Our 8 Favorite Whiskeys for Winter Campfire Sipping
Whiskey… that honey-colored elixir with such a storied past. For hundreds of years it has warmed our weary souls, inspired mischievous plots, and accompanied the bravest of explorers. Differences have been sparked and settled with a few tumbler's worth downed. Songs, prose, dissertations, and love letters have all been written while under the spell — for better or worse — of this amber muse.
Images courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Just the word whiskey invokes images of Wild West freedom. Wooden ships weighed down with casks of liquid gold in the galley, horse-drawn wagons rolling through the wind-swept frontier with jugs of moonshine under their trunks ... prospectors sipping from a bottle as they smile at the bag of golden nuggets hanging from their horse’s saddle in the fire light.
Decisions have been made, for better or worse, depending on the dosage. It is the drink of rebellion, having gone underground, hidden in alters and coffins, to maintain its own existence in times of prohibition and inspiring its own rebellious evaders during times of heavy taxation. Known in Latin as aquavitae and Gaelic as uisce beatha since the Middle Ages, it has lived up its translation as the “water of life” for centuries. Nothing says the western frontier like whiskey.
And so we talked to some of the whiskey mavens at NEMO to gather their favorite winter camp whiskeys. We hope one of these selections add a little warmth to your next adventure. If you are loyal to a particular distillery, we hope you’ll try something new. We’ve also recommended a variation on the Old Fashioned for your next winter camping adventure.
Here's what our team had to say about winter drams.
1. Old Overholt Straight Rye
Tent design master, Gabi found his favorite whiskey while reading an article in the New York Times on cocktails and whiskeys. “I noticed they mentioned Old Overholt — and that it was "America’s oldest continually maintained brand of whiskey — founded in good ol’ Pennsylvania, the greatest state in the union..”
Showing a bit of his Pennsylvania pride, he stated, “I was excited to give it a try and immediately added "Old Overholt" to a shopping list I keep on my phone.”
Image courtesy of The Old Grand Dad Distillery Company.
“It stayed there for weeks,” he laughed. “Maybe a couple months even, until I was gathering items for a quick, fall backpacking trip in the Whites and I wanted to fill a flask. The first night we were up there, the temps dropped much more than expected. We didn’t have a fire, so it warmed us perfectly before turning in,” he continued.
“Now, I enjoy a modified Old Fashioned by the campfire from time to time, using Old Overholt. It's the perfect nightcap to stay warm and watch the snow fall."
- 2 oz. Old Overholt rye
- A few dashes of peach bitters
- Tablespoon of maple syrup
A couple swirls and it's ready to enjoy.
2. High West A Midwinter Nights Dram
When asked for a recommendation, our lead designer, Zach, had much to say about spirits. His passion and knowledge was contagious — and impressive for having this hobby capture his spirit only 5 or 6 years ago. His mixology journey started passively with an engagement gift of a gold bartending kit from his best friend in 2013.
Since then, it's been a deep dive into recipes, histories, and perfect ice molds. His bar now holds approximately 85 bottles, his mom’s incredible mid-century glassware collection, and a wooden bar cart his wife gave to him.
“I enjoy any “good” distillates, but I am more of a rye drinker than a bourbon drinker. The heavier mix of corn in bourbon adds a sweetness that I don’t like as much. Both are considered American spirits, but before Prohibition, rye was predominant. Rye is much spicier.”
Image courtesy of High West Distillery.
“I’ve tried a lot of ryes. Age can make a difference, but it doesn’t always make one better. One of my favorites is High West’s A Midwinter Night’s Dram. These are all different releases, and usually harder to find, so whenever I see it I buy it. It’s a blend of two varying ryes and usually very interesting. It’s their oldest and by far their most flavorful. I can’t think of a better rye to have besides a winter campfire. Al lot of people know the feeling of how whiskey warms your chest as it goes down, but the flavors and complexity of A Midwinter Night’s Dram are also deeply warming in your soul and state of mind.”
3. Connacht Ballyhoo
A friend of ours recently started a distillery in the Irish province of Connacht, aptly named Connacht Whiskey. This beautiful setting in the Irish countryside is complete with a castle, three gorgeous copper pot stills, and – it turns out – some incredible spirits.
For the first few years while their brown spirits were aging, they bottled a few delicious clear spirits, including a vodka, gin, and poitin. But recently they’ve released their first whiskies, and they’re worth the wait.
Image courtesy of Connacht Whiskey Company.
Testing whiskies around the campfire was the perfect opportunity to beg a sample bottle for “testing purposes,” and so Connacht sent us a newly released bottle of Ballyhoo, a delightfully smooth single grain whiskey aged in port barrels.
Kate, from our marketing team, took on tasting duty, and sipped during a recent snowfall. The first thing she noticed was the color: it’s just got a hint of golden color, in contrast to the usual whiskies she sips (most often Woodford Reserve). It turns out Ballyhoo doesn’t add any caramel color or artificial coloring, which she appreciates. And it was noticeably smoother.
“I’ve never had a smoother whiskey or bourbon,” she shared after her first taste. “It had almost no bite at all, and a super smooth finish.”
“My favorite up until this point has been a little Woodford Reserve from a flask as a nightcap when at camp. But Ballyhoo, with its incredibly pleasant sipping, might dethrone Woodford for my favorite campfire drink.”
Ballyhoo is finished in port barrels, so it has a pleasant sweetness to it. Kate also added a few generous splashes of Scrappy’s Bitters and a big orange peel for a “semi-Old Fashioned.”
4. Ardbeg CorryvreckanTom Ceulemans, our European sales maestro, recommends, "Stop your search right now… Why? Lemmy would come back from hell to savour this heavenly distillation! Ardbeg Corryvreckan is not for the meek-hearted! It is dry and peppery — my perfect single malt."
Image courtesy of Ardbeg Distillery.
No questions asked, he repeated, there is none better — whether we're talking about relaxing around a campfire or pondering the virtues of life in the study. And from the description on their website, "Ardbeg Corryvreckan takes its name from the famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay, where only the bravest souls dare to venture," I believe him. Not to mention it was awarded the World's Best Single Malt distinction in 2010.
Two secret ingredients to Tom's Famous Whiskey Waffles.
- Belgian sugar waffles
- Jack Daniel's whiskey
- Vanilla ice cream
Combine in your camp mug with your sculpted ice cube, a couple swirls and enjoy.
5. Tobermory Single Malt Scotch
On a recent adventure, our resident soon-to-be newlyweds, Kaitlyn and Kendall enjoyed a perfect bikepacking adventure through the Highlands of Scotland. Kaitlyn, who helps keep NEMO