Backpackers’ Bistro: Black peppercorn old fashioned

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  3. Backpackers’ Bistro: Black peppercorn old fashioned

By: Patrick W. Zimmerman

Booze: that other critical ingredient to a satisfying and unplugged trip into the wilderness.  And while we like beer (a lot), beer is really, really heavy to haul out into the woods.  It’s pretty much car-camping only. 

What’s the solution for the backpacker who wants to put the “happy” back in “camping happy hour?” CocktailsSpecifically, cocktails that taste good at room temperature.  Why does room temperature matter?  Because, in the back woods, you can make a drink hot (think a hot toddy or an Irish coffee) with any stove kit, but you can’t really make it cold….unless it’s already so cold outside that you probably won’t really want ice-cold cocktails.

So, what’s one spirit good at room temperature?  Whiskey.  Whiskey is good at all temperatures.  And bitters, in their infinite variety, add flavor, a touch of whimsy, also don’t need to be refrigerated, and come in high concentrations (and thus don’t weigh much).  Thus, our most basic camping cocktail formula: booze + variety of bitters.

Water requirement: Water ration

You need zero water for this.  Except possibly for the morning after (which technically isn’t part of the recipe).

The black pepper tincture

Make this 6 months (or more) ahead of time, to just have on hand because it’s delicious both on the trail and on your porch.

The recipe is about as simple as can be: take a cup or so of black peppercorns and put in a mason jar, as below.

black peppercorns ready for vodka
Black peppercorns, ready to be soaked.

Fill that to the top with vodka or grain alcohol. After 6 months or so, the liquid will have take on a dark brown color and taste like… black peppercorns (so weird, we know).

Black peppercorn tincture
6 months later…

The booze selection

There are two criteria when picking out a whiskey for this recipe:

  1. You want good whiskey, but (at least to us), out on the trail that $30-70 bottle of bourbon will probably taste just as good as the $100 one.  Don’t go nuts; leave the Pappy Van Winkle at home to help fund your kids’ first semester at college.
  2. The math is simple: higher alcohol content (by weight or by volume) = more booze for less weight.

Weight is important, since at least some of you will be hauling this on your backs, so barrel-proof / cask-proof whiskies are a good pick (in stores, these will generally be above 50% but rarely over 60% ABV).

One important warning about focusing on alcohol by weight.  It’s not JUST about getting messed up, but also tasting good.  If you’re only interested in the former, put this guide down and just go buy yourself some pure grain alcohol.

Some of our favorites for this recipe:


Buy at a grocery store near the trailhead:

  • A navel orange (or other citrus fruit with a peel)

Bring with:

  • Black pepper tincture – ½ tsp or to taste
  • Bourbon or rye – 1 jigger (1.5oz, roughly)
  • Sugar (optional) – to taste in a little bag or sugar packets.


  • Flask
  • Teaspoon
  • Camp knife
  • Cup or other drinking implement


Orange peel

Slice off a little orange peel, trying only to get the zest (the orange part) and as little of the pith (the white) as possible.

Put in a cup or other drinking receptacle with sugar (if using) and tincture.  Muddle a bit with the spoon.

Pour over whiskey, stir.


About The Author

Architeuthis Rex, a man of (little) wealth and (questionable) taste. Historian and anthropologist interested in identity, regionalism / nationalism, mass culture, and the social and political contexts in which they exist. Earned Ph.D. in social and cultural History with a concentration in anthropology from Carnegie Mellon University and then (mostly) fled academia to write things that more than 10 other people will actually read. Driven to pursue a doctorate to try and answer the question, "Why do they all hate each other?" — still working on it. Plays beer-league hockey, softball, and soccer. Professional toddler wrangler. Likes dogs, good booze, food, and horribly awesome kung-fu movies.

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