Hoisting a pint not a pack

By Posted on Dec 20 2019 | By

“Hiking” the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail

The Appalachian Trail is the most iconic of long-distance mountain footpaths. Stretching from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine it rises and falls along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains for 2,192 miles.

Three million hikers each year spend some time on the trail. And 4,000 committed outdoor enthusiasts attempt to complete the entire hike in one season. It typically takes five to six months.

Only one in four succeed.

The AT speed record stands at 41 days. Karel Sabbe reached the trail’s at Mt. Katahdin last August completing the AT faster than anyone before him.

Forget your calculator. That’s an average of 53 miles a day. The man must have needed a beer on day 41.

Another AT giant is Warren Doyle who completed the entire AT hike 18 times. That’s 39,000 miles. After graduating from college and earning his master’s degree he realized, “I had to do something no one was telling me to do—no rewards, no cheerleaders, no scholarships, something I was not going to get paid for,” Doyle said.

As Sabbe, Doyle and their fellow thru-hikers cruised through Virginia they would have passed high above one of the largest and most scenic beer trails in the Old Dominion. A few may have even taken time to drop by one of the 15 breweries on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail.

The Trail
The Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail is a collaborative effort of Greater Augusta Regional Tourism and its participating breweries; all are located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.

Created in mid-2016, today the individual but linked brew houses are pulling over a hundred individual craft tap handles while slaking the thirst of tens of thousands of natives and tourists alike.

“At the beginning of developing the trail we realized we did not have enough breweries to actually create one so we asked Lexington to the south and Harrisonburg to the north to join our efforts,” said Sheryl Wagner, director of tourism for the city of Staunton.

As with all things new learning to toggle and pull the right brewery “strings” loomed important in the early days of trail. It’s one thing to build a trail and create a website but driving beer lovers to actually “hike” it required some professional advice.

“The first year we were just doing promotions and trying to get the trail name out to the public.” Then the Waynesboro, Augusta marketing managers joined Wagner in attending a beer conference in Ashville, N.C.

One of the first questions posed to the new beer barons was, “Do you have a passport program?” They did not. They returned home and quickly established one.

“Our Passport Program has just blown-up the trail. Created in mid-2017 as of July of this year, we’ve had 3,559 passports redeemed resulting in 21,025 brewery visits. Folks from 47 states, Australia, Columbia, Canada, and Germany have enjoyed Virginia craft beer as a result.”

The passports are produced and distributed to the participating wineries who in turn hand them out to their guests at no cost. At each guest visit, a brewery provides an adhesive stamp to be placed in the passport.

After eight or more stamps have been scored by a satisfied beer lover the passport can be redeemed for a bright orange “Drink in Shenandoah Valley” tee-shirt.

The colorful and catchy-titled shirt is a prized possession and obviously gets a lot of wear given the success of the program.

As an added bonus, the Trail recently extended the benefits of the passport by providing free stainless-steel growlers for anyone who posts a photo of themselves wearing the tee-shirt on a social media site.

Another collaborative effort is in the works with the popular beer app Untapped. The free app allows users to keep track of what they’ve tasted and what they thought of the brews they’ve enjoyed. A partnership is being created with the app designers and should be announced soon.

But beer is not the sole draw while pursuing the suds journey. There are numerous natural attractions to take in when circuit-riding the trail. Bordered by the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains the Shenandoah Valley is a natural paradise featuring dramatic scenery wherever the eye falls.

Regardless of skill level activities include hiking, backpacking, cycling, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, golfing, horseback riding and more.

For a more relaxed experience take in the beautiful and historic towns and museums along the trail’s line of travel while visiting geologic wonders like Natural Bridge and the Shenandoah Valley caverns.

Cruising Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway is an especially effective way to let go of any stress and refresh body and soul.

Go slow and also consider stopping by music festivals, farmer’s markets, “pick your own” fields and, of course, dropping by wineries during your beer breaks.

The impact of the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail is obvious to beer lovers. But behind the scene, it’s also playing an important role for central Virginia communities.

Promoting the enjoyment of craft beer is a “perfect pairing” for the Valley’s outdoor recreation assets and is driving increased tourism to the region by linking the craft beer experience with compelling lifestyle and outdoor recreational opportunities.

“The program has really put a spotlight on the rural places in which some of these breweries are located. These areas may not have many tourist attractions so it’s been great for us to partnered with them and our other county neighbors to showcase the region,” said Wagner.

If ever there was a time to enjoy a mini-staycation in the Old Dominion, sliding behind the wheel of the chariot and enjoying the delights of artisanal beer in a world-renown setting is now.

Start your engines.

Drop by for the full story and list of trail breweries.

Published in the Summer 2019 edition of Dine, Wine and Stein magazine.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES