Whether enjoyed while relaxing with friends around a fire pit or after a successful day of camping, some cocktails just taste better outside. Of course, certain recipes are better-suited than others for the outdoors, but just a few key guidelines around ingredients, technique and prep can set up your drink for success en plein air.
The best outdoor cocktails “should feel quick and easy to produce, but also feel comforting,” says Erin Ashford, of Olamaie in Austin, Texas. It should also “create pause,” she adds, encouraging a moment of reflection to enjoy the surroundings.
All the better is if that drink is made with a spirit that helps the planet while you’re enjoying it—as does Noble Oak, a whiskey brand whose mission is to give back to what makes it great. Every bottle of Noble Oak purchased plants a tree through their partnership with One Tree Planted; the company has pledged to plant over 400,000 trees to date and they are not stopping there.
Fittingly, the tree-lined vistas of Austin’s Town Lake make an ideal pairing for Ashford’s lightly smoky, herbaceous Into the Wild cocktail—made with Noble Oak bourbon, gentian liqueur and aged Scotch. Alternatively, she’d choose to “pour a round for friends sitting around the fire pit in the backyard and laugh until our faces hurt.”
Into the Wild
Erin Asford’s lightly smoky Old-Fashioned riff channels the spirit of the campfire.
As bar manager at Portland, Oregon’s Takibi—a bar and restaurant housed within the flagship store of Japanese outdoor outfitters Snow Peak—Lydia McLuen understands the concept of blurring the line between the bar and the outdoors. It’s not just about where you’re enjoying your drink, but what’s in it, too.
“[Your cocktail] has to match the tone and the occasion and the weather,” she says. “Something more boozy and stirred might go a bit better in the fall, while a Gold Rush might be better after a summer hike—something with citrus and fruit would go better in the sunshine. You want to match the ingredients with the season.”
A self-described “outdoorsy person,” McLuen can imagine mixing up ahead of time something like her bracing Noble Fir —a Vieux Carré variation amped up with Douglas fir brandy and woody Noble Oak—to be sipped at the end of a certain beloved hike.
“One of my favorite places to go is the Columbia Gorge … 45 minutes outside of Portland,” she says. Among the hundreds of routes available, Eagle Creek Trail is one she especially loves (though it’s been closed recently due to fire damage). “When it’s open, and you’re able to hike through the fog and the rain, you land at a lovely fall called Punch Bowl Falls. If I were to take this drink in a flask at this moment, I’d go on that hike, along the trees and firs, and drink it there.”
Lydia McLuen’s Vieux Carré variation channels the experience of hiking through a forest.
Adventurous bartenders also suggest bringing along drinks that won’t wilt in the face of temperature changes—the cocktail equivalent of dressing in layers.
“A good outdoor whiskey cocktail sips slow and holds a balanced flavor, no matter what temperature it’s served at,” says David Yee, beverage director of Watershed Kitchen & Bar in Columbus, Ohio. For his Present Company, he chose sherry, honey and amaro to complement the honeyed, baking spice notes of Noble Oak (itself finished with sherry oak staves)—but also with the intention that “they all have equally interesting flavor profiles, no matter if they’re chilled or room temperature,” he explains.
David Yee’s bittersweet build is meant for post-adventure celebration.
The other key to building drinks right to enjoy at a campsite or cabin, or even just in the backyard, is to plan ahead, the pros say.
“In my opinion, less is more for the outdoors,” says Ashford. “Batching at home and unloading all of the bottles and extras there makes travel and transport much easier and carefree.” Funnel pre-mixed drinks into flasks for individual portions, or use a large Yeti cup or thermos for larger portions, she advises.
Similarly, McLuen says, “If I were serving drinks on the go, I would probably have everything already made.” For big groups, she might even have a larger serve bottled in a cooler, ready to pour. “You can pull it out and have no work, no cleanup.”
Either way, if you’re planning to enjoy those drinks outdoors with a group, don’t forget to pack cups or other drinkware, says McLuen. Leave the breakable glassware at home; double-walled acrylic glasses—ideal for keeping cold drinks cold—metal cups or flasks are all light and reusable and get the job done.
While the setting and company may be enough, if you want to make your outdoor drinks feel even more special, Yee says, it’s never a bad idea to add snacks. He likes to think of this part as an exercise in pairing and practicality: For example, he would match the honey and spice tones of his whiskey cocktail with trail mix, beef jerky and granola.
In the end, McLuen likes to think of serving drinks in the literal wild as not that different from hosting at home. “It’s better if everyone can serve themselves something that’s high-quality, but already made and ready to go. Just get out some cups and pour for everybody!”
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