Never be My Beast of Bourbon

There are plenty of nice drinks to celebrate a day afield, but beer just happens to be my favorite

By Rob Breeding

Beer is my beverage of choice when I’m in post-outdoor adventure recovery mode. It’s cold, carbonated, and my preferred IPA has a bitter bite that refreshes without being overly complex.

Fresh off the chukar grounds or the river, not overly complex is usually what I need. One can linger long enough over a pint to properly reflect on the day’s glories and failures. By the time I knock back the final dregs, the day is all properly compartmentalized and I’m ready to resume my role in society away from my magic place afield.

Whiskey is different. The brown stuff is a naturally complex drink. For instance, you have to consider how you’re going to drink it. Some like it straight from a flask, furtively sipped between casts as if you’ve been let in on some indecorous secret.

When hunting, the flask stays at home, of course. Activities involving firearms and adult beverages don’t mix.

I really only enjoy whiskey from a flask at weddings, or I should say, “enjoyed.” Matrimonial flask sipping is mostly a young man’s game, usually partaken by groomsmen in rented tuxedos as they joke about the indecorous union they’ve gathered to help legitimize.

But a nip along the stream will certainly get your attention. Straight whiskey is assertive stuff, and it’s not really my preferred formulation. I’m an add-water type, either a splash of branch water or a cube or two of the frozen stuff. They say a bit of water opens up whiskey, freeing some of its aromatic compounds so they’ll move more freely from glass to nose. I don’t doubt that this is true, but what I’m more certain of is that water smoothes whiskey’s rough edges, resulting in a more pleasant sip.

I’ve accepted the wisdom of the large ice cube, and if it’s a large orb that’s all the better. Crushed ice melts quickly, and while a little water is a good thing, too much means you’re no longer drinking whiskey. Instead, you’re sipping a rather watery cocktail. Big cubes chill without melting as fast. Sometimes those hipster bartenders with neat beards and full-sleeves of ink know exactly what they’re doing.

Speaking of cocktails, when I do reach for spirits to help cap a day outdoors I’m all about the Manhattan. But if I’m going to take full enjoyment from my whiskey cocktail, it needs to be made following a rather rigid set of instructions — Makers Mark bourbon mixed at a 3-to-1 ratio with sweet vermouth and a single dash of angostura bitters, shaken not stirred, then garnished with a maraschino cherry, stem intact.

Some bartenders are happy to make it just the way I like; others respond like an artist handed a box of Crayolas with instructions to recreate the Mona Lisa. The receptive bartenders are the ones I return to, and when they later suggest I should try it their way sometime, I always do.

I celebrated one memorable day afield — a brace of chukar in the morning followed by a half dozen trout caught and released from a nearby river in the afternoon — with a Manhattan at a pleasant, local joint.

The bartender was happy to mix it just as I described, though at his suggestion we replaced the bottled bitters with a concoction made in house (yes, he sported a beard and tattoos). I’m not sure I could taste the difference — bitters are on deep background in a Manhattan — but it added a nice artisanal touch to the drink.

Who among us can’t appreciate that?

Still, the day usually ends with the crack of a pop-top or a pint drawn from a keg at my favorite adult-beverage provider. There are plenty of nice drinks to celebrate a day afield. Beer just happens to be my favorite.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.