A camper’s guide to outdoor cocktails
It's always 5 o'clock somewhere.
Anyone who’s spent the night outdoors knows that fresh air and fireside chats have the mystical power to make everything taste better. And that goes double for cocktails: libations sipped by a bubbling brook, passed around a campsite surrounded by trees, or poured with mountains in the background just seem to be more delicious.
Putting together tasty cocktails in the great outdoors takes a bit more prep and planning than slinging martinis at your backyard wet bar. So here are some tips and tricks on how to do it right, and two mouth-watering recipes that will surely impress your camp companions.
Tips to make great cocktails in the great outdoors
The first thing to keep in mind when making cocktails outdoors is that glass is not welcome. A broken bottle stealthily hiding in the grass or a creek bed can have disastrous effects if someone unwittingly stumbles upon it. So before you leave the house, transfer any alcohol or liquid ingredients into reusable containers like metal flasks or leak-proof plastic vessels.
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The same goes for drinking glasses. There is an abundance of specialty cocktail vessels made of steel or aluminum that are designed for the outdoors, but any metal or plastic cup will do. Alternatively, you can mix up cocktails in advance and keep them in a flask or a water bottle until it’s time to chill and pour. As you might imagine if you’ve ever had a pre-mixed cocktail, it’ll never be quite as good as freshly mixed one. But it’s incredibly practical, especially when you need to carry all your tools and ingredients on your back. Add ice and garnishes in individual serving cups once you’ve set up camp.
Speaking of ice, keep it frozen by placing some in a vacuum-insulated bottle or a portable insulated ice bucket. If you need it to last more than a few hours, fill a cooler with dry ice to keep regular cubes frozen for longer. If you prefer a more natural, less bulky method, Ludlow Dawes, senior brand manager of Stillhouse, a distillery that packages its spirits in steel cans designed for outdoor adventure, suggests keeping beverages chilled by sealing them properly and then placing them in a cold river or stream.
Next, streamline your cocktail menu, tools, and ingredients. Start by choosing one or two simple cocktails that only require a handful of components and let the alcohol shine. If you plan on making several different drinks, select recipes that have similar elements so you can optimize the process. When it comes to your gear, Dawes recommends picking a single beloved mixer to bring along for ultimate simplicity. Finally, if your cocktails feature fresh fruit juices, stick with something simple and easily portable like lemon and lime. You can even squeeze the juice out in advance and pack it in a reusable plastic bottle.
“You can also get creative with flavored whiskeys,” Dawes says. This will spare you from bringing more than two or three additional ingredients.
If you’re not into flavored spirits, select one versatile base like vodka or gin that you can use in a variety of easy recipes.
And don’t forget to leave no trace, meaning dispose of everything correctly when you head home. That includes peels, rinds, and empty cans and bottles. If you brought it into the outdoors, take it with you when you leave.
Make it campy
You may want to stick to traditional cocktails, but for a real outdoorsy twist, level up your beverages by bringing a bit of the outdoors into your cup. There are plenty of ingredients you can forage to add flavor or use as a garnish.
Fir needles paired with lemon juice, gin, and tonic water can add a refreshing mountain twist to a gin and tonic. Wild mint, sugar, and bourbon make an easy mint julep and foraged lavender, and blueberries make for excellent additions to your outdoorsy cocktails. To add a sweet and smokey touch to your libations, use your campfire to grill pineapple and citrus.
You can also turn a campsite classic into a boozy variation by putting together a s’more martini—just use chocolate liquor, cream, and vanilla-flavored vodka, and garnish it with chocolate syrup, graham crackers, and a golden-brown roasted marshmallow.
Some recipes to get you going
If you’re in need of inspiration, we have a couple of ideas to get you started as a campsite mixology expert. Both these recipes are good for one cocktail, so if you’re hitting the campsite with family and friends, multiply the recipe as needed.
Apple pie cocktail
An apple pie cocktail is simple to make, and delicious. As a bonus, you can serve it hot or cold depending on the weather.
- 1.5 ounces apple whiskey
- 1.5 ounces apple cider
- 1/2 tablespoon ginger syrup
- 1/2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cinnamon stick broken in half
- Ice cubes
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- Freshly grated cinnamon
- A slice of grilled apple
Add the whiskey, apple cider, ginger syrup, lemon juice, and one broken cinnamon stick in a cocktail shaker with several ice cubes. Secure the lid and shake to combine until the container is cold.
Strain the mixture into a cup with ice. To garnish, top with a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg and cinnamon. If you like, add a slice of grilled apple, and a cinnamon stick. Enjoy cold.
Alternatively, serve this cocktail as a hot apple toddy by warming the apple cider, ginger syrup, lemon juice, and cinnamon stick over the campfire. Stir to combine. Strain and transfer the ingredients to an insulated mug. To finish, add the whiskey and garnishes.
Berry mint mocktail
This non-alcoholic drink is the perfect way to end a hot summer day in the backcountry.
- 4 ounces ginger beer or sparkling water
- Handful of blueberries
- 6 mint leaves
- 1/2 tablespoon simple syrup, if using sparkling water
- 1/2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Ice cubes
- A sprig of mint
- A lemon wheel
In a cocktail shaker, combine ice cubes, blueberries, mint leaves, and lemon juice. If you’re using sparkling water and like a sweeter sip, add the simple syrup as well. Muddle the berries and mint and shake to mix.
Transfer the contents into a cup with more ice, straining if desired. Then pour in the ginger beer or sparkling water.
Garnish with a lemon wheel and a sprig of fresh mint and enjoy cold.