By Linda Lipp and Megan Knowles

Northern Indiana craft beer enthusiasts will soon have an easier way to check out area offerings — and get rewarded for it — as a group of more than 15 local breweries have come together to form the Northern Indiana Beer Trail.

The idea started in January after a local tap takeover at the Dash-In, said Mary Corinne Lowenstein, Hop River Brewing Company’s director of marketing.

“(We thought) how do we rise the tide and engage with people and let them know there’s some really great beer here and take a real active presence and…really use our voice collectively?” she said.

First, Lowenstein created a Facebook page, then an independent group was formed, which decided to create a passport to highlight many of the local craft beer options.

The passport will include pages for each of the breweries on the trail and some sort of map. People will take the passport to each of the breweries they visit and get it stamped. A tiered reward system will allow people who have earned enough stamps to get some swag, and those who visit all 20 northern Indiana breweries on the trail will get “even better swag,” Lowenstein said.

“The idea of a passport is a great way for breweries, or wineries, to showcase each other and to encourage people who are interested in drinking craft beer or wines get more involved,” Lowenstein added.

The passports will debut Sept. 8 at Brewed IN the Fort, which will feature more than 55 Indiana breweries, local food trucks and music, said Josh Volz, director of marketing and design at Mad Anthony Brewing and Shigs in Pit.

The event takes place at Headwaters Park from 2-6 p.m., with VIP early entrance at 1 p.m.

To help drum up excitement for the trail, local breweries have been collaborating on a special hoppy wheat beer, also set to debut at Brewed IN the Fort. Both the beer and the passports will also be available at participating breweries starting the week of Brewed IN the Fort, Lowenstein said.

“We drank some beers, we talked about what we thought would be something we could do that would fit into the beers we plan to serve in September when Brewed IN the Fort happens and what we could brew that would be different and a little unique and that we thought people would be interested in,” Hop River head brewer Kevin Debs said of the beer creation process. “Then we just started throwing ideas out there. People had malts they thought would be good, people had hop connections so we just started trying to combine those and figure out what would work.”

The sales of the beer will also help finance the startup of the trail, LaOtto Brewing co-owner and head brewer Josh Brames said, going toward printing passports and purchasing swag.

Brewers met July 31 for a brew day, and Brames said each participating brewery will end up taking one to two kegs of the brew to their establishments for sale to customers.

Those eager to try the brew will need to hurry, he said, as he expects it to be gone in a week or two.

“That’s the level of excitement I hope to generate so (future) opportunities like this are really conceivable,” Brames said.

Participating breweries currently include: 2Toms Brewing, Auburn Brewing, Bare Hands Brewery, Chapman’s Brewing Co., Evil Czech Brewery, Goshen Brewing Co., GuessWork Brewing Co., HopLore Brewing, Hop River Brewing Co., Junk Ditch Brewing Co., LaOtto Brewing, Mad Anthony Brewing Co., Orthocity Brewing, Summit City Brewerks and Trubble Brewing.

For more information on the beer trail, visit Facebook.com/NorthernINBeerTrail/. For more information on Brewed IN the Fort, visit brewedinthefort.com/.

Reporter Amy Oberlin contributed to this report.