The quest for craft beer

This passport gets “pilgrims” started on their journey.

Words and images by Mark Judson

A pilgrimage can help a person find spiritual or philosophical enlightenment. In a town with an ever-growing craft beer scene, deep understanding can come in a slightly unusual form. Jacksonville residents looking to find this inner wisdom, with a hint of hops, can journey the Jax Ale Trail.

The Ale Trail takes its beer pilgrims on a self-guided tour of the city’s eight microbreweries, spanning from Orange Park to Jacksonville Beach. A passport is available for free at each of the destinations and contains the journey’s roadmap, though the route you take is your decision.

“The Trail’s been a cool excuse for people who wouldn’t normally head to our side of town to come and check it out,” explains Alex Leuthold, a bartender at Intuition Ale Works. “[Riverside] has such a different vibe than the Beach, so a lot of people get stuck on one side of town, but that’s changing now and people are starting to explore Jax a lot more. This is our way to contribute to that.”

Upon ordering a beer, pilgrims receive a stamp in their passports, one for each brewery. Completion of the trail, which is not recommended in a single day, awards you a Jax Ale Trail koozie and T-shirt.

Some believe the real reward is the experience and right of passage to completing the official trail.

“I’ve been to each [brewery] before, but my cousins were in town and they’re into craft beer as much as I am,” said Kacie Gaddis, a recent Ale Trail finisher. “So, doing the trail seemed like a better idea than just popping into one or two. It didn’t feel like we were just heading to the bar. We had this quest feeling because we wanted to hit them all in one day.”

Although quality, craft beer is certainly the focus of the Ale Trail, each brewery highlights unique character and charm that offers pilgrims more than a simple bar hop.

Military history and patriotism come alive at Veterans United Craft Brewery, unusually located in a Southside business park. A newcomer to the Jacksonville craft beer scene, Veterans United was founded by military veterans and keeps this tradition alive. The taproom features memorabilia from each branch of the military and appropriately named beers such as “Scout Dog 44” and “Buzzin’ Bee.”

Pinglehead Brewing in Orange Park offers beers with an optional side of pizza. The brewery’s parent company, Brewer’s Pizza, is a family-run pizzeria dating back to the Prohibition era.

The above map outlines the Ale Trail’s many stops.

Across the river in San Marco, beer pilgrims will find Aardwolf Brewing in an easy-to-miss building. The facility is a renovated icehouse built in the 1920s and features most of the original brick walls from the building’s past.

Head to the King Street District in Riverside and you’ll find Bold City Brewery and Intuition Ale Works. Each of these Jacksonville craft kings can be found in an industrial setting, around the corner from one another.

Jacksonville Beach features a trio of breweries in Engine 15, Green Room and Zeta. Grab a bite to eat on the patio at Zeta, which is only steps from the ocean, and walk over to Green Room for ping-pong and giant Jenga. A quick drive, or bike ride, down the road will lead you to Engine 15 and its vintage arcade.

“My buddy and I are making a weekend out of the Trail,” said Addison Mendoza, a local resident on the Ale Trail. “I’ve been real big on craft beer lately and haven’t been to some of the beach breweries. I never knew [Engine 15] had an arcade, complete game changer.”

Quality beers served by the brewers themselves in unique atmospheres are the demand of a locally focused city. The Jax Ale Trail offers an experience for those fed up with tasteless beer at a boring, standard bar.

Your craft beer pilgrimage awaits.

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