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Test Kitchen: Backcountry Booze

A great ending to a good day on the trail? A tasty cocktail in camp. We consulted trail-savvy bartenders for their top recipes and tested more than 100 varieties of beer, wine, and liquor to find the most pack-friendly picks.

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Beta Potent and lightweight, liquor is the time-honored backpacking libation. Sip without guilt: According to the National Institutes of Health, drinking any alcohol in moderation benefits the heart and circulatory system and protects against type 2 diabetes and gallstones. Whiskey, scotch, cognac, and brandy also contain antioxidants. Forgot the hand sanitizer? One hundred-plus-proof liquor kills germs.

Packing We like the flexible GSI Highland Flask ($6; 9 fl. oz.;, but any light bottle will do.

Cooking Simmer a dash of scotch or whiskey with a pinch of salt to drizzle on meats for a smoky taste, or add a tablespoon or two of fruit brandy to a sweet-and-sour stir-fry. (For more recipes, check

Top pick High West Distillery Rendezvous Rye whiskey is spicy and warm ($50;


Beta On short trips, a river-cooled brew after a hot day is worth its weight. Perks: Up to 1 percent of beer’s weight comes from dietary fiber, and a serving supplies 10 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin B.

Packing Two 12-ounce cans of beer weigh 1.5 pounds. Make up for it by leaving your wallet, excess food packaging, a camp pillow, and extra cooking pot at home.

Cooking Add a splash or two of dark beer to hearty stews for a sweet kick, or sub a mild lager for water in pancake batter.

Top picks Oskar Blues Gubna Imperial IPA ($13 for 4; and Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA ($8 for 4, 16 ounces each; pack a punch—and both come in cans.


Beta Studies show antioxidants in red grapes reduce the risk of heart disease, lower levels of harmful cholesterol, limit blood clotting, and, when consumed with a high-fat meal, reduce blood vessel inflammation.

Packing Our go-to tote: the Platypreserve wine pouch ($10; 27 fl. oz.; Or pick up single plastic glasses (Stack Wines; $13 for 4;, cardboard pouches (Y+B Wines; $10 for 1 liter;, or boxed wines.

Cooking “Deglaze the pan to make tasty wine reductions,” says Anthony Giglio, FOOD & WINE Connoisseur Club Wine Expert. After cooking a meal like fresh trout, pour a splash of wine into the hot pan to loosen any flavorful bits left in the bottom; simmer until reduced and pour over pasta or meats.

Top picks Black Box’s 2009 Merlot ($25; ranked #6 on Wine Enthusiast’s 2012 100 Best Buys list.

Be Smart

Guzzling too much in the backcountry is extra stupid. Alcohol makes acclimatizing to altitude harder, causes dehydration, and impairs judgment. Sip wisely.

Secrets of the Pros

Take your camp cocktails to the next level with these tips from Crystal Sagan, owner of 3 Chicks Bartending and our Backcountry Bartender. For more of her advice, go to

Pack: “Pour fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice, simple syrup, or premixed cocktails into small juice bottles and freeze. They’re not as messy.”

Infuse:“Pick berries on the trail and soak them in vodka overnight for a fruity flavor. Or try infusing with fresh herbs for added complexity in your cocktail.”

Experiment:“You’d be surprised at all the lightweight options out there, like sparkling wine in a can (Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Mini Blanc de Blancs) and mini bottles of flavored bitters (The Bitter Truth Travel Pack).”

Cool it

Dig into snowbanks or glaciers to gather clean snow. Chill wine or beer by submerging in a river or stream (in swift water, place drinks in a stuffsack and tie the sack to a tree or rock on shore).

Sweet dreams Inflate your empty plastic wine bag and use it as a pillow.

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