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(Ale) Trailblazing Across The Country: Part 2 - Six Above, Five Below

Track 7 Brewing from Sacramento, California, which is about to embark
on their own version of the ale trail concept
Research Parameters, Such As They Are
I posed the question on my last blog post, which touched on the concept of the ale trail with a focus on my locally-based Columbus Ale Trail, about what other craft beer ale trail promotions might be found around the country, their structure and their incentives.

Other than actually finding those cities and regions with active ale trails, I figured a meaningful comparison in relation to the Columbus area would be useful. Once I thought about it a little more closely, I figured looking into metro areas with similar populations would be an easy and relevant comparison measure.

So I took a look at where Columbus stood in terms of the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) - as of 2015 (Note: Population statistics were taken from Wikipedia's List of Metropolitan Statistical Areas and rounded down or up for simplicity), the Columbus metro area, which here reaches as far as Marion and Zanesville, comes in at just over 2 million with a rounded total of 2,022,000 people.

From here, I decided to take the MSAs both directly above and directly below in terms of population and dive in. Interestingly enough, the next metro area population-wise higher than Columbus that had an active ale trail really isn't all that far away from Ohio's capital city. The remaining metro areas researched included two neighboring Ohio cities, a couple of fellow capital cities, and a journey from coast to coast.

Pittsburgh, PA (Metro Area: 2,353,000): At just under 30 participating breweries, Pittsburgh proved to be the next metro area above Columbus population-wise with an active, incentive-oriented ale trail. Started in June 2016, Pittsburgh's rendition (which can be found at PittsburghAleTrail.com) uses a pamphlet-style map and stamp system, with a T-shirt as the ultimate reward for trail completion (the stamped portion of the map can be mailed in to get the T-shirt.) More incentive for the craft beer fan to travel to The Steel City may be in the offing soon, should the planned Brew: The Museum of Beer find its footing (an Indiegogo campaign was launched in October to help provide the initial funding.)

Homepage for the Pittsburgh Ale Trail, which launched in June 2016

Sacramento, CA (Metro Area: 2,275,000): With over 60 breweries open or nearing opening, one might think Sacramento would have an active ale trail already in place. As it turns out, the concept is just coming to fruition, due to a successful Kickstarter campaign. Updates on the upcoming area ale trail promotion can be found at www.sacbeerfrontier.com

Cincinnati, OH Tri-State (Metro Area: 2,160,000): Columbus' neighbor to the south, headed by breweries like Rhinegeist and Madtree, sports roughly 35 breweries, but does not have an passport-style ale trail in place. However, beer lovers can explore the Queen City's rich brewing history via the Brewing Heritage Trail, where one can choose between a guided or self-guided (via a phone app) walking tour which takes that person in and around some of the city's abandoned and still existing brewery sites around the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood.

Moerlein is one of the historic names you will see on the
Cincinnati Brewing Heritage Trail
Las Vegas/Henderson, NV (Metro Area: 2,115,000): Sin City may be ahead of other cities on many forms of decadence, but craft brewing isn't one of them. This deficit was mainly due to regulations (as detailed in this Fortune.com article) that allowed only brewpubs to brew their own beer, combined with a huge license fee that made smaller brewing operations nearly impossible.  Those regulations have recently been eased, however, and craft breweries (Beer Advocate puts the number at 17 as of the writing of this blog post) are out there for the discovering for the determined craft beer fan.

Kansas City, MO/KS (Metro Area: 2,090,000): For the home of renowned breweries like Boulevard and Tallgrass (in semi-nearby Manhattan), the KC Ale Trail is actually the collected work and research of book author Pete Dulin, who first published his take on the local craft beer scene in book form in December, 2014. A new edition of Dulin's book began shipping this October.

Nothing like Kansas City-style barbecue paired up with some local craft beer
Cleveland, OH (Metro Area: 2,060,000): Columbus' neighbor to the north does not have a passport ale trail concept, but in many ways is paralleling the capital city's craft beer growth. In fact, quite a few Northeast Ohio breweries are making concerted efforts to expand into Columbus' market, including Canton's Royal Docks, and Cleveland's Market Garden and Platform Brewing (the latter might actually be a candidate for next year's Columbus Ale Trail with their planned Discovery District brewpub.)

Austin-Round Rock, TX (Metro Area: 2,001,000): As Texas' state capital, Austin has in its craft beer scene as strong a headliner as any in Jester King to head up their close to fifty breweries, as detailed on the craftbeeraustin.com website. While Austin proper doesn't have a passport style trail program, the surrounding Hill Country offers a non-passported/non-incentivized ale trail for craft beer goers to pursue. Interstingly enough, this trail also includes Jester King, which despite its Austin mailing address lies situated firmly in the Hill Country.

Austin's Jester King provides a picturesque Hill Country locale
for its renowned farmhouse-styled and wild ales
Indianapolis, IN (Metro Area: 1,989,000):  Heading back to the Midwest, Indiana's capital city also doesn't have a ale trail passport promotion. This hasn't seemed to hurt anything in terms of the area's growth, as 40+ locally home grown breweries like Sun King, Flat 12 Bierwerks and Triton have helped make Indy a bubbling but slightly-under-the-radar craft beer destination.

San Jose/Santa Clara, CA (Metro Area: 1,977,000): Similar to Las Vegas, the anchor of the Silicon Valley, which does sport breweries like Hermitage, Strike and Santa Clara Valley, doesn't quite sport the fertile craft beer soils of communities to the north (San Francisco, Oakland/San Leandro, and Santa Rosa) or even south (the somewhat unexpected craft beer/beach nirvana that is the Santa Cruz/Monterey region.)

Nashville, TN (Metro Area: 1,830,000): Headed by Yazoo Brewing, Nashville's craft beer scene is percolating underneath the surface at around 20 breweries, which will be helped even more when State of Tennessee HB 47 finally takes effect in 2017. This legislation, which was signed in May 2014, will raise the ABV cap to roughly 10%, allow liquor stores to sell high-gravity-beer growlers, and allow breweries with high gravity licenses to sell everything they make at the brewery itself instead of at liquor stores.

Nashville's Jackalope Brewing, which shares its space with a coffee
shop in the Music City's Gulch neighborhood
Virginia Beach/Norfolk, VA (Metro Area: 1,725,000): The official tourism website for the state of Virginia, Virginia.com, does suggest trails for those who want to explore the state's 120 breweries, but there is no formal ale trail program. For the breweries of Virginia Beach and Norfolk, which include Reaver Beach and recent San Diego transplant Green Flash (their facility is hosting a grand opening party for the public this weekend), the website places them in Coastal Virginia Beer Trail, which also includes the cities of Williamsburg, Chesapeake, Hampton and Smithfield.

So...What About Those Other Ale Trail Areas?
Yes, they're out there, and we will begin trekking through them in earnest with part 3 of this series.

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