Boozing up the Backcountry

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Our guide to imbibing on your Colorado adventures

By Steve Graham
Photos Neill Pieper

Colorado offers some of the world’s best outdoor craft beer and spirits, and some of the most enticing backcountry adventures. A lot of us live here because we can enjoy both — often together.

But how do you enjoy responsibly while hiking, biking, rafting, fishing and playing around the state? In addition to controlling consumption, responsibility in this case is about minimizing the burden on your back, keeping your drinks cool and making sure you can pack out what you pack in. Here’s how to choose, carry and consume your adult beverages in the Colorado backcountry.

Choose it

My first rule when choosing backcountry beverages is no glass: it weighs too much, you have to carry it all back out, it’s too fragile and many parks don’t even allow glass.  

Oskar Blues Brewery is credited with launching the canned craft beer revolution in 2002, so include some classic Dale’s Pale Ale in one of your summer adventures just for old times’ sake (oskarblues.com). 

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Of course, there are plenty of other canned craft choices these days. Even many small breweries without canning lines have crowler machines for filling oversized cans with fresh craft goodness. Or invest in a ManCan or another aluminum growler. Many even come with CO2 regulators for keeping the beer carbonated (mancan.beer).

And with all the great canned Colorado craft out there, you can find a beer for every type of adventure, such as Great Divide’s Roadie, a grapefruit radler that honors the road warriors pedaling our mountain passes. Or if you’re headed up to take in Colorado’s highest peaks, consider a Mt. Massive IPA from the appropriately named 14er Brewing.

Of course, Upslope’s Rocky Mountain Kolsch covers all adventures in our mountainous terrain, as does the Mountain Livin’ Pale Ale from Crazy Mountain Brewery.

Wineries and distilleries are also getting into the aluminum game. 

Infinite Monkey Theorem in Denver is leading the admittedly smaller canned wine revolution, and makes a variety of high-quality, single-serve wines in creatively designed cans (theinfinitemonkeytheorem.com). 

If you’re partial to other local craft wine, the Platypus hydration pack folks have you covered. They make a 27-ounce PlatyPreserve, a sturdy plastic bladder that keeps your vino fresh without the weight and hazards of a glass bottle (platy.com).

Mile High Spirits in Denver claims to have sold the first craft Moscow Mule in a can. The Punching Mule is made with the company’s own Elevate Vodka and ginger beer, along with natural lime flavor. At 7 percent ABV, it’s a great backcountry option for non-beer fans (punchingmule.com). 

The Wheelhouse Canning Co. in Denver produces tasty cocktails that are mixed up locally and sold in four packs. Try the Mint Cucumber Elderflower Lime & Vodka drink for a refreshing thirst-quencher (wheelhousecocktails.com).

 Bear Creek west of Morrison is a great place to test a Yeti Hopper and your favorite beverages. Photo: Neill Pieper

Bear Creek west of Morrison is a great place to test a Yeti Hopper and your favorite beverages. Photo: Neill Pieper

Carry it

So, you have your indestructible aluminum growler full of beer or your case of canned wines and mules. Now what? How are you getting it to the campsite and keeping it cool?

One great option is Rollr wheeled coolers from Colorado-based Rovr Products. They are known for the giant 9-inch puncture-resistant tires and bear-proof latches, but they also have a pop-up bin for hauling extra gear, a bike attachment kit, and perhaps most importantly, they will keep your drinks cold for up to 10 days (www.rovrproducts.com).

If you need even more portability, there are a few reliable cooler backpacks. One of the best in the industry is the Yeti Hopper Backflip 24, which can hold up to 20 beer cans or 25 pounds of ice, although you probably want to carry some combination of both (yeti.com).

Also keep in mind that you can chill your beverage cans or a well-sealed growler in about 30 minutes in a cold mountain stream.

Drink it

So you got the booze, you hauled it to your fishing spot or your campsite. But it’s not practical to drink straight from the growler, and as much as we love canned craft beer, we still suggest pouring it into a cup — the bulk of taste is actually related to smell, so you’re mostly tasting aluminum when your nose is up against that pull tab.

We have three good alternatives to traditional drinking glasses. 

Silipint makes virtually indestructible BPA-free silicon pint glasses in a wide variety of colors and whimsical designs. They also make stemless 14-ounce wine glasses and 12-ounce cocktail tumblers (silipint.com). 

To add some insulation, check out the Hydro Flask insulated stainless steel pint glass, available in 10 colors (hydroflask.com).

To get more serious with your insulation, check out the 24-ounce stein from Stanley, the famed Thermos company that has been keeping your drinks cold and your lunch hot for decades. It looks like an Oktoberfest vessel, complete with latching lid, and will keep your drinks frosty for up to 9 hours (Stanley-pmi.com).

Enjoy your summer adventures. Drink responsibly. And whatever containers you use, don’t forget to pack them out. 

Steve Graham will be stocking up on crowlers at his Fort Collins neighborhood breweries on his way to family camping trips and multi-day bike rides this summer.