Highland’s Wong Receives NC Governor’s Citizen’s Award for Service to State

Highland’s Founder, Oscar Wong was awarded the Order of The Long Leaf Pine on May 3rd 2023. It is the highest civilian honor granted by the governor of North Carolina to individuals who have shown extraordinary service to the state.

Wong founded Highland Brewing Company in 1994 and kicked off the craft beer movement in Asheville, NC. Today, the city claims the title of “Beer City USA” and ranks second after Portland, ME in the largest number of breweries per capita[1]. To complement this award, on May 16, a commemorative plaque honoring Wong and the birthplace of Asheville craft beer will be unveiled in downtown Asheville at Barley’s. The basement at 42 Biltmore Avenue housed Highland for over a decade.

“Oscar’s dedication and support of so many others who followed him in the craft beer industry has resulted in thousands of jobs and a new industry that has over a billion-dollar annual economic impact in Asheville!” said Dana Stonestreet, Executive Chairman of HomeTrust Bank and Chair of the Boy Scouts 2023 Citizen of The Year dinner honoring Wong where the award was presented.

In the 29 years since Wong founded Asheville’s first craft brewery, Highland has become the largest native brewery in North Carolina with distribution across the Southeast. Wong’s contribution has also received national recognition. In 2020, he became the 34th honoree to receive the Brewers Association’s Recognition Award for “individuals whose inspiration, enthusiasm and support have contributed to the craft brewing movement.”

Wong passed the leadership of the brewery to his daughter, Leah Wong Ashburn, in 2015. Ashburn now serves as Highland’s president/CEO and second-generation family owner.

“Dad’s charisma, wisdom, and genuine interest in people are inspiring. He has always valued doing more over saying more,” Ashburn said. “He and my mom share those values. For more than 55 years, she has been by his side. I love that we can do this together.”

The public dedication of the plaque was downtown on May 16th.  There were speeches from the Chamber of Commerce and proclamations by Asheville’s mayor and county commissioners naming May 16th as Oscar Wong Day. The ceremony ended with an unveiling of the plaque and a celebration at Barley’s with Highland beers.

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