by Neal MacDonald
Despite being liquor snobs, we here at Proof66 recognize that beer has its place. You mow the lawn in the hot sun… you finish off an outdoor game of softball or… you're at a wild concert and there's a high probability you're going to get jostled or require its use as a missile. There are all kinds of occasions where beer honestly tastes good, even to dedicated whiskey drinkers. All these occasions tend to share common themes of hot, dehydrated, and a yen for something refreshing coming in volume.
So what about hiking? It has all the signs: you're hot, dehydrated, and want something cold and refreshing at the end of the trail… something you can glug. The easy answer is beer. But that's just the easy answer and, as is often the case, the easy answer is the wrong answer. Let’s review together and do the math.
Packing beer means you’re packing both water for hydration and beer for the all-important and wel-deserved buzz. That’s a lot of liquid to pack around. Let’s say you’re going to go on a 3 mile hike (modest) and you’re going to pack 3 one-liter bottles of water (101.4 fluid ounces) and a 6-pack of beer (72 fluid ounces). That means you’re packing a bit under 7 pounds of water. Beer has a higher specific gravity (i.e., it’s more dense) than water. For those 72 ounces, you’re packing about 5 pounds of beer. Now, you’re going to be drinking some of that and carrying it in your belly but you’re still packing around a lot of bottles of stuff. (And bottles weigh something, too!)
Most important of all, for typical beer, those 72 ounces of beer contain about—oh, let’s be generous and assume a 5% alcohol content—3.6 ounces of alcohol or 0.2 pounds. (Awesomely, ethanol has a lower specific gravity than water… those carbs etc. in the beer add to the greater specific gravity /density of beer.)
Now, here’s an important history lesson: your grandfathers had drinks that they called things like Kentucky Tea and other colorful names… but really, what they were, was whiskey heavily diluted with water. Mix about 5 parts water and 1 part whiskey and see for yourself—refreshing, light, and rather beer-like. By the way, that’s an alcohol content of about 6.6% which is a bit more of a head-spinner than most beer. It turns out your grandparents and great-grandparents had their act together. Maybe they knew something about hard work and refreshment that later soft-handed generations never learned.
Let’s say, instead of taking 3 one-liter bottles of water and a 6-pack of beer, you take a page from your heritage and take 4 one-liter bottles of water and a 375ml bottle of Jim Beam Black bourbon (which is a highly decorated 8yr aged bourbon at 90 proof) that retails for about $13.
Your goal here, obviously enough, is to mix your whiskey with your water as needed.
Now you’re carrying about 9 pounds of water and 0.75 pounds of whiskey (the specific gravity of bourbon is said to be around .92)… for a total 10 pounds of liquid weight instead of the 15 or so you had before. Much, much more important, you’ve gone from 3.6 ounces of alcohol with the beer to 169 ounces of alcohol. Here’s a little graph to help things out:
Now, this isn’t to say you should go hiking and get blitzed. But isn’t it nice to know that you have some more control over how much water versus how much alcohol you drink? Really, you’ve lowered your weight and improved your imbibing agility. Why wouldn’t you want that?
Even better, a lot of people like to pack iodine and drink water that’s been treated from springs and whatnot that you find along the way. Here’s another little history lesson for you: whiskey does a hell of a good job of killing off little nasties that might be living in the spring water. And it will also disinfect your cuts and give you a good way to weather the pain as a medicinal. Try that with beer! In some respects, whiskey is almost a camping requirement even if you’re not using it recreationally. You can even start a fire with whiskey. Don’t believe us? Check out this little article from Backpacker.
So the verdict is obvious: whiskey is, in every way possible, superior to beer when considering your hiking potables. Or, if you prefer, use a nice gin or vodka… those are also available in proofs up to 100 and even a touch higher, making them that much more valuable. And the results just get more dramatic the longer your hike and the greater your imbibing needs are. With a little persuasion and appeal to machismo, you can probably convince the uber-hiker of the group to carry a bigger bottle of booze freeing up the alcohol weight for the entire rest of the party.
Just like the well-made martini ordered with confidence in the bar separates the women from the girls and the men from the boys, so a backpack with a liquor bottle in it separates the novitiate outdoorsmen from the true hiker.