Adventure-Ready Craft Beer, Cider, Spirits, and Wine from the Blue Ridge
Everyone knows that the Southern Appalachians are stacked with world-class outdoor adventure, but within the last decade a craft beverage scene has set roots in the same mountains we love to explore. Finding a craft brewery or distillery in a small mountain town is no longer a novelty; it’s an established part of your adventure. It might be difficult to visit some of those breweries right now, but you can still enjoy their products in the wild. Here are some of our favorite local beverages that are perfect for the backcountry, whether you’re sipping from a flask during a backpacking trip, or having cold beer at the trailhead after a singletrack session.
Rising Haze IPA
Highland Brewing, North Carolina
With new breweries popping up all over the region at a steady clip, it’s easy to overlook standard-bearers like Highland Brewing, which has been making outstanding beers in Asheville for more than 20 years. Highland revamped their IPAs a few years ago, and their newest, Rising Haze, is the culmination of those efforts. It’s a New England style hazy IPA that leans heavily into citrus like mandarin oranges. It goes down smooth, but watch yourself; this beer is a stealth 7% ABV.
Air Drummer New England IPA
Starr Hill Brewery, Virginia
Another old-school brewery that has reinvented itself in recent years, Starr Hill releases the smooth and slightly malty Festie every fall, but the Virginia brewery is also making some of my favorite IPAs right now. Their year-round Northern Lights IPA is a testament to balance, but for something on the hazy side of the spectrum, check out their new, limited release Air Drummer. The 7.2% juice bomb is soft and pillowy and rooted firmly in a Florida citrus grove. Bonus: it’s packaged in big boy 16-oz. cans.
Goodwood Brewery, Kentucky
Louisville Lager is the only beer grown with 100% Kentucky-grown grains, which is cool in its own right, but what truly separates this beer from other lagers is the fact that it’s aged on white ash, the same wood Louisville Slugger uses in their legendary bats. The results are far more complex than your typical lager as there’s an almost wintergreen element working its way through the beer, but it’s still an easy drinking 4.2%.
The Veil Brewing Co., Virginia
The Veil is known for their super fruity, pretty high ABV double IPAs, which are incredible, but not necessarily the thing you want to pair with an adventure. Because you know, safety. Enter Vein, a new Pilsner that uses the traditional Saaz and Tettnaang hops to deliver a crisp, light beer that will make you think it was imported straight from the Czech Republic.
Classic Belgian Style Ale
Blackberry Farm Brewery, Tennessee
Blackberry Farm has been making incredible Belgian style beers in big format bottles for years. They are delicate beers in fancy bottles that I have a hard time drinking outside of a special occasion. But now the brewery is putting many of their beers in adventure-friendly cans. I’ve never had a bad beer from Blackberry Farm, but you should start with their flagship, Classic Belgian-Style Ale, a light and bready Saison that tastes like summer. Seriously.
Westbrook Brewing Company, South Carolina
Westbrook, a coastal South Carolina brewery, is singlehandedly responsible for my love of Gose beers, an old school, slightly sour style that has enjoyed a resurgence in the US during the last few years. Now, the brewery is putting their spin on another ancient German style, the Helles Lager, a golden-colored lager that plays up the malt, making it the perfect beer for a slightly chilly fall day. Westbrook’s version is an act of subtlety—not particularly crisp or bitter, just smooth caramel and a post-adventure friendly 4.2% ABV.
Astral Body Imperial Stout
The Eighth State Brewing Company, South Carolina
Here’s what’s great about the craft beer world in 2020: “Pastry Stout,” dessert-like dark beers, is a legitimate category. And Eighth State, in Greenville, South Carolina, is a master at the rich, sweet style. Their new collaboration with Modern Times hits the sweet spot of the “pastry” category by delivering delicious notes of vanilla and coconut. Some drinkers say it tastes like a candy bar, and that’s ok with us. Just remember that this candy bar is actually an imperial stout with a 13.3% ABV. It’s also released in a big bottle format, so maybe this is the special beer you stash in the cooler while car camping.
Reclaimed Rye Amber Ale
Creature Comforts Brewing Co., Georgia
The amber ale is an interesting category because it’s so damn easygoing that it has become a sort of gateway beer for newbie craft beer drinkers. New Belgium’s Fat Tire is the best example—a beer that has been wooing people away from Big Beer for decades. Reclaimed Rye, from Creature Comforts, has that mass appeal quality, but is also far more interesting than the standard amber ale because it’s aged on French oak. In addition to the toasted bread and vanilla notes that make ambers so popular, you also get some spice and tannins from the wood, making it perfect for fall campfires. And it’s just 5.5%, so you can have more than one.
