What Are Craft Beverage Trails and Why They’re Worth Checking Out    

by Alyssa L. Ochs

Here at IOWA Trails & Tales travel guide, a significant part of our mission is to connect tourists to craft beverage trails that highlight a region’s unique approach to making wine, beer and spirits. Craft beverage trails have been around for many years, but they haven’t gotten a lot of attention or been actively promoted in many parts of the country. This has led to misunderstandings and misconceptions about what these trails really are and how they enhance the travel experience. And no, a winery, brewery or distillery trail is not just walking on a random hiking path in the woods with a beverage in hand!

  To clear things up, here’s what craft beverage trails really are, why they’re worth checking out and how they can help you get more out of travel.

Background on Craft Beverage Trails

  Craft beverage trails are somewhat similar to a bar crawl in that both concepts involve visiting multiple businesses selling alcohol to try what each has to offer. Bar crawls usually invite participants to walk, bike or ride a bus from one place to the next, all of which are located relatively close together.

  In contrast, a craft beverage trail has stops that are often farther apart and involve driving to various breweries, wineries or distilleries in a region. Trails are more geared towards tourism rather than a wild party scene for St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween or other festive holidays that lend themselves well to partaking in a few drinks.

Why Try a Craft Beverage Trail?

  If you love to travel and enjoy locally produced alcoholic beverages, a craft beverage trail perfectly combines these interests. Beverage producers are in tune with the overall vibe of a region and can offer tourists an excellent way to get to know the local scene in an authentic way.

  Think of craft beer, wine, and spirits trails as niche tours or drinkable “bucket lists” that promote small businesses and encourage non-standard, outside-the-box travel. Every beverage-producing region has something distinctive to offer, just as all individual travelers do when they cater their daily itineraries around homegrown beer, wine, cider, seltzers or spirits.

Goals and Benefits of Trails

  One of the main goals of setting up a craft beverage trail is to draw business to craft beverage establishments and introduce out-of-towners to places they might otherwise not come across in their trip research. Meanwhile, residents living near the trail stops can get more involved with businesses in their area and support the local economy, while getting out more and perhaps making new friends too. 

  Craft beverage trails are fun for weekend day dates with someone special and bachelor and bachelorette parties with groups of friends. With energized marketing efforts behind them and community support, they promote experiential tourism and immersion into different cultural scenes. Trails can also encourage producers to focus on local ingredients and eco-friendly methods to attract sustainable-minded consumers to their places of business, plus other activities and sights to see nearby.

Examples of Fun Beverage Trails

  There are craft beer, wine and spirits trails scattered all across the country in big cities, rural areas and broader regions with small towns. You can experience numerous craft beverage trails right here in Iowa that highlight offerings in specific areas of the state. To help you narrow down the options, you can even search for trails by Beverage Type and Region on the IOWA Trails & Tales website trails-tales.net.

  Here are some examples that you might want to check out for yourself when you are traveling the state:

•    Amana Colonies Wineries

•    Heart of Iowa Wine Trail

•    Cedar Falls Beer Trail

•    Central Iowa Beer Trail

•    Iowa Distillery Passport

•    Iowa Craft Beer Passport

•    Iowa Wine Trail

•    Northeast Iowa Beer Trail

•    Quad City Ale Trail

•    Pub Pass Des Moines

•    Western Iowa Beer Trail

How to Have the Best Trail Experience

  First and foremost, to have the best and safest experience on a craft beverage trail, it is a good idea to have a designated driver so that you aren’t putting yourself at risk on the road.

  You’ll also want to do some research, study a map, plan your route and consider the weather. It’s also a wise idea to choose the right people to travel the trail with so that you will have fun but still be responsible and continuously learning new things along the way.

Beverage Trails and Technology

  One of the best ways to keep consumers engaged with a beverage trail is to link it to modern technology. For instance, some brewery, winery, and distillery trails have their own mobile apps available for download.

  Trail directors and managers boost engagement by running competitions based on social media postings, sharing photos online and including hashtags. They also make it easy for customers to find their favorite beverages after the trail experience is over by utilizing scannable QR codes and sending follow-up marketing messages to customers via email or text. To promote a well-rounded travel experience, craft beverage trail apps may include suggestions for non-drinking activities nearby to check out before, between and after trail stops.

Explore Trails in Iowa and Beyond

  With a better understanding of what craft beverage trails are, we hope you’re feeling inspired to check out a few in Iowa and elsewhere around the country during your travels. As you make stops at breweries, wineries and distilleries, take what you’ve learned here and strike up conversations with producers about what you’d like to see offered on the trail. A few examples of potential offerings are merchandise discounts, educational opportunities, prizes, punch cards and VIP access to onsite events.

  To be part of this exciting movement and the next big thing for the craft beverage industry, stick with us at Trails and Tales for highlights, updates, and travel inspiration to sip your way through Iowa and beyond.

 For more information, fun trip ideas and inspiration, visit our website www.trails-tales.net

Iowa’s Winter Craft Beverage Festivals & Tastings

Dubuque, Iowa on Ice

by Alyssa L. Ochs

It’s no secret that Iowa winters can be brutally harsh, with temperatures averaging from the teens to 20s and accumulating approximately 20 to 40 inches of snow per season. This might lead you to assume that the craft beverage industry in the state more or less shuts down so that residents can hibernate in their homes and travelers can go elsewhere in search of warmth and sunshine.

  However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth because winter is an exciting time to be in Iowa if you love craft beer, spirits, and wine! Whether you’ve lived in Iowa all your life or are just visiting for the first time, here are some highly anticipated craft beverage events to look forward to this winter season.

