AUSTIN, Texas — If you just moved to Austin or are looking for new ways to explore the city, consider picking up an Ale Trail passport. The booklet has lots of breweries in and around Austin, and it’ll include even more stops next year.
The concept is simple: visit a brewery, order a beer and get a stamp.
“It’s like entering a new country if you have a passport,” said Kwaku Kankam, the CEO and founder of the Austin Ale Trail.
He had the idea for the passport after visiting a friend in Columbus, Ohio, in 2018. The city has its own ale trail, and Kankam thought this would be a fun passion project for him back in Austin. A post shared by Austin Ale Trail (@austinaletrail)
In the first year, he cold called local breweries to get them on board (it’s free for them), and he designed the passport himself. The Austin Ale Trail launched in 2019 just before the pandemic.
“We were finally getting customer awareness, and then a lot of the customers couldn’t use [the passport] at that time,” said Kankam.
Kankam’s right-hand man is Jordan Golembeski. He’s the brand design manager, but they cheekily title themselves “trailblazers.”
For Kankam and Golembeski, exploring breweries is all about the community and making friends.
“It’s been really emotionally moving that people are utilizing this as a time to get together with those that they love, especially since we had to be distant for so long. I’ve actually gotten personal, handwritten letters between 2019 and 2021 of people telling me about how they’ve rekindled their love with their spouse, and people get a chance to do something with their dad now that they hadn’t done before,” Kankam said. “It’s been really emotionally moving that people are utilizing this as a time to get together with those that they love, especially since we had to be distant for so long.”
Customers pay $5 for a passport, and breweries get $1 of that profit. The Austin Ale Trail team hopes that breweries will one day donate that dollar to charity.
The Black Star Co-Op, which has been around since 2010, started selling to-go beer and food during the pandemic, something it’d never done before. Andy Martinec, the beer team leader there, uses a small machine to can beer himself. He even adds branding to the cans with a label applicator. Still, selling to-go drinks wasn’t enough to get the brewery back on track.
“Sales are still significantly lower than they were before the pandemic,” Martinec said.
Kankam and Golembeski hope their passport will drive business to these local breweries.
“Our main goal is to support the breweries first and foremost,” Golembeski said.
Suyapa Cruz is a passionate beer drinker. She and her husband enjoy exploring Austin with a beer in hand. And it’s her mission to complete her passport.
“We are going to always support [breweries],” Cruz said. “We have found some friends that also join us. Every weekend we try to make a schedule for what brewery we’re going to hit.”
In the future, the Ale Trail is hoping to do more events with the community. Kankam and Golembeski also want to collaborate with breweries to create Ale Trail-branded beers.
“It’s kind of like breaking bread, but you know. you share a beer with people and have good conversation,” Golembeski said.