Wildcrafted Cocktails: The Campfire Old Fashioned

When I was in high school, I’d go backpacking with a group of friends, and one of my pals had an enraging habit of breaking out a beer a few days into the trip. We’d be sitting on a rock outcropping or summit with our three-day-old cheese, drinking warm pond water covered up with iodine and Gatorade, and then suddenly we’d hear the cracking sound of a beer opening, click, fizzzz … you get the picture, it was basically just a long-game joke, he’d carry a full beer around for days just for the shock value of unleashing it in the middle of nowhere.

One of the great pleasures of camping is that everyday indulgences suddenly seem like other-worldly luxuries, so in thinking about campfire cocktail recipes and times I’ve really enjoyed a cocktail while car camping, unexpected luxury is the key.

Ice. Need I say more? When you’ve been out for a few days, nothing in the world could possibly be more luxurious than ice in your drink. If you do nothing else but get some ice and pour a nice single-malt scotch or aged bourbon over it, you’ve accomplished a small miracle as far as your friends are concerned. Get those big bartender cubes and some nice glasses, and put them in the cooler—it’ll blow people away.

If you want to take this game further and get all Martha Stewart on it, I always default to a simplified Old Fashioned with a wild herb infusion.

Tips on making wildcrafted simple syrup

Making a simple syrup is so, well, simple. Pick a plant you like that you know is edible and tasty, make a tea out of it to the desired flavor strength, and add equal parts sugar to tea. I love Douglas Fir for this, but wild mints, sages, and many other wild edible plants are great too. The sugar preserves the mix so you don’t even have to keep it refrigerated for short periods of time. Using wild plants is really fun here because it sticks with the theme of a campfire cocktail and brings the outdoors into the cocktail.

Douglas Fir/orange simple syrup recipe

1) Harvest some Douglas Fir tips (the last 12” or so of a Doug Fir branch)

2) Make a strong sun tea/cold infusion

put 16 oz of cold water in a quart-size jar

cut up Doug Fir tips into small pieces and jam them in there until they are densely packed enough to bring water level up to top of quart jar

set in sun for 1 day of full sunlight, then move to fridge for 2 days more until water tastes strongly of Douglas Fir

strain out the plant matter, leaving just the tea

add equal parts / 16 oz sugar

add juice from two oranges

cook on stove over medium heat while stirring until syrup starts to turn light brown (don’t let it go black/burnt, just a very light caramelly brown)

pour into canning jar, seal and refrigerate

Hall’s Campfire Old Fashioned recipe

1 ½ oz barrel-aged bourbon, such as Eagle Rare or Booker’s

2 large cocktail-bar-style ice cubes

3 tablespoons of orange-infused Douglas Fir simple syrup