In an urban environment you can walk in just about any direction and find a bar that can make you a wonderful craft cocktail. If you’re a drinker, you’re probably accustomed to ordering something like an Old Fashioned or engaging your bartender in some casual conversation about how they can modify the house margarita.
Narrow down that experience even more for those of us who love the outdoors and you’re likely to indulge in an aprés-ski glass of wine or hit your favorite brew pub after a few days on the trail.
Go deeper beyond the comforts of car camping and your options to imbibe seemingly become even smaller. No one wants to schlep a growler into the backcountry – plus warm beer is not so tasty. And if you like wine but don’t love the weight, packing an additional 2.65 pounds of liquid might mean you’re staying sober for a few days.
Sure, you can take a cue from your next flight and pack a few stashable bottles of booze, but what about the mixers? Of course we don’t want to underestimate your willingness to get creative, but we’ve just noticed that happy hour is a little lackluster without the proper knowledge on how to be your own backcountry bartender.
To solve for this, we turned to resident expert, Lauren De Vine to give us some practical advice on where to start, what to pack, how to forage, and most importantly, how to be responsible with that practice. Having had enough of the corporate grind in the cosmetic world, De Vine simplified her life and had a stint working behind some bars in the San Francisco area learning the tricks of the trade and fine tuning her knowledge of flavor composition.
Collaborating with well-known chefs landed her a gig at the famed seaside Post Ranch Inn Resort in Big Sur that gave her a master’s class in developing her craft even further in a natural breathtaking setting that also informed her flavor profiles.
This leap, met with intention, intuition and desire for a fresh approach, brought her into designing lists for Michelin star-awarded restaurants – forging friendships with innovative chefs who understood her work that would dictate her career to come. She lives life with a certain fluidity that is less like a rootless vagabond and more like a vocational gypsy working when she wants and often where she parks her vintage van.
This flexibility has landed her projects designing drinks and pouring at places like Outpost Trade Show or Desert and Denim and consulting with a number of American heritage brands on their cocktail experiences.
“So many chefs or bartenders would kill to get out of the restaurant, onto the land and have access to the ingredients you would find out in the wild,” De Vine tells ASN about the idea that’s at the center of her mission. “We’re all evolved to consume the things that are right in front of us.”
We laugh at the fact that you don’t need a studio to play a guitar so why would you need a full bar to make a cocktail? With a few basic ingredients she walks us through what she calls “ethical wildcrafting” which you can achieve too by bringing a small bottle of booze and understanding what plants to pick.
“The idea of having a good cocktail in the backcountry – which they even talk about when you bartend at home – is to have a knowledge of some base recipes,” she adds. “You just have to add local flora to something that’s sweet or sour. There’s no reason to move beyond keeping it simple unless you want to.”
For these recipes we both agreed that Mezcal and Whiskey would be our go-to after humping a pack ten miles to camp.
Modified Mezcal Margarita with Blackberry and Lemon Balm
– 1.5 ounces Mezcal (We used Madre)
– 1 ounce lime juice (we kept the squeezed lime in our drink to encourage the oil to permeate the cocktail and add a bright green note to the taste)
– 1 tbsp organic cane sugar
– Small handful of fresh blackberry
– 3-5 leaves fresh lemon balm
– In our case, we began by muddling the berries and sugar in the bottom of our cup directly (jar, whatever). If you have the tools, straining the blackberries is great. Making a shrub is an excellent way for this to last even longer and give you even more versatility.
– Add Mezcal, lime, ice (or snow), and shake.
– Press lemon balm leaves firmly but delicately to release oils without bruising the leaf and altering its flavor. Add to cocktail on the finish.
– For this drink, we simply left all ingredients in the jar and poured it into our glassware. The colors in our cocktail required no additional garnish.
Modified Whiskey Sour
– 1.5 ounces Whiskey (we used the brand Wyoming Whiskey made in the Bighorn Basin in Wyoming. I love that place and their story!)
– 1 ounce verjus (we used Scribe Winery, a Sonoma Maker)
– 1/2 ounce lemon (rough measure, it’s the juice of one lemon)
– 1 tsp organic cane sugar
– 3 young Douglas Fir tips
– For the whiskey sour we combined the Whiskey, sugar and lemon first to give the sugar a better chance to dissolve before adding other ingredients (due to the fact that we used raw sugar rather than simple syrup).
– After dissolving sugar in the combined liquids we added verjus, ice, and two of our Fir tips and shook all ingredients.
– Pour into a cup and garnish with remaining fir.
While foraging and overpopulation continue to have a major impact on the outdoors, we touch on the ways to be conscious about the mantra of “leave no trace.” While we don’t anticipate a mass exodus to the mountains to be a backcountry bartender there are some things to keep in mind before you next pour.
“As people return to the land and wild flora for their plates [and drinks], it’s important to understand that there are plant populations that are important to indigenous communities and essential to their religious ceremonies,” De Vine tells ASN. “White Sage is a passion plant of mine. It’s a plant we see around, even on spice racks. However, it’s a plant that Native Americans use for smudging and a lot of those populations don’t have access to it. When a recipe calls for that I think it’s important that we find an alternative.
“United Plant Savers is a great resource for plants under threat or endangered. Before you head into a region pick up a guide book to inform you of the local foliage. Double check those against United Plant Savers because I think the social responsibility aspect will be a growing conversation. White Sage is a number one hot topic plant. A lot of our white American culture is disconnected from the ritual of that plant and we need to honor it.”
So the next time you strap a pack to your back, consider adding an alternative to the hip flask and bring a few extra items in your kit. With the right ingredients and mindset “you can have a cocktail moment after a dinner by the river that your friends will never forget,” De Vine reminds us. We’ll cheers to that!
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