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Crafting Columbus

The Ale Trail is a quenching introduction to the city’s brewing scene

By Terri Weeks

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My husband, Curtis, and I have done a lot of traveling together, but during the last two decades, nearly all of it has been with our kids. It was finally time for us to travel as a couple again. Since my husband does so much for me, I wanted to plan a getaway that he would truly enjoy.

I started researching some options, but when I found the Columbus Ale Trail, I stopped looking. Greater Columbus has 31 breweries; 19 of which are within city limits. A free passport allows visitors to keep track of which breweries they’ve visited by collecting stamps for each one with any purchase. Four stamps earns you a free souvenir pint glass. If you visit all 28 before May 2017, you can earn a free deck of Ale Trail playing cards. Curtis has had a growing enthusiasm for the craft brew scene and has even tried his hand at home brewing. When I told Curtis about my discovery, he grinned and said decisively, “I want to go on the Ale Trail.”

I’ve always been more of a wine drinker and wasn’t sure which types of beer I liked. I was hoping this trip would help me learn to appreciate craft beer so that I could share my husband’s interest—and I knew he’d love showing me the ropes. With the help of the Trip Builder, I quickly put together an itinerary.

First round

Before our brew-filled excursion, we decided to spend the early afternoon checking out a few Columbus neighborhoods to immerse ourselves in the area. We started with lunch at Lineage Brewing, a brewpub housed in a former car wash in the cute Clintonville neighborhood. We relaxed in the bright, modern space with roll-up doors that opened to the fresh air, and ate a delicious lunch while trying a sampler flight of all eight beers. My husband singled out the Hall Pass Abbey Single as his favorite, while I really liked the Foraged Rhuby Fruited Wheat Beer. Before we left, we made sure to request our Columbus Ale Trail Passports, along with our first stamp (four stamps got us a free pint glass; visiting all 28 Columbus breweries got us a deck of playing cards).

The industrial-style Land Grant Brewing Company welcomes thirsty visitors.
The industrial-style exterior of Land Grant Brewing Company welcomes thirsty visitors in Columbus, Ohio.
Wooden draft pulls await at Lineage Brewing.
A line of wooden draft pulls at Lineage Brewing in Columbus, Ohio.
The industrial-style exterior of Land Grant Brewing Company welcomes thirsty visitors in Columbus, Ohio.
The industrial-style Land Grant Brewing Company welcomes thirsty visitors.

Our next stop was Land Grant Brewing Company. Situated in the East Franklinton neighborhood, this brewery had more of an industrial vibe. Land Grant offers a huge selection—12 of their own brews on tap, plus several more “visiting” beers. Local food trucks provide the grub. Amazed by all of the beer choices, I allowed Curtis to choose a sampler of four beers for us to share. He selected Son of Mudder, Creamsikölsch, Glory and Mister Balloon Hands. Once again, my favorite was a wheat beer—Glory—while Curtis preferred Son of a Mudder Brown Ale. Second stamp: check!

Toast to tour

After that, we drove over to Smokehouse Brewing Company, the starting spot for our tour with Columbus Brew Adventures, which included four stops, some appetizers and plenty of beer samples. We were thrilled that our tour guide was Jim Ellison, one of the founders of Columbus Brew Adventures. Jim got our tour started, and then introduced Lenny Kolada, owner of Smokehouse Brewing, to speak to our tour group.

Lenny’s talk could be described as Craft Beer 101. He taught us about the history, science and art of brewing beer while serving us samples to help us understand how malt and hops affected the flavor. Curtis had already taught me that hops added bitterness to the beer, but I learned how brewers calculate the bitterness in International Bitterness Units (IBU).

Dive into house-sauce smoked and grilled wings at Smokehouse Brewing Co.
Dipping house-sauce smoked and grilled wings into a creamy buttermilk sauce at Smokehouse Brewing Co. in Columbus, Ohio.
Dipping house-sauce smoked and grilled wings into a creamy buttermilk sauce at Smokehouse Brewing Co. in Columbus, Ohio.
Dive into house-sauce smoked and grilled wings at Smokehouse Brewing Co.

Lenny easily held our attention for at least an hour and we took it all in. Most of what he taught was new to me and I wondered how much was new for my husband. When he finished, I looked at Curtis and asked, “Did you know all that?”

“Nope, I learned a lot, too! Fascinating stuff.”

The rest of the tour proved to be just as interesting for both the newbies and the veteran craft beer enthusiasts. We boarded the van and Jim drove us to the next stop.

The bar at Zauber Brewing Company is busy thanks to its German and Belgian-style brews.
A bartender keeps an eye on the busy crowd at the bar of Zauber Brewing Company in Columbus, Ohio.
A bartender keeps an eye on the busy crowd at the bar of Zauber Brewing Company in Columbus, Ohio.
The bar at Zauber Brewing Company is busy thanks to its German and Belgian-style brews.

Geoff Towne, owner of Zauber Brewing Company, introduced us to some of his interpretations of German and Belgian-style brews: Magnum, Vertigo and Berzerker. Curtis and I both discovered we were particularly fond of the Belgian style.

Jim told us that our next stop, Four String Brewing Company, originally started their operation with “Frankenbrewing”—brewing beer with pieced-together equipment originally used for other purposes (such as the dairy industry), before they built a full-size production facility. We had a great time sampling beer, chatting with the other tour participants and accumulating stamps in our passports.

The final stop on our Columbus Brew Adventures Tour was The Ohio Taproom, which features 20 rotating beers from more than 180 Ohio breweries.

Continuing the craft

Like new graduates ready to head off into the world, Curtis and I were ready to take our newly acquired knowledge back on the Columbus Ale Trail. We had chosen a hotel downtown so that we would be near the CBUS Circulator, a bus that provides free transportation around downtown Columbus. Five additional breweries on the Ale Trail are within a few blocks of the CBUS route and have been dubbed “Brewer’s Row.”

We hopped on the CBUS and rode it to the Convention Center stop, where we walked a short distance to Barley’s Brewing Company, one of the oldest microbreweries in Ohio. We took seats at the bar and ordered dinner and a flight of beer samples. This time we had a different perspective as we tasted each one.

Sample a flight at Barley Brewing Company and discover your new favorite craft beer.
A flight of six beers from Barley Brewing Company arranged in a circle in Columbus, Ohio.
A flight of six beers from Barley Brewing Company arranged in a circle in Columbus, Ohio.
Sample a flight at Barley Brewing Company and discover your new favorite craft beer.

We had a carefree night exploring the different breweries on Brewer’s Row and enjoying each other’s company. As we walked past the Palace Theater, we reminisced about a trip we’d taken to Columbus when our kids were little and a show we’d taken them to see there. As much as we enjoyed traveling with our kids, we were relishing traveling as a couple again and seeing the adult side of Columbus.

The next morning we slept in, completely relaxed after a fun day of exploring Columbus’s craft brew scene. Before we headed home though, we made a stop at the Experience Columbus Visitor’s Center. With more than the four required stamps in our Columbus Ale Trail Passport, we earned free Ale Trail pint glasses, the perfect souvenir to remember our special getaway over some pints.

Explore more of Columbus’ best craft breweries