As the last stop for many campers on their way Up North, the eight-year-old Vikre Distillery in Duluth has become an unofficial resource for those with questions about bartending in the great outdoors.
Fortunately, co-founder Emily Vikre is an expert on nature’s cocktail room.
She is the author “Camp Cocktails” (Harvard Common Press, $26.99) a new guide to the many ways to imbibe under the stars.
The Duluth native grew up partly in Norway, and camping and the outdoors were “deeply ingrained in the culture” of both places, she said. “And having a distillery here at the gateway to the North Woods, it was a natural fit.”
The book, which came out earlier this year, organizes recipes and techniques by camping style. If you’re a “hard-core” camper like Vikre, the section on backpacking features easy “spikeables,” like adding an ounce of bourbon to 8 ounces of lemonade. Or premixing a simple, stirred cocktail like a Vieux Carré, proportioned for one serving, an 8-ounce flask or even to fill a 32-ounce water bottle.
The mixtures become more complex, depending on whether you’re car camping or spending a cozy weekend in a cabin. Sitting around a fire? Grill some oranges or strawberries to muddle into a drink.
A chapter on foraging and seasonality helps camping mixologists find uses for crabapples, sumac, wild berries and herbs.
“It’s bringing pieces of the outdoors into your cocktails,” Vikre said.
Vikre spoke to the Star Tribune about some of her favorite tips, tricks and recipes for a camping getaway. (Alcoholic beverages are not allowed in Minnesota state parks.)
Q: Why should people make cocktails on a camping trip? Why not just crack open a beer?
A: We have made gourmet food for camping into part of that kind of elevated outdoor experience. I always feel like you can go outdoors and really rough it and push your limits and eat nothing but beans. But you can also go outdoors because you are really celebrating and being present in nature and in being alive, and I feel like having nice food and nice drinks just makes that experience much richer and more complete.
Q: How did you come up with the recipes in the book?
A: There are a bunch of classics in there with tips and directions on how to do it when you are outside and far away from your regular home bar and tools. And there are original recipes, based on things we’ve done in our cocktail room, things I make myself outside at the cabin, inspired by flavors of the woods. The flavors of camping, like grilling. And the things you tend to take with you.
Q: Are you noticing people are camping more these days?
A: I do think a lot of people are like, “Well, I can’t go on the trip I’ve planned, but I’ll go camping.”
It’s a great time to be doing this and thinking about it, because there are a lot of places that we can’t go. But going outdoors in a family group, it’s still very safe overall. It’s nice to do a little extra planning so it becomes an extra enjoyable experience. Because I think we are all looking for moments of levity.
Q: What’s a good drink after a long, hot hike?
A: One that I really like and is really refreshing after a hot day is the Cobbler. Make it with wine or sherry, and sugar and grilled oranges. Smash the grilled orange slices in there and pile it full of crushed ice. It’s like a slushie. It’s kind of a handmade frosé type of situation.
Q: How about a cabin drink?
A: One that’s maybe more unusual is the Pontoon Life. It’s bourbon and amaro, lemon juice and simple syrup. It’s kind of surprising, because it’s a darker spirit drink, and the lemon juice lifts it up. Shake it well and serve it with a bunch of ice.
Q: What did you learn about camping and cocktails from writing the book?
A: One thing was, most of my cocktail development and bartending tends to focus on the spirits that we make. But we purposefully wanted to include those spirits and others, too. So it was fun playing around with spirits I don’t work with often, like mezcal and tequila and rum. And definitely I have my cocktail hacks I tend to use in the woods.
Q: What else should people know about mixing drinks in a rustic setting?
A: You don’t need perfect bartending tools to make a really good cocktail, as long as you know the principles behind how cocktails are constructed. If you know that a cocktail would normally be shaken to aerate it and dilute it, even if you don’t have ice, you could add water and shake it up until it’s frothy in a Nalgene for the same effect. Sometimes people are hung up on having the perfect things. I’m like, shake it in your coffee thermos and strain it by holding back a fork. You can get creative.
And many things are spikeable. The saying, when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail? When you have whiskey, everything looks like a cocktail.