Story by Adrienne So
Photograph courtesy of Beers Made By Walking / Daniel Flanders
One might not think that beer drinking is a particularly active hobby. But for a lot of outdoorspeople, a beer or two after a hike isn’t just a good idea—it’s practically a way of life. Nothing replenishes electrolytes as well as a crisp, clear lager, sipped slowly on a sunny porch with your dusty legs kicked up on the railing. And like a big plate of pasta for a marathon runner, a beer (or two) is a great way to carbo-load if you have another big day of hitting trails ahead.
“A beer is a wonderful thing after a day snowboarding, after a good run, climb, or a long walk,” agrees Eric Steen, founder of Colorado-based Beers Made By Walking, a summer-long hiking series in which brewers, botanists, and environmentalists come together to brew (and drink!) beer.
Steen founded the program in 2011, after learning about the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv, which translates to “open air living.” First introduced to the language by the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, every healthy Norwegian upbringing includes a healthy dose of friluftsliv—camping, skiing, and hiking. It’s commonly understood, by the government and its citizens, that what’s good for Norwegians is also good for their nation; a country of outdoor-minded people understands and appreciates the need for ecological conservation.
Together, participants on Beers Made By Walking hikes discover fruits and herbs indigenous to the region. Rather than pluck the plants in their native habitat, brewers return to the brewery and source the plants sustainably before incorporating them in a signature brew. In its third summer, Beers Made By Walking now has several iterations in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Notable Northwestern participants in 2012 include a juniper and sage IPA from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, and a stinging nettle ale by Snoqualmie Brewery in Snoqualmie, Washington.
But what if you don’t want to make beer—just drink it? Lots of it. Portland, Oregon-based Hikes & Pints leads group hikes to local landmarks that end, as all hikes should, with a tour of local breweries.
Brothers Keith and Dan Vandervort are refugees from the corporate world who made the happy switch from cubicles to trails and bar stools in 2011. “All brewery or beer stops are post-hike, but guests can imbibe in the van [once it has stopped] prior to the hike if they so desire,” Dan reassures me.
Hikes & Pints visits some of the most stunning, iconic hikes in Oregon, such as Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach and the breathtaking Angel’s Rest in the Columbia River Gorge. The Vandervorts set the pace to “easy to moderate” in difficulty, a necessary concession if guests have been indulging in a few nips before 10 in the morning.
A typical itinerary after a hike at Silver Falls State Park, 25 miles outside of Salem, might include a tour of Gilgamesh Brewing, Santiam Brewing, and Seven Brides Brewing. Guests also have the option of customizing a tour. “We try to stop at breweries that have something going on that particular day, like a beer release or a small festival,” says Vandervort, but “often the guests are a large group of friends, so they may have some stops in mind before we even get started.”
Of course, Hikes & Pints provides a handy solution to the problem of finding decent beer located within a convenient distance of your ramble. But as the saying goes—if you can’t get to the beer, let the beer come to you. Located in the Columbia River Gorge, within a few miles of notable landmarks like the Bridge of the Gods and Dog Mountain, Walking Man Brewing is the perfect place to stop and have a lunch of pulled pork nachos and a pint of the award-winning Knuckle Dragger American strong ale.
Despite being a San Francisco institution, the Tourist Club is a little more difficult to find. The picturesque cabin is located in Muir Woods outside of San Francisco city limits, hidden within several twisty trails and roads and a notoriously long and torturous staircase on Dipsea Trail. The Dipsea is one of the most famous and scenic trails in the United States and plays host to the oldest trail race in America; Jack Kirk, known as “the Dipsea Demon,” ran the Dipsea 67 consecutive times before retiring in 2003.
Although the club can be accessed by car, the traditional method of travel is to walk up the 675 steps up the Dipsea from Mill Valley, arriving at the doorstep slightly before the club opens at 1 p.m. The club is private, run by the San Francisco branch of the nonprofit Nature Friends organization, and closed on the second and third weekends of every month. However, if visitors plan ahead, club members are more than happy to welcome them for a glorious summer afternoon of drinking beer, nibbling snacks, and playing board games on the cabin’s sunny balcony. Just remember to bring cash.
Equally picturesque, but slightly more hardcore, is Mammoth Brewing Company, located in the heart of Yosemite National Park and the highest-elevation production brewery in the country. The brewery is located in between dozens of world-class destinations—Mount Whitney, Mono Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, Death Valley—and is also a convenient stopping point off the Pacific Coast Trail. On any given day, it’s not unusual to see sweaty backpackers slinging their heavy loads on the floor next to Japanese tourists on their way to Half Dome or Swiss bankers just stepping off the golf course at Sierra Star.
“We’re a portal to the backcountry,” said Mammoth’s co-owner, Sean Turner. “We package in aluminum cans specifically because they’re so backcountry-oriented.”
