May 16 2014 03:55 PM

Why visit the great outdoors when you can just drink it?

Yule Smith Beer
Photo illustration by Ian Cheesman

Some of the clearest memories I have from my childhood are of family camping trips. We'd pile into the van and head into parts unknown, abandoning creature comforts for a fleeting moment of communion with Mother Nature. God, did it suck.

Now, just because I didn't relish the experience, that's no reason to shit all over John Muir's grave (which, while offensive, he would appreciate as the ecologically sensible alternative to flushing it). Reveling in nature may well be an essential part of the human experience, but that doesn't mean we need to actually go there. When an Oculus Rift can immerse us in high-definition alien landscapes, are we really beholden to a treacherous drive up ramshackle mountain roads just to see some trees? Of course, technology will only get you so far. To really connect with more visceral aspects of the outdoors, we're going to need beer.

One defining aspect of the Great Outdoors is its unique scent: a mélange of earthy must from detritus underfoot, the heady notes of evergreen from pine and spruce and a delicate soupçon of squirrel shit. Many beers can capably simulate two out of the three aromas (and sometimes all of them if brewing sanitation is lax). I'd go with the AleSmith Winter YuleSmith, a beer whose aroma approximates a nasal rinse with the water from the Christmas-tree stand. Since that's tough to come by right now, anything that prominently favors simcoe or Chinook hops should get the job done.

No excursion into the wilderness would be complete without a brush with the wild. Part of the allure of being outward bound is the primal thrill of knowing some sinewy mass of fur and claws could come snarling out of the brush at any moment. Since no local breweries have captured that essence in a Help, I'm going to die! ale, we can pay tribute to sizeable fauna with a Helm's Brewing Messin' with Saazsquatch. It's a Belgian-style pale ale with an herbal, musty aroma that could well smell like sweaty Bigfoot—in a good way, if that's possible. The flavor is bright and citrus-y with a healthy dose of white pepper and funk that accumulates as the glass empties. 

There may be no more vital aspect to camping than the grub that accompanies it (assuming you're not the sort of sellout that dines on reconstituted coq au vin in a foil pocket). Camping cuisine is hearty, charred and immensely satisfying after the rigors of starting a fire without a gallon of lighter fluid. A rauchbier or a roasty porter would emulate most anything you could cook on a stick, but if you really want a worthy, beer-tinged substitution, Waypoint Public's S'morelaska dessert has few peers. The combination of toasted marshmallow, graham cracker crust and chocolate ice cream make it a worthy s'more analog, but the infusion of the smoky High Water Campfire Stout into its ice cream and caramel is what transports you fireside.

If you still haven't shaken the bug to be with nature, compromise and set up a tent on the outskirts of Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. It's more or less the same thing, but the tap list is better than Yosemite's. 

Write to and Ian blogs at and you can follow him on Twitter @iancheesman.


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