A Toast to the End of Summer: The Camping Old-Fashioned
By Eric Twardzik
Jul 13, 2022
As the weather cools and the seasons change, we mark the occasion with a drink redolent of campfires and the great outdoors.
A strong argument in favour of Boston is its proximity to Maine. Within the Pine Tree State’s heavily forested interior, even the most urban among us may suddenly find themselves gathering firewood, listening for loon calls, and — if they aren’t careful — fancying themselves an outdoorsman. All it takes is a few hours’ drive and keys to a camp.
In Maine parlance a “camp” refers to a small wooden vacation home, about one degree removed from a log cabin, and often perched on a lake. One such camp belonging to a college friend is the platonic ideal: it was built by his grandfather, lacks plumbing or running water, but does hold a functional Edison phonograph and decades of Sports Illustrated back issues.
And for one weekend each summer, it’s where I reconvene with old college friends, trade in button-downs for t-shirts, and live rustically—to a point. Desk jockeys to a man, there’s no fishing or fowling involved. We do manage to cook burgers and hot dogs over a charcoal grill at night and build a fire afterward for the s’mores course (in the morning, we’ll briefly re-join civilization for a diner breakfast). But mostly, the hours are passed in ways befitting Vacationland: lazy lake swims, paperbacks on the dock, and simply sitting in nature with nothing to do.
Which, naturally, brings us to alcoholic beverages. A case of light, inexpensive “lawnmower beer” seems the right move for such a pretension-free afternoon, while a bites-you-back bourbon sipped directly from the bottle is best shared around the campfire. However, an escape from city life doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a cocktail. In time, I’ve come to treasure something I dub “The Camping Old-Fashioned.”
The simplicity of the Old-Fashioned makes it a natural choice when the tools required to make a cocktail aren’t at hand. And its ingredients—whiskey, sugar, bitters—are easily packed away.
Whiskey is the most important component. Corners may be cut in bringing the cocktail to the wild, where no hand-cut ice spheres exist, but there’s no excuse for hum-drum brown spirits. I recommend a high-proof, 100% rye whiskey for the presence it will bring; if you’re feeling generous, a bottle of WhistlePig 10 Year will work wonders. Rittenhouse Rye presents a more affordable, yet no less punchy, alternative.
Sugar-wise, single-serving packets will do, but your best option is a carton of demerara cubes for the richer flavor this less-refined sugar provides. Bitters bottles are small enough for convenient transport as-is, but many makers produce two-ounce “sampler sets” which are easily packed away in a dopp kit and can be used to add greater variety.
Ice may be the least convenient of its components to transport but can’t be left out. Aside from cooling the drink, the dilution will help bind together the rest of the ingredients and dissolve the sugar. Pick up a bag of ice from a gas station freezer on the way up and keep it inside a cooler (assuming a lack of refrigeration) in the meantime.
Lastly, glassware must be considered. A dixie cup works fine for our purposes, but a set of collapsible, stainless steel cups better suit the environment and the mood.
The Camping Old-Fashioned
50ml rye whiskey
2-4 dashes bitters
1 demerara sugar cube
Place sugar cube at the bottom of a cup. Soak cube with bitters (so that it more quickly dissolves) and add rye. Add a handful of ice cubes and stir with whatever’s at hand to combine.