said. “When you consider that I’m older than all of the parents of our staff, it’s like having a whole bunch of kids, this whole business is really for young people. I enjoy hanging around them because I see a vitality, a modernism.”
And Ashburn wouldn’t have it any way other than working with her dad. “I appreciate the trust that he’s put in me, but I also appreciate his input and I still want that, so I’m so glad that he’s still here every day. I will not let him retire, not that he would anyway. But it’s been a special time; not many people get to experience this.”
The North Carolina Craft Brewer’s Guild recently recognized Wong with it’s Life Time Achievement award for his pioneering work with craft brewing in the region. And, Highland‘s seasonal ale Cold Mountain is now released for it’s annual holiday time tradition.