Highland Brewing Company’s Cold Mountain Ale was always an enigma. I always seemed to miss the winter seasonal by the time it made its trek to Johnson City.
The culture surrounding the beer is the most interesting part about it to me. The brewery hosts a three-day special event, and the hype long precedes the beer’s annual release around mid-November. I got my first taste of the legendary brew last year, and didn’t realize until this year that the recipe changes with each year.
I am disappointed to report that the beer missed the mark for me this year.
Last year, I remember feeling for the first time like a beer embodied the holidays. I didn’t take notes since I wasn’t doing beer reviews, so I’m not sure what about the beer made me feel that way. But I definitely didn’t get that when I tasted this year’s batch at Atlantic Ale House on Thursday night.
I wondered if the reason that I loved the beer so much when I tried it last year was because of the hype surrounding its annual release. But, realizing my disappointment this year, I realize that isn’t true. The first few sips, I tried so hard to taste what I did last year, but all I got was a mess of spices that made the beer almost overwhelmingly bitter to me, especially at the end.
I had a hard time picking out any other tastes other than just ... bitterness. The dark, almost caramel, color is the same color I remember, and the texture is light. But the taste was just muffled to me, and I wish I had more to say about it. A friend suggested that heavy spices in the recipe this year could be the culprit.
I don’t have the most refined palate in the world, so don’t let my disappointment deter you from snatching a pint at one of the handful of bars, cafes and tap houses in the area that are offering the seasonal favorite this year. Since no batch is made the same way twice, this experience won’t keep me from getting excited about its release next year.