Lay Low IPA
Monday Night Brewing, Georgia
There was a carefree time in my life when I sought out beers with significant ABV, but these days I’m super curious about the low-ABV craze. Because I have kids and I have to work in the morning. Enter Lay Low, a diet-friendly IPA that comes in at a scant 3.2% ABV and just 90 calories. That’s like drinking a Bud Light, but so much tastier. Think crisp and light, without a lot of depth, but plenty of hop zing.
Oskar Blues, North Carolina
You can’t talk about beers in the backcountry without giving a nod to Oskar Blues, the brewery that created the category with Dales Pale Ale, the first craft beer to be distributed in a can. Thanks to Dales, we no longer had to take crappy beer in the woods with us. The brewery also helped usher in the session IPA craze with Pinner, a 4.9% IPA that hasn’t been on the market since this time last year. They’re bringing the popular beer back this fall inside 12 Packs O Bliss, a variety pack that also has cans of Can-O-Bliss Rotator, Can-O-Bliss Resinous, and Double COB Can-O-Bliss.
Noble Cidery, North Carolina
There are two kinds of people in the world—cider lovers and the people who haven’t tried the right cider yet. Some ciders can be too sweet, but Noble is an Asheville-based cidery that presses their own juice from local apples and cuts the residual sugar, so the product is more balanced than some other options. Golden Arrow also uses fresh ginger for a spice that helps balance the apple’s natural sweetness. The result is dry, effervescent, and damn good.
Copper Mug Mule
Bold Rock Hard Cider, Virginia
Bold Rock’s ciders have become a staple throughout the Southern Appalachians, but their new line of canned cocktails is even more promising. The Copper Mug is a twist on the Moscow Mule, using ginger beer, an American-made vodka, and lime juice. The Mule is one of the most versatile cocktails on the menu; it’s tasty and refreshing regardless of the season, and having that cocktail in a can chilling in my cooler makes it all the easier to enjoy.
Catoctin Creek Distillery, Virginia
Yes, beer is the typical backcountry beverage, but a flask full of whiskey is standard operating procedure, especially if you’re backpacking and looking to shave weight. I’ve been filling my flask with Roundstone Rye, an 80-proof made by Catoctin Creek Distillery in Purcellville, Virginia, that can hold its own against any of the big-boy producers out of Kentucky. It has enough spice to stand up in all sorts of cocktails, but is well-balanced enough to drink neat while sitting by a campfire in the middle of a backpacking trip.
Blanc de Blanc
Muse Vineyards, Virginia
Muse Vineyards is a worthy diversion on its own, thanks to its location in the Shenandoah Valley near Seven Bends State Park and the nearly two miles of hiking trails that meander through the European-style vineyard. Don’t fret if you can’t make it to Muse in person at the moment; a chilled bottle of their Blanc de Blanc (which won gold at last year’s Shenandoah Cup) is the perfect accompaniment to that romantic sunset hike. Bring a blanket, some charcuterie and let this Chardonnay work its magic.
Enjoy a post-adventure beer or cocktail with this clutch gear.
Think of the Keepr as a picnic basket for booze. A handful of lined compartments make it easy to transport bottles without banging them around, while the center of the KeepR holds an insulated ice bucket that keeps ice cold for hours. The KeepR has singlehandedly transformed cocktail hour, whether my wife and I are strolling to the end of the neighborhood for a sunset view or car camping on the edge of a lake. Just because you’re in the woods doesn’t mean you can’t have a cocktail. You’re not an animal, after all. ($139; rovrproducts.com)
Large rotomolded coolers are heavy, cumbersome and overkill unless you’re camping for days on end. For quick excursions and post-ride beers, I prefer the Traveler, a soft-sided cooler that holds 25 liters of beer and ice in a small package you can actually handle without the help of a buddy. There’s even a shoulder harness if you want to hike with the cooler on your back. ($199; icemulecoolers.com)
Hydro Flask Cooler Cup
This is the most versatile piece of equipment in my kit. It works as a coffee mug, a koozie or a cocktail tumbler depending on the time of day and beverage at hand. It holds 12 oz. of hot or cold liquid or can handle cans or bottles. ($25; hydroflask.com)
High Camp Firelight Flask
Don’t think of the Firelight as a standard flask. Think of it as cocktail hour to go. The stainless steel container holds 750ml of liquid and has two tumblers that magnetically attach to each of its ends. I load the Firelight with a pre-batched cocktail, like a Negroni, and can backpack a couple of civilized drinks deep into the backcountry. ($125; highcampflasks.com)
VSSL makes emergency kits packed into strong, waterproof military-grade aluminum tubes. You can customize the gear you tuck inside, or you can go with the flask setup, which includes a bottle opener, two collapsible shot glasses, and space for a few ounces of booze. You also get a compass and flashlight, because safety first. ($67; vsslgear.com)