Brimming with backpackers, bicyclists and bold brews, Trailhead Brewery is the perfect resting place for those touring Akron’s amber trail of craft beer.
Located at 1671 Merriman Road, on the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the tiny tasting room—with its rustic park benches, cedar bar, pretzels and a bike tire slung on a wall—is a frequent waypoint for bikers on the Towpath Trail, says 30-year-old owner Larry “Eli” Smart.
“A lot of people stop in here, have a beer, and then get back on the trail,” he says, pouring a rich, golden beer into a Mason jar for a customer.
“This is a lavender honey whit,” he continues. “Four ounces of green tea and four ounces of lavender. I don’t think a lot of people would try that combination.”
Indeed, his beers are full of unexpected twists and turns.
“I’m just not afraid to try anything,” Smart says, explaining that his one-barrel system allows him to experiment with different styles, spices and flavors each month—including last fall’s rum apple brown ale from Ohio apples soaked in dark rum.
This April, he is offering a Belgian IPA with mosaic hops, an IPA with juniper berries, a Belgian smash strong ale with pacific jade, and a chocolate peanut butter coffee stout made with local coffee from Pearl Coffee Co. Each is available at $4 to $6 per pint, and customers can take growlers to go.
“It’s nice and laid back here,” says patron Nick Seagle (30) from Cuyahoga Falls — a regular at Trailhead Brewery, whose wife makes soaps and beer bottle candles for sale at the bar.
“People come in, and we talk and play darts,” he says, polishing off a bourbon stout with pecan. “It’s not like other bars, where you just walk in they give you a beer, and you’re left there by yourself.”
Seagle chats with Smart, their conversation meandering from “Calvin and Hobbes” (the former comic strip and namesake of Smart’s flagship beer, “Calvin and Hops”) to college football and plumbing.
It’s the kind of banter you can expect to hear at Trailhead, where more than anything, Smart wants people to feel comfortable.
“I just want people to come in and be able to relax,” he says while Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” tinkles in the background. “There are no TVs here. I want people to come in and talk to each other and meet new people. We play darts and air hockey. It’s a good, friendly environment.”
Smart says he sometimes features live music and entertainment, and he encourages patrons to bring their own food, have a drink and hit the trail.
Those wishing to continue along the beer trail may visit Hoppin’ Frog Brewing Company, Thirsty Dog Brewing, Aqueduct Brewing and MadCap Brew Co. Another, R. Shea Brewing, is scheduled to open soon, just down the road from Trailhead.
“There’s a really impressive beer scene in the area,” Smart offers. “But I don’t see anyone else as a competitor, because we all have such different ideas of what beer should be.”
Trailhead Brewery is open Wednesday through Friday from 5 to 10 p.m., and Saturday from 2 to 10 p.m.