Columbus Ale Trail – 2016-2017

Purpose: When the Columbus Ale Trail first launched in 2015, I was very excited to learn about it, and had every intention to get out and visit all of the participating breweries.  The months flew by, and before I knew it, the second edition of the Ale Trail had already been launched!  I was sitting at Staas, and Donald Staas was showing everyone the deck of cards and the new passport.  I decided then and there I was going to hit every stop this year.  I decided to document the experience here.  This is purely MY experience, and thus, subject to my own preferences, tastes, etc.

Scoring: I created a scale to compare and contrast the different craft breweries.  My scale is not overly scientific, but I think it helps create some separation between the different breweries.  My scale has 3 categories: beer, atmosphere, and service.  Each category is scored 0-3, and there is another point available if I know I would go back, so the maximum score is ten points.

The “Atmosphere” category… Good beer is great, but certainly not all.  Good beer needs to pair with good atmosphere.  Food can be a part of this.  If a brewery has fantastic food, that will be reflected in my rating in this category.  Seating, patio, and general vibe are also big for me in this category.  Also, my personal opinions come in to play as far as to what a craft brewery should be.  To me, it should be warm, authentic, and a place I want to linger and spend time.  I’m not looking for a singles hang-out or a dance club.  I’m looking for great tasting, local craft beer.  Parking is a plus.

For the “Beer” category, I consider the variety of the beer offered as well as the quality.  Essentially, I’m trying to answer the question, how good is the beer?  If one style was good, but the others were bad, that warrants a score of “1”.  Being “true to style” is also a big consideration for me.  If I’m tasting an IPA, I expect it to taste like an IPA.  If I’m tasting a stout, I expect it to taste like stout.  My beer tastes also “grew up” out west, where I’m from.  I grew up in Idaho, and in my college years at THE Idaho State University (insert snickers and jeers here) we had a steady selection of Pacific Northwest beers – which were positively exploding in the 90’s.  Thus, my beer tastes are very “west coast.”  The best example I can use to illustrate this is IPA.  I find East coast IPA’s to typically be just hoppy, and quite bitter… hops for hops’ sake.  I’m not a fan.  The west coast IPA’s are also really hoppy, typically piney, and/or citrusy, and also bitter, but smooth on the finish.  They’re complex, but unified, if that makes sense.  Typical east coast IPA to me is all over the place… hop explosion, bitterness everywhere, and a wide range of aftertastes.  (Try a New Belgium Rampant (west coast) next to a Sam Adams IPA (east coast)… you’ll see what I mean.)  I prefer the west coast version.    The west coast brewers have been doing the hoppy thing longer, and they should be ahead of the game.   That being said, there are some local brewers here who are quickly closing in, and I’ll call those out.

For “Service,” I don’t think my expectations are exceedingly high, though I am shocked at how rare quality service can be.  Basic expectations for me… please acknowledge me when I approach the bar.  I understand you might be busy, but at least give me a look that lets me know you see me.  Further, please KNOW your beer.  If you’re pouring, I’m going to expect you to be able to tell me all about each beer you offer.  If I ask, and you say something like, “I’m not much of a beer person…” or “well I haven’t tried that one” I feel compelled to rate the service lower.  And please do NOT sit there staring at your phone.  Engage me, talk to me, make me feel like you appreciate my business.  And please KNOW how to pour a beer… one of the reasons you’re getting all that foam is because you don’t know how to pour.  Please learn how.  And the glass should NEVER touch the end of that tap, nor should it EVER be submerged in my beer.  And the “cardinal sin?  If I hear you talking about your tips, or about how it’s so dead and you won’t make anything tonight, then ouchy.  This last, by the way, is absolutely killing a few places on the Trail right now.

And then a “+1” if I would go back.  This can be driven by stellar beer or food or location.  Maybe it’s one amazing beer that I just can’t get anywhere else.  If I’m confident I’ll be back, I award a +1.

Special Award

I also “awarded” each brewery a “special award” to recognize the effort.  Yes, everybody wins.  Even the breweries that weren’t my favorites had something to celebrate, and I wanted to call that out for each of them.  Every place on the Trail is somebody’s favorite – I have no doubt about that.

A final note on the purpose of this… The craft beer scene in central Ohio is absolutely blowing up right now.  New places are popping up, and there is an incredibly wide array of styles available.  What’s happening right here right now is what was happening around the Pacific Northwest in the 90’s.  It is special.  There will be long-lasting national and international brands that come out of this.  There will also be phenomenal breweries that brew some of the best beer ever made who will fail.  They might fail because they can’t run a business.  They might not be able to crack distribution.  They might just get tired.  But if you like craft beer, Columbus Ohio is one of the very best places you could be right now.  So if you’re here, get out and experience it.  It won’t last forever.  Big thanks to the creators of the Columbus Ale Trail and to all of the participating breweries for this adventure!

The links to the left have my admittedly very biased “reviews” of each stop on the Columbus Ale Trail, in the order I visited each of them… Again, everybody wins.  Prost!

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