Free this weekend? Grab a passport and follow a liquid trail.

A city the size of Columbus has no shortage of hidden gems, and sometimes residents and visitors alike need a little help discovering them. What better way than creating a trail for travelers to follow? Between culinary tour companies and visitors' bureaus large and small, Columbus features a collection of themed beverage trails to serve as easy introductions for eager imbibers.

Columbus Ale Trail

With each passing year, tackling the Columbus Ale Trail becomes an increasingly monumental task. The inaugural Ale Trail, launched in 2015, featured 20 stops, while the edition that wraps up this spring includes 37. It's easily the largest of Central Ohio's trails and will have you trekking all across Columbus, north to Delaware, east to Buckeye Lake and south to Lancaster. Much like the Columbus Coffee Trail, the Ale Trail employs a small booklet for collecting unique stamps from each of the breweries. After completing four, 11, 18, 25 and 32 stops, you can collect a tasting glass; complete all 37 and you earn a wooden flight tray to hold them (in addition to the admiration of your friends).

Columbus Coffee Trail

Seasoned java lovers and coffee newbies alike can use the Columbus Coffee Trail to explore Central Ohio's bean scene. Every participating coffee shop, as well as Experience Columbus visitor centers, hand out passports. Guests simply visit the participating shops, buy a coffee and get their passport stamped. The trail shifts and changes each year, as new coffee shops open while some take a break. Follow the trail and you'll explore everything from espresso at Luck Bros' Coffee House in Grandview to lattes Downtown at Brioso Roastery & Coffee Bar to coffee with pastries at Pistacia Vera. If you're not euphoric from all the caffeine—or even if you are—the reward for collecting four stamps is a free Coffee Trail T-shirt from Experience Columbus.

Celtic Cocktail Trail

Dublin fully embraces its Irish roots. (“Irish is an attitude” is its tagline.) To further celebrate, the Dublin Convention & Visitors Bureau has launched the Celtic Cocktail Trail, a collection of 11 local bars and restaurants serving Irish-themed (and often green-colored) cocktails. Adventurers are encouraged to grab a passport, order a drink and collect stamps. The libations are suited to each location, like the Liffey's Cooler with Jameson Irish Whiskey and fresh mint leaves at Vaso Rooftop Lounge; Leatherlip's Revenge with vodka, gin, rum, blue Curaçao, peach schnapps and Red Bull at Pins Mechanical Co.; or a pint of Buckeye Lake Brewery's Dublin Irish Red Ale at The Pint Room.

Gahanna's Herbal Cocktail Trail

Last year, Gahanna made the most of its title as Herb Capital of Ohio by assembling an Herbal Cocktail Trail featuring area restaurants and brewpubs. The inaugural year was so successful that the Gahanna Convention & Visitors Bureau is launching “Herbal Cocktail Trail 2.0” this spring with a new cocktail collection highlighting different herbs. The Herb Trail Trilogy cocktail at 101 Beer Kitchen, for example, features vodka, basil, pomegranate liqueur, lemon juice and strawberry-herb simple syrup topped off with Champagne. Meanwhile, Kindred Beer's Two Timing Tommy combines rosemary-infused Watershed gin, lavender simple syrup and lemon juice. Participants collect stamps along the trail and can redeem the completed passport booklet for a cocktail glass. New this year: Redeem a passport and you'll be entered into a drawing to win a Gahanna Getaway Package.

Columbus Craft Cocktail Tour

Book passage on the Columbus Craft Cocktail Tour and you'll be rewarded with a passport to some of the most creative libations in the city. The tours, which typically run Saturday evenings (with occasional Sundays), group together three stops within walking distance, like The Table, Service Bar and Two Truths in the Short North, or Blind Lady Tavern, Sidebar Columbus and Thurber's Bar Downtown. Each stop includes a cocktail and an interactive Q&A with the skilled mixologists who craft them. With 11 stops total, you can finish the rest of the tour at your own pace.


Nicholas Dekker's Perfect Trail

If I had to craft a trail of my favorite Columbus libations, it would look a little like this:

Stop 1: One Line Coffee for Kyoto-style cold brew. This clean and concentrated coffee is made over 12 hours.

Stop 2: Wolf's Ridge Brewing for Dire Wolf imperial stout. Brewer Chris Davison crafts a medium-bodied stout that balances dark fruit sweetness with bitter coffee and chocolate notes.

Stop 3: The Bottle Shop Bar & Market for Manhattans. From time to time, I'll ask bartenders to “surprise me” around parameters like, “I'm in the mood for bourbon.” The most fun I've had recently is letting owners Barbara Reynolds and German Vasquez craft a flight of three Manhattans using bourbon, rye and scotch.

Stop 4: Café Brioso for the Ohio Maple Latte. The rich latte gets a note of dark sweetness from Ohio maple syrup.

Stop 5: Service Bar for the Mind F*ck. Being partial to the Old-Fashioned, I enjoy Service Bar's recreation of it using OYO Barrel-Finished Honey Vanilla Bean vodka. The mind-bending addition of Amaro Averna, Byrrh and bitters makes it drink like a whiskey cocktail.

Stop 6: Seventh Son Brewing Co. for its Seventh Son American Strong Ale. The brewery's namesake beer is one of my favorite Columbus brews. It features a light, caramely center offset by a steady punch of hops.