Amana Colonies Winter Events

  If you want to experience the craft beverage scene in Iowa this winter but need help figuring out where to start, make your way to Amana Colonies in eastern Iowa. Located only about 30 minutes from both Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Amana Colonies is a historic communal society and collection of seven villages celebrating German culture and traditions. Some of those traditions involve handcrafted and locally produced wine and beer in a place that transports visitors back to a simpler time with unmatched hospitality.

  Many events are taking place during the winter season in Amana Colonies this year, including the Tannenbaum Forest on Fridays through Sundays from November 25 to December 18.

  “Tannenbaum Forest is a beautiful homage to the traditional Christmas tree,” Stacey Colledge, the executive director of the Amana Colonies Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACCVB), told Trails and Tales. “With 80+ beautifully decorated trees lining our Festhalle barn, this is an event to see!”

  This event is free to visit but welcomes donations, which benefit the nearby University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Colledge said that the Prelude to Christmas weekend during Tannenbaum Forest is fun for the whole family with Santa, games and tasty treats. Prelude to Christmas is scheduled for December 2 to 4 at Amana Colonies and coincides with some unique winery events.

  For example, the Nutcracker Scavenger Hunt at Ackerman Winery runs from November 25 to December 26 and encourages visitors to search for up to 24 traditional Nutcrackers hidden around its store. Prelude to Christmas at Ackerman Winery during the festival weekend includes wine pairing flights for $10, a decadent wine cocktail special, Christmas cookies, classic holiday movies and shopping deals.

  “In Amana, we have several amazing craft beverage businesses that make delightful seasonal blends and cocktails!” said Colledge of ACCVB. “This includes the award-winning Ackerman Winery, the oldest operating winery in Iowa, White Cross Cellars, Fireside Winery and Village Winery. Or visit Millstream Brau Haus for a local beer in a traditional-style, German beer hall environment.”

  Yet even after the holidays have come and gone, the winter fun keeps going at Amana Colonies. Set for January 21, 2023, Winterfest encourages visitors to embrace the season with winter games, a wine walk and a “Wine and Dine” event that pairs each course of traditional cuisine with delicious local wines. There’s even a Best Beard Competition, ice sculptor, local chainsaw artist and open-fire chili from the volunteer fire department to warm you up with a glass of delicious wine or beer in hand.

  “Amana has a long history with locally crafted wine,” said Colledge. “It’s worth a stop at the Heritage Society Museum to learn more about how the colonists would brew, share and enjoy their wines with each other. It’s just one of many interesting customs in this communal society.”

BrrrFest 2023

Meanwhile, craft beer enthusiasts are marking their calendars for Saturday, January 28 because this is when BrrrFest 2023 takes place in Coralville, Iowa. BrrrFest is a celebration of the winter craft beers and the brewers who make them. This will be the event’s 11th year, with proceeds supporting Coralville’s annual 4th of July celebration and the Iowa Brewer’s Guild.

  “BrrrFest started in 2011 as the first specifically winter beer tasting event in Iowa,” Noreen Otto, the executive director of the Iowa Brewers Guild, told Trails and Tales. “There will be more than 50 Iowa breweries at the event again this year, each bringing two to four winter-style craft beers to taste. It is a great way to try brews from around the whole state!”

  This is an interesting craft beer festival because of the niche focus on winter brews, such as stouts, porters and other classic “big brews” with a seasonal twist.

  “Iowa craft breweries products reflect the seasons,” Otto said. “This is a great time to try some of the bolder winter beers you might miss if you’re only sampling during the heat of summer. This event happens in the Iowa River Landing in Coralville with shops and restaurants to visit. At the neighboring Xtream Arena, the Iowa Heartlanders ECHL hockey team will be playing, so you can make a whole weekend out of visiting the area!”

  Otto acknowledged that, yes, winter weather in Iowa can be cold, but this is a fun indoor event at the Hyatt Regency Coralville Hotel & Conference Center where people can still get together with friends and help raise money for great causes. Some proceeds support local youth scouting organizations too. BrrrFest sells out nearly every year, and Brewmaster VIP tickets sell out very quickly. Tickets go on sale Monday, November 28, and you can follow Coralville BrrrFest on Facebook for additional updates and information.

More to Sip and Enjoy in Iowa This Winter

  Even during Iowa’s long winters (perhaps especially at this time!), craft beer, wine and spirits have a way of bringing people together, and these events are excellent examples of Iowans’ hardy resilience, unwavering sense of community and dedication to supporting local businesses. Of course, there are plenty of spring, summer and fall craft beverage festivals and tasting events scattered throughout the state. Yet winter is a unique and magical time in Iowa where traditions are celebrated, everyone is welcome and cozy vibes are felt everywhere you go.

  This winter, we are also looking forward to events taking place at individual beverage producers’ establishments, such as Confluence Brewing Company’s Cabin Fever Day in January and Firkin Fest in February. There’s also the 11th annual Dubuque on Ice Brewfest on February 25 at the Grand River Center in Dubuque, Iowa, with both general admission and VIP options available.

  Learn about more local events and craft beverage-themed happenings on IOWA Trails & Tales event calendar. If you are a craft beverage producer and planning to host a winter event in the upcoming months, please share the details with us so that we can help get the word out and encourage Iowans to have the best winter ever!

  For more information on Iowa Travel & Events, check out the official Travel Iowa website www.traveliowa.com or browse our guide Iowa Trails & Tales for fun trip ideas and inspiration or visit our website www.trails-tales.net