If you’ve ever spent time around me, you know I love a good beer like a Yosemite bear loves the food in your canister. We brew (well, David brews, I drink) at home in our informally named “Drunken Marmot Brewing Company” (i.e. the garage). Our back yard is turning into a hop farm. One of my personal mantras is ‘the hoppier the better’, so you’ll usually find me with an IPA in hand, though I also enjoy a good wheat brew particularly after a long hot hike.
Our fridge is rarely tainted with the likes of Budweiser or Coors Light. The shelves are densely populated with a variety of craft brews, and I’m not afraid to experiment and buy something random at BevMo simply because I’ve never seen the label before.
Since this is a backpacking blog, I should probably get to the point: what is a beer lover to do when he or she wants a cold one in the backcountry?
At first, you may think beer does not fit in with a lightweight backpacking style. But to that I say: every pound and a half saved is another 2 cans of beer! Lightweight backpacking *encourages* beer! I mean, if I have 50 lbs on my back I’m not likely to want to throw in a beer. But if I have 15? I may be willing to splurge a little and bring a treat. Granted, this isn’t something I do when I’m knocking off large miles or out for a week, but for a simple relaxing overnighter? You can bet I have some along.
Now you are probably confused. I wrote about how I like good craft beer, then wrote about carrying canned beer in my backpack?! For starters, it makes sense. Carrying a glass bottle is kind of stupid – it can break and leave shattered glass all over the campsite (that’s a bit anti-LNT, don’t you think?) and you have to carry out the heavy empty bottle (you’re not leaving trash in the backcountry, ARE YOU?) Cans are much lighter weight and when the beer is gone, the empty can is much easier to deal with than an empty glass bottle.
But why even care about carrying a can of beer when it’s something like Coors Light? Why on earth would I bother hauling in that kind of swill? Well, canned beer is no longer restricted to the watery mainstream brews. Many craft breweries are canning their delicious brews, and this means I can bring along a yummy treat to chill in a mountain stream.
One of the first that I found was New Belgium’s Fat Tire. Around the same time, Heineken was using cans in their packaging. Admittedly, neither was my favorite, but it certainly indicated that the industry was moving in the right direction. Recently I’ve begun to see more of New Belgium’s stuff in cans: Ranger IPA and Mothership Wit come to mind.
There are smaller craft breweries that distribute their brews exclusively in cans, and it’s these that I’ve grown quite attached to. 21st Amendment in San Francisco has a good selection (I enjoy their Monk’s Blood around a campfire on a cool Sierra evening), as does Maui Brewing Company and Oskar Blues. As this trend spreads through the industry more and more breweries are canning their goods, and is seems like every time I head to the market I have a bigger selection to choose from.
You’re not going to find these beers in the standard grocery stores, but even there you’ll find *some* options: Heineken, Boddington’s, Guinness even. Some favor the efficiency of a giant Foster’s oilcan. The point is, you don’t have to resort to crappy American large brewery watered down beer if you want to carry a can or two along into the backcountry.
Once I’m in camp I find a nice cool creek to stash the beer and in 30 minutes it’s usually chilled quite nicely. If the creek runoff is too strong, my lightweight bucket filled with the cold water makes a nice cooler. Coincidentally, that’s about the amount of time it takes me to get settled in – tent setup, unpacking, etc. Then it’s great to kick back with my fishing pole and the beer. Yep, pretty much my definition of a perfect afternoon.
As I said, this isn’t something I do on every hike – higher pack weight, longer daily mileage, and altitude will preclude the inclusion of beer, but it sure is a nice treat on those trips where the objective is to relax and kick back for a weekend in the backcountry. Different conditions merit different treats as well – snow camping may mean that weight goes towards normally refrigerated items, such as sausages for breakfast.
Some people think this is silly – beer is heavy! Why not bring liquor? It certainly is more efficient for the weight. Well, the objective is not to get drunk – it’s to enjoy one of my favorite treats in one of my favorite settings. Do you carry any treats that most people roll their eyes at and dismiss as too heavy? What do you do to minimize or offset that weight? If you carry canned beer, what is your favorite?