If your idea of campside imbibing is lukewarm Lites around a campfire or a slug of hooch from a hip flask on the trail, Emily Vikre wants to elevate your game. The cofounder of award-winning Vikre Distillery, the Duluth, Minnesota, native set out to prove that camping can coexist with the most sophisticated of cocktail experiences—and her recently published tome Camp Cocktails has convinced us.
One part homage to Great Lakes living, one part savvy guide to creating serious libations while roughing (or semi-roughing) it, Camp Cocktails is a charmer, appealing for both its aesthetic and its creative approach to blending mixology with camp-inspired ingredients.
With recipe names like “Pontoon Life” and “Girl from the North Country”—not to mention unusual ingredients like dandelion honey and foraged herb liqueur—a winsome sense of nostalgia for the North Woods permeates the volume. (That makes sense, given that Vikre returned home to Duluth after years away getting her PhD in food policy and behavioral theory from Tufts University.) From backpacking to car camping or just hanging in your family cabin, Vikre’s book lays out a charming narrative for mixing up libations to fit any rustic setting. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone camping in my life, but after reading Camp Cocktails, I’m ready to pack my bags.
Here, Vikre describes two examples which will sweeten up your summer.
“If I’m perfectly honest, this wasn’t originally a cabin cocktail. It was a joke cocktail. After years of saying we weren’t going to make a vodka at our distillery, we finally buckled under the sheer weight of all the requests we got, and we started to distill one. We hosted a vodka release party, which we called “Not a Vodka Party,” on April Fools’ Day with artisanal takes on a handful of well-known vodka drinks. The Marshmallow Mule was one of the party drinks, and people loved it so much that they still request it, years later. Making the marshmallow and ginger syrup does take a little doing, but it doesn’t require any fancy equipment or even fancy ingredients. And it’s a nice thing to do as an activity during the evening anyway. The toasted marshmallows melted into the syrup give it a dark richness while loads of fresh ginger give it a kick.”
For the Marshmallow and Ginger Syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
½ cup grated fresh ginger
For each cocktail:
1 ½ ounces vodka (or whiskey or rum)
1 ½ ounces Marshmallow and Ginger Syrup
1 marshmallow, for garnish
To make the syrup, toast the marshmallows over dying embers until they are dark brown and melted inside. Put them into a heavy-bottomed pot and add the sugar and water. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar and the marshmallows.
Once you reach a gentle boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and continue cooking and stirring until the marshmallows have dissolved. Remove the syrup from the heat, stir in the ginger, and transfer to a heatproof container. Cover and allow to cool overnight. The next day, strain the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. The syrup will keep in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for at least 2 weeks.
To make the cocktail, in a tall glass filled with ice, add the vodka and syrup. Top with soda water and gently stir. Squeeze in lime wedges to taste. Stick your garnish marshmallow onto a long toothpick. Light it on fire, blow it out, then stick the toothpick into the cocktail, marshmallow side out of the drink, to garnish.
BMB (Blueberry Maple Bourbon)
“If you’re car camping and you haven’t brought supplies for making pancakes, then you’re doing it wrong. Since we’re friends, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m also going to give you a tip: simmer some blueberries with maple syrup until you have a lovely, loose, jammy blueberry syrup. Use this syrup for your pancakes, but first, spirit away a few spoonfuls of the blueberry maple liquid for this bramble-like brunch (or anytime) cocktail. I like to throw a little soda water on top of the cocktail for a light fizz, but it’s perfectly delicious without it if you haven’t brought soda water with you.”
For the Blueberry Maple Syrup
1 cup fresh blueberries
½ cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon water
For each cocktail:
1½ ounces bourbon
1 ounce Blueberry Maple Syrup
½ ounce lemon juice
2 ounces soda water (optional)
To make the syrup, combine the blueberries, maple syrup, and water in a small pot and bring to a boil over your camp stove, then immediately turn down to a very low simmer and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the blueberries have burst and the sauce has just barely started to thicken. Set aside to cool until you’re ready to use.
For each cocktail you’re making, gently spoon off 1 ounce (30 ml) of the liquid, leaving the berries behind if possible. Use the remaining maple blueberry mixture as a pancake topping.
To make each cocktail, shake the bourbon, syrup, and lemon juice with a handful of ice until chilled. Dump the cocktail, ice and all (fun fact: in bartender lingo, this is called “dirty ice”), into your cup. Top with soda water, if using.