How to drink in the woods: Pro tips to elevate your beverage experience in the backcountry

Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

We’re approaching that glorious time of year when we shed what’s left of our winter layers and head north in search of fresh air and open spaces. What’s an adventure trip without some delicious drinks to enjoy after those long, summer days? We talked to some Duluth-based experts who shared their recommendations on the best products to fill coolers, Duluth Packs, and dry bags as we head to our wilderness destinations.


We’re all counting down the days until former Fitger’s Brewhouse brewer Dave Hoops opens his massive taproom and beer hall in Canal Park this spring. He’s been brewing in northern Minnesota for the better part of three decades. “Lake Superior and I basically invented the beer scene in Duluth,” Hoops says. “My credentials are solid—and man, I sound like a giant turd right now.”

Turdy-ness aside, Hoops—and his eponymous brewery-in-progress—exist for one reason: to make quality beer. He knows a thing or two about drinking quality beer, too, and suggests transporting beer in stainless steel or Nalgene plastic growlers when taking shorter trips into the BWCA or other areas that don’t allow aluminum cans (Note: beer in growlers flattens out in a matter of days).

For campgrounds that allow them, here are some Hoops-approved local canned favorites:

  • Blacklist’s Or de Belgique (7.5% ABV; 16-ounce cans) – The name translates to the “Gold of Belgium,” but it’s brewed right there in good ol’ Duluth. Oi, oi.
  • Bent Paddle’s Bent Hop Golden IPA (6.2% ABV, 12-ounce cans) – “That’s a tremendous beer—a really solid pale ale,” says Hoops.
  • Castle Danger’s Castle Cream Ale (5.3% ABV; 12-ounce cans) – This is a great choice to fill a cooler—or if you’re headed up the North Shore and have a few minutes, swing by for a growler fill at the brewery in Two Harbors.

Big-picture, he’d steer toward fills of German lagers and helles, Pils, and wheat beers that lose their carbonation a bit slower, but he’s an equal-opportunity drinker when it comes to enjoying a cold one under the Minnesota stars. “The secret to life is loving your job,” says Hoops. “And a cold beer after a long day of portaging and paddling. Yeah, that’s the reason for living.”


Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

Duluth’s Mount Royal Bottle Shoppe (your 2015 and 2016 Kind-of-a-Big-Deal favorite) carries about 2,000 varieties of wine. It’s been outfitting thirsty adventurers since 1939, so the team knows a thing or two about picking just the right beverages to bring into the Northwoods. Store manager Dan Abell shared a few favorite wines that provide solid flavor profiles and glass-free, Northwoods-friendly packaging options:

  • Arrumaco Garnacha Rosé (boxed) – “It’s lower in alcohol content—11.5% ABV—so you can drink a decent amount without being completely tossed. It’s refreshing and perfect for summer,” Abell says.
  • Anything by Underwood (Sparkling, Rosé, Pinot Gris, or Pinot Noir; 375-milliliter cans) – “The wines are all lighter, excellent patio-pounders; great for grilling out, not to mention how nicely the cans fit in your cooler.”
  • “Shania” Red Wine by Juan Gil (Spanish Monastrell; three-liter bag in a box) – “Could have a slight chill on it or drinks nicely at room temperature. It’s medium in body with just enough juiciness to balance out the tannins, so it’s not going to dry out your palate but will still hold up to standard camping fare.”

Mount Royal carries BWCA-friendly growlers (which work for wine, too) and Seriously Ice Cold (SIC) products, including 20- or 30-ounce insulated tumblers for temperature consistency and optional snap-on caps that turn them into cocktail shakers. (Although packing one of those might be grounds for automatic “glamping” classification.) There’s an ever-expanding lineup of products out there to store, transport, and serve your favorite varieties that don’t happen to come dressed in cardboard or aluminum, but any camping jug, cup, or Nalgene will do the trick. As for transporting wine after it’s been opened? “It should be fine for a couple days,” says Abell. “It might even help some of the younger reds open up a little bit!”


Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

Joel and Emily Vikre, who is originally from Duluth, founded Vikre Distillery as a celebration of all things Nordic, Northwoods, and au naturel. Legend has it the Boston (and corporate life) expats were on a trip to Minnesota—in January, no less—when it dawned on them that “this area has all the resources to make whiskey: it’s has the best water in the whole world, botanicals, barrel cooperages nearby,” says Emily. “We thought, ‘Oh my God, somebody needs to distill whiskey in Duluth.’”

They’ve launched a line of gins, vodkas, aquavits, and whiskeys that feature local ingredients and “conjure up the terroir, the feeling of being in the Northwoods, on Lake Superior,” Emily says. If you are canoe or car camping and have room to bring more specialized gear, pack a selection of pre-made cocktail fixin’s or homemade syrups and go all out with specialty drinks (there are some great recipes on their website). But Emily shares a few more low-maintenance options that will do the trick:

  • Get a bottle of Vikre aquavit (it’s an unaged version of the classic Norwegian spiced spirit) – “During berry season, add a fresh blueberry or blackberry smash—with a touch of maple syrup,” Emily says.
  • Try a cup of lemonade—made from powdered—with 1.5 ounces of aquavit – Vodka and bourbon, Emily says, are both great in iced tea. “Citrus also keeps pretty well—add a twist of orange, lemon, or lime to just about anything,” says Emily.
  • Mix up an old fashioned – A shot of whichever clear spirit you have on hand, a bit of sugar or maple syrup, bitters, and an orange twist.
  • Need to warm up? Add a jigger of aquavit or whiskey with the hot water in your hot cocoa mix.
  • “With foraging, you really need to know what you’re doing, but you can pour hot water over spruce or pine needles. Just sweeten or spike it,” Emily says. Wood sorrel—which has distinctive heart-shaped leaves—can also be muddled into a tart and citrusy, cold drink.

“You probably won’t have ice—that’s the tricky thing,” says Emily. Just drag a filled Nalgene behind your canoe or let it sit in the Lake Superior shallows to chill for a couple hours. Here’s the good news: “At the end of the day, almost everything tastes good!”


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