Backcountry Booze

Top of the World, Vail backcountry, enjoying a few cans.

Maybe you have set up camp, and have the fire going nicely, tents secured and sleeping bags lofted.  Or, you’re out in the sidecountry with some friends, taking a break between laps of a beautiful powderfield.  You and your group settle in to enjoy a great moment of outdoors and good company.  For many of us, this would be an excellent opportunity to share a drink with our fellow backcountry enthusiasts.

Backcountry Booze

Scotch, scotch, scotch.

Often though, we must balance our instinct to reduce pack weight with our desire to bring a small tipple along.  We can’t – or at least shouldn’t – carry a case of cold beer in glass bottles.  It’s heavy, it doesn’t get much lighter when you drink it, and it breaks.  (Car camping is a whole different story!)  There are many options for backcountry booze carry, depending on how long you are going to out and what your palate desires.

For an easy overnight backpacking trip that is less than a few miles we opt for strong beer, preferably in a recyclable can that can be crushed down and packed out.  A few imperial IPA, Stout or Belgian Triples do the trick!  Craft brewers across the country, including many here in Colorado, have fueled a beer can renaissance, with many of our favorites now available shrouded in aluminum instead of glass.  New Belgium, Oskar Blues, Upslope, and Bonfire are just a few.  While we generally pick out whatever looks good at the store, Craftcans.com has a database of beers available in cans, both in Colorado and across the country.

Backcountry Booze

Snow Peak’s Titanium Flask

Maybe you like wine instead.  You’re in luck because several wines come in recyclable cardboard boxes, ranging in size from single serving to four-bottle.  The internal bladder can be removed from the larger boxes.  They are remarkably sturdy and will survive quite a bit of abuse.  That ought to keep several people serviced for a few days!  You can also get your favorite bottle of wine and repackage it in a PlatyPreserve wine bladder from Cascade Designs.  This will allow you to carry any kind of wine (or any kind of booze for that matter) you choose.  Paperboy Wines has developed a fully recyclable wine bottle that weighs 80% less than glass.  If you want to use their packaging, you’re restricted to their wines, for the moment.

We like whiskey (or whisky, depending on your pleasure).  Scotch, scotch, scotch, Gearhead Sean likes scotch.  Gearhead Dave was introduced to Japanese whiskey on a trip to Tokyo and is starting to convert. (Is he wrong? A Japanese whiskey won Whiskey of the Year in 2014!) We get a bottle and pour it into a 1 liter Platypus bladder.  That way you’re not carrying a glass bottle into the backcountry and having to pack it out. If you decide to use a Platypus for alcohol, designate one and mark it.  If you don’t, pretty soon, all of your bladders will taste boozy.

What if you don’t need to carry an entire bottle of booze into the backcountry? For a day on the slopes, we recommend something a bit smaller and easier to carry – the classic flask. Hold on, you say! Flasks aren’t very gear-ish. We disagree! Flasks are perfect gear – gear that has been around for a long time, going through rounds of refinement until it has reached the pinnacle of form. Your grandfather probably had a flask made of pewter, or, maybe stainless steel. Engearment wouldn’t enlist such primitive materials to hold our precious fluid. No, we recommend a titanium flask.  Specifically, we recommend the Snow Peak Curved Titanium Flask.  There are less expensive options that have innovative features, like Vargo’s Titanium Funnel Flask, but they’re made in China.  Snow Peak manufactures all of its titanium products in Japan.  Snow Peak’s flask comes in two sizes – medium holds 5 oz and weighs 2.9 oz. and large holds 6oz and weighs 3.2 oz.  Other alternatives?  Vapur’s Incognito Flexible Flask is like a Platypus bladder, holds 10oz, and costs $7.

Backcountry Booze

How to enjoy State38’s Anejo Agave in the tasting room.

Backcountry Booze

State38 Distillery – 100% organic, fair-trade, agave spirits.

We recently had the pleasure of touring the State38 Distillery in Golden, Colorado.  Some of their spirits will be joining us on our next adventure.  They craft all of their spirits out of 100%, organic, raw, fair-trade, Weber Blue agave.  When we think agave, we usually think tequila.  And State38 makes blanco, reposado, and añejo agave spirits (they can’t be labeled tequila if they’re produced outside of Jalisco, Mexico).  But, they also make agave vodka and agave gin.  Owner Sean Smiley gave us the full tour, telling us all of his secrets – except one.  He won’t disclose the proprietary yeast strain – the magic ingredient that makes his mash turn into the perfect wort.  And, understandably so!

State 38’s spirits offer a variety of flavors.  The agave gin includes 12 different botanicals that give it a herbal, citrus flavor at first, but drop in an ice cube and vanilla takes over.  Agave vodka eschews the popular wisdom about vodka.  Rather than distill and filter all of the flavor out, State 38 retains some of the sweetness of the agave.  Vodkas brag about smoothness, but tend to burn unless brought down to arctic temperatures.  State 38’s vodka is smooth and pleasing when sipped at room temperature.

State 38 also offers the three traditional levels of aged agave spirits.  We tried all of them.  ‘Twas a good night.  Each spends a time in a No. 3 char, Cooper’s Select new oak barrel – the blanco, one week; the reposado, 2 months; and the añejo, a full 12 months.  We would take the añejo along on backcountry adventures and leave the others at home for more comfortable sipping.

However you include booze in your backcountry adventures, drink responsibly and don’t forget to share!

If you’d like to include some beverage carrying devices in your pack, but don’t know where to start, contact our Gear Concierge for help.