Blazing the Trails for Delicious Ales

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Brewery passports encourage craft beer drinkers to explore Ohio breweries.

Drinking an excellent craft beer is often its own reward, but brewers in many Ohio communities have banded together to give beer enthusiasts another incentive to visit craft breweries.

Brewery passport programs have taken off all over the Buckeye State in the past four years. If you’ve never done a brewery passport, here’s how it works: craft beer drinkers are encouraged to pick up a passport booklet at their favorite local brewery, then collect stamps as they enjoy the ales and lagers offered at participating locations. Once all the stamps have been collected, the passport booklet can be redeemed for a prize. Most passports give people one year to complete the program before it starts over again, usually with a new set of prizes.

The Columbus Ale Trail was the first brewery passport to emerge in Ohio back in 2015. The original 20-stop passport booklet – created by Experience Columbus and several prominent local craft beer boosters – has more than doubled in size 4 years later, now including 46 brewery locations across Central Ohio. Nearly 2,500 people completed Volume 3 of the Columbus Ale Trail and organizers expect an even higher number to finish Volume 4 before the May 1, 2019 deadline, earning a commemorative tasting glass, key chain and pennant along the way.

In 2017, after the success of the Columbus Ale Trail, the Akron/Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau launched the Summit Brew Path, which included 14 brewery stops in the vicinity. The passport was a smash hit – nearly 20,000 passports were printed and over 2,600 people completed the trail – and was brought back for 2018 with 18 participating breweries and a limited edition 32-ounce glass growler as the prize for passport finishers.

Since last year, brewery passport programs have popped up in cities like Cincinnati and Dayton as well as in more sparsely populated areas like Fairfield County (southeast of Columbus) and in eastern Ohio where the State Line Brewers Guild operates a passport program that includes 14 breweries, seven on each side of the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. It’s not a surprise that breweries around the state are working together on these joint marketing programs: the craft beer industry is famously cooperative and collaborative, frequently spawning innovative new brews and fostering growth in local communities.

The newest brewery passport program is the Cleveland Brewery Passport, a project promoted by Destination Cleveland, the city’s tourism bureau. The booklet, released on July 2, 2018, includes 30 breweries, mostly within the Cleveland city limits but including locations spanning from Avon in the west to Willoughby in the east. Prizes include a bottle opener for visiting eight breweries and a baseball cap for completing the passport.

Perhaps the most ambitious and challenging passport program is Ohio On Tap,  the statewide brewery passport created by the Ohio Craft Brewers Association (OCBA). Because of the sheer number of breweries that participate – 180 at the time of this writing – Ohio On Tap eschews the booklet format in favor of a free mobile app for iPhone and Android devices, which allows OCBA to add breweries as they open or when they become OCBA members. Ohio On Tap users collect virtual stamps through the app and can redeem them for prizes from OCBA’s online merchandise catalog. The app was downloaded over 17,000 times since its launch in May of 2017 and 18 committed craft beer enthusiasts have completed the passport to date.

Whether you’re looking for a summer adventure or just a good reason to check out some new watering holes, a brewery passport is a great way to get rewarded for enjoying the world-class beers being made here in Ohio.

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