Sample craft brews on the Columbus Ale Trail, or explore coffee and cocktail trails.

With the rapid growth of the craft beer industry, it’s a challenge for even the most seasoned beer drinkers to keep up with the new breweries opening on a regular basis. Enter the Columbus Ale Trail.

Users journey down the Ale Trail by collecting a booklet at a participating brewery, The Ohio Taproom or an Experience Columbus visitor center. Then simply visit the featured breweries, order a pint and collect a stamp in the passport. There’s no need to rush through the passport; the goal is simply to help beer aficionados discover all of the breweries in the region.

“We founded the trail to support the local craft brewing community,” says Cheryl Harrison, editor of the blog Drink Up Columbus and one of the founders of the Ale Trail. “We were all working in the industry through our own businesses and, after coming across a few similar programs in other cities, we wanted to bring it to Columbus.”

Launched in 2015, the Ale Trail first featured 20 stops; more stops are added every year. Volume Four, which wraps up in the spring of 2019, features 40 stops, while Volume Five is projected to top 50. The trail is launched anew each May to coincide with Columbus Craft Beer Week. While it’s largely focused around Columbus, the stops also take participants north to Delaware, east to Buckeye Lake and south to Lancaster and Grove City.

In addition to Harrison, the Ale Trail is organized by Jim Ellison, owner of Columbus Brew Adventures; John Evans, owner of The Ohio Taproom in Grandview Heights; and Jared Friesner, owner of grooming products shop Cliff Original.

In addition to the reward of a pint of beer—and maybe the discovery of a new favorite watering hole—Ale Trail adventurers earn prizes after completing four, 25 and the full number of stops.

One of the biggest successes of the trail has been exposing smaller breweries and taprooms to new audiences. “It’s been great for the breweries,” says Harrison, “especially smaller ones in suburban areas. Any time I’m in a brewery, I see people with the books in hand.” Sideswipe Brewing, for instance, sits in a light industrial park just south of I-70 on the west side. Even the most dedicated brew-seekers wouldn’t usually trek to that area on their own.

A good starting point for first-timers is Brewer’s Row, a collection of six breweries in the Short North, Italian Village and Downtown—all within a few blocks of COTA’s free CBUS circulator. Guests can experience hoppy brews at Seventh Son Brewing Co., pale ales at North High Brewing, classic English styles at Barley’s Brewing Co., hazy IPAs at Hoof Hearted Brewing, red ales at Elevator Brewery & Draught Haus or stouts at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing.

In addition to the geographic diversity, the Ale Trail breweries vary widely in style. “They all have something different to offer,” Harrison says. “I think it’s cool we have so many different breweries focusing on sours or Belgians or New England IPAs.”

And the industry will continue to grow, connoisseurs predict. “We think we’ll definitely see a few more breweries,” Harrison says. “It was a pretty niche group who wanted to go to 20 breweries in a year with the first volume. There are a lot more people interested in the industry now. A lot of people don’t claim the prize—they just do it for the personal accomplishment.”

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Reprinted from Columbus Monthly City Guide 2019.