The landscape is such an integral part of Mammoth’s ethos as a company that, like Beers Made By Walking, they have taken steps to incorporate local ingredients in their brews. Their most experimental might be the Wild Sierra Mountain farmhouse ale, which uses wild yeast found on local pine trees. But their lineup also includes an IPA that is dry-hopped with juniper berries and desert sage (“It smells like camping,” Turner said.) and an elderberry sour that’s aged in wine and bourbon barrels for a full year.
For the vast majority of backpackers, hikers, and campers, a six-pack of canned beer is the most technologically advanced alcohol-related equipment that they need. But dedicated trail hounds might want to consider a Sodastream-like alternative.
In 1997, Patrick Tatera and a friend left a 12-pack of beer at the trailhead before starting off on a short backpacking trip. They reached their designated campsite for the night, but—in a story that many a hiking beer lover can relate to—the minute that they stopped moving, the beer started singing its siren song. They quickly packed up and beat a hasty retreat back to the car.
Tatera spent the next 10 years developing Pat’s Backcountry Beverages. The company, currently based in Talkeetna, Alaska, sells two of Tatera’s ingenious contrivances: A beer and soda concentrate, and a lightweight carbonator system that uses filtered water at the campsite, allowing the hiker to enjoy a decent beer as far away from civilization as possible. Although the carbonation process seems pretty laborious for someone who has just humped 30 pounds of gear over innumerable miles—it involves a lot of shaking—it might be worth the effort.
While carbonating your own backcountry beverage may seem a little extreme, Tatera is merely acting on the universally known truth—no amount of hopping or barrel-aging can make a beer taste better than a couple of hours in the woods. Whether you’re stopping by a trailside cabin to play cards on a pleasant afternoon stroll or dragging yourself into a mountaintop tasting room after 10 days of not seeing another living soul, a cold beer is a fitting commemorative end to a day spent on your feet.
Hiking Half Rack
You may want to split the load between friends, but here are Beer West’s recommendations for the 12 best hiking-friendly brews. (Hint: they’re all packaged in aluminum.)
1. In-Tents India Pale Lager, Base Camp Brewing Company, Portland, OR
With a name like that, you can’t go wrong. This dry-hopped lager finishes smooth and at 6.8% ABV, you may only need one (22-ounce aluminum bottle, that is).
2. 1811 Lager, Fort George Brewing, Astoria, OR
The official bicentennial beer of Astoria, Oregon, this moderately hoppy lager comes in 16-ounce cans and is best served chilled as an appetizer to a big meal.
3. Epic IPA, Mammoth Brewing Company, Mammoth Lakes, CA
Brewed at 8,000 feet above sea level, this sessionable IPA is brewed using locally grown hops, desert sage, and mountain juniper, making it a truly terroir-based beer.
4. Ashland Amber, Caldera Brewing Company, Ashland, OR
A perfect balance of malty sweetness and tangy, bitter hops, this mild brew will help wash down your trusty trail mix.
5. Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, CA
We’re so glad this classic American pale ale finally comes in cans. A refreshing, but not overpowering, burst of citrusy hops will surely cool you down after a long hike.
6. Shift Pale Lager, New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO
A recent addition to the New Belgium lineup, Shift is a light and crisp lager-meets-pale-ale combo that is sure to stir up conversation and inspire campfire stories.
7. Boont Amber Ale, Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boonville, CA
Balance is the name of this brew’s game. Copper in color and brewed with classic crystal malts and herbal, spicy hops, Boont Amber is best paired with a fire-pit roasted brat and sauerkraut.
8. Hell or High Watermelon, 21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco, CA
Watermelon beer? Trust us, it works. An easy drinking wheat beer, this summer seasonal is a favorite among people who prefer hops stay on the bine. Fruity and refreshing, this 4.9% ABV beer is also pleasantly dry.
9. Get Up Offa That Brown, Golden Road Brewing, Los Angeles, CA
Golden Road’s new brown ale is a nutty, caramely beer that’s at once palate-pleasing but not gut-filling—the perfect brew if you’re planning to drive back to civilization after a pint.
10. Saison, Hilliard’s Beer, Seattle, WA
One of the only farmhouse-style beers in a can, this saison is perfectly spicy, subtly hoppy, and refreshingly light bodied (6% ABV).
11. Hopworks IPA, Hopworks Urban Brewing, Portland, OR
This beer is a classic Northwest-style IPA with a large dose of grassy, earthy hops balanced by smooth malt, resulting in the perfect all-around pre- or post-hike beer.
12. Scottish Ale, Fearless Brewing Company, Estacada, OR
Another worthy option for the hop-shy beer drinker, this malty brown ale is slightly sweet with roasty notes, making it an ideal companion alongside gooey s’mores.