Looking for your next favorite craft beverage? The Cheers Trail makes it easy to find suds, ciders and other sippers made with local ingredients while visiting Ohio's fun coast, which also has agricultural roots that run deep. That means you can take a peach to the beach, but also wash it down with a cold beer at the pier or a wine among the vines.
Thrill-inducing roller coasters, island hopping, waterparks, beach escapes and agritourism destinations are just a few of the highlights of a visit to Ohio's Lake Erie Shores & Islands. No matter what a perfect getaway to the region looks like, you're bound to get a thirst for the local flavor. Luckily, there is a growing number of craft breweries, cider houses and distilleries joining the already well-established wineries in the region. It’s easy to find them all, with the new Cheers Trail, a guide to more than 20 palate-pleasing craft experiences delivering a taste of the local culture and, often, the region's agricultural history. While there is a prize for making qualifying purchases at five or more locations, you'll be doubly rewarded if you slow down and savor your free time at the places where new ideas flow daily.
Almost a century after the National Prohibition Act, known informally as the Volstead Act, wiped out Sandusky's robust beer industry, the craft-beer movement is once again hitting its stride in the city and beyond. Local entrepreneurs have poured their passion into creating distinctive brews that satisfy not only casual drinkers, but also beer enthusiasts, who make it their mission to seek out new and unique flavor profiles wherever they go.
"The variety of different beers is the fun part," says Judy Defibaugh whose love of everything beer, wine and Ohio led to the creation of Scarlet Transportation & Adventure Tours with her husband, Eric. "That variety is what attracts us. The breweries are constantly changing out the beers, so what's on tap today might not be there the next time."
Catawba Island Brewing Company in Port Clinton ranks high on her list of favorite breweries, not only for its nautical-inspired ambiance and friendly staff, but also for its Seiche Scottish Ale, which is aged in whiskey barrels.
"When we first went out to do research for our tours, I tried the Scottish Ale," Defibaugh says. "Now when I think of the brewery, I can almost taste it."
Along the Cheers Trail, you will also find beers made with ingredients that have historical ties to the region. Bait House Brewery in Sandusky, for example, uses Ohio-grown hops to create its Bicentenni-Ale, which toasts the city's recent milestone. Meanwhile, Twin Oast Brewery is a true farm-to-glass operation that uses produce grown at its 60-acre heritage fruit farm on Catawba Island, including the apricots used in the seasonal ApriCatawba, a summery fruit-forward beer. Ice Shove, a Belgian-style white IPA, incorporates home-grown apples and rosemary.
The proximity to apple orchards is one of the key factors that inspired Josh Raboin and Joe Burnham IV to establish Redhead Ciderhouse at Burnham Orchards in Berlin Heights.
With Burnham's apples and Raboin's knowledge of making hard cider, the two friends were able to take advantage of the fastest growing segment of the beer and malt beverage industry. Now when visitors stop into the orchard's market, they can also get a taste of what Redhead Ciderhouse is all about.
Besides Redhead Original Hard Cider, Raboin has had success experimenting with different ingredients. Jalapenos add a kick to Hot Chick; cascade hops are used in Smooth Hoperator; but the favorite flavor by far, though, is the cinnamon-infused Apple Pie, which tastes just like the dessert.
"We love taking groups to Redhead Ciderhouse," says Defibaugh. "Not a lot of people know much about hard cider, and then it ends up being everyone's favorite."
Wine producers along Lake Erie's grape belt have been in the business of making customers feel good for nearly two centuries. Well before tourism was the Bass Islands' main source of income, wine was a major industry. Concord and Catawba grapes grown on the Bass Islands — nicknamed the Wine Islands — were particularly sought out because of the island's unique ecosystem that lengthens the growing season and insulates vines from spreading diseases. Founded in 1888, Heineman's Winery, Ohio's oldest family-run winery, keeps the wine-growing tradition alive to this day on South Bass Island, better known as Put-in-Bay. While you're there, step inside Crystal Cave. The discovery of the world's largest geode on the Heineman property helped the business survive the Prohibition years.
Back on the mainland, some vintners are making wines from heritage grapes, while others have established new plantings of cool-climate varietals, such as Rieslings and Chardonnays. With all the possible choices, you're bound to find the perfect varietal to enjoy in a unique setting, whether it's a heritage barn at Sandy Ridge Vineyards and Mercantile, by the koi pond at Chateau Tebeau or surrounded by Quarry Hill Winery's orchards and vineyards with a distant view of Lake Erie.
If you don't know where to start your adventure on the Cheers Trail, or if you plan to visit several locations in one day, let someone else guide the way. Besides the custom trips that Scarlet Transportation & Adventure Tours organizes, Sawmill Creek Resort offers winery tours on Saturdays.
Visitors, who have been to five locations and completed the Cheers Trail requirements, can head over to one of the Lake Erie Shores & Islands Welcome Centers for a choice between a pint glass or stemless wine glass, both of which have the Lake Erie Love logo on one side and the Cheers Trail logo on the other. Visit all 20 locations for a chance to win a future getaway to the Lake Erie Shores & Islands region.
Let's toast to that!