Beer Review 0074: Highland Cold Mountain Winter Ale

I decided to pick this for my Christmas Day review for a couple of reasons. This might be the ultimate holiday beer, in the fact that it is changed every single year and is designed to compliment all holiday festivities.

Brewed by Asheville, North Carolina’s Highland Brewing Company, this beer is a local drink for me. Still, that doesn’t make it any easier to find — this beer typically sells out quickly no matter where you locate it. I was able to get my hands on a couple of twelve packs this year, and although this beer changes yearly, this is the first time I’ve ever had it.

Cold Mountain is considered a Winter Warmer, which is a beer that has a big malt presence and is often spiced with nontypical ingredients. And indeed, according to the bottle, Cold Mountain is a “malt beverage with natural flavors added,” which include: hazelnut, raspberry, and cranberry extracts, vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks.

The pour produced an average but long lasting head of creamy texture. The color of the beer was a dark amber, which gave off a red shine when held in the light. Very festive. The body was clear, with no particles or sediment present, and the lacing was of a high excellent quality. Cold Mountain is a great looking beer.

The aromatics can be summed up in one word: bold. Right after the pour, I could smell the cinnamon from across the room. The brew is highly malted but not dominantly so to the nose; there’s a blast of caramel, and then a creamy vanilla. I also noticed a hint of grapefruit. The scent is very perfume-like, and it’s quite pleasant. I have never smelled a beer quite like this.

In the flavor department, the taste buds are greeted with an initial hop bitterness that opens up as you swirl your tongue around the creamy drink into an almost cream-soda like taste. It’s very vanilla and then caramel, and coupled with the nice velvet texture, you almost think you’ve got a cream soda, until the finish kicks in with a twangy bitterness.

Patience is rewarded with this beer. Honestly, I had to drink a couple of these (four, to be exact) to even really get a full understanding of exactly what was going on here. But now that I have, each one I have drank has rewarded me in all categories I rate in. The one real negative to Cold Mountain, at least the 2011 version, is that the finish is a bit too bitter, and I think that detracts from the very unique and unusual flavors this one has going on all throughout.

I think this beer is a must try, simply for how unique it is. I mean, cream soda from a beer? Come on!

Highland Cold Mountain Winter Ale, 92 points. Price: $19.99 US for a twelve pack. And good luck finding it. (Also available in 22 ounce bomber bottles.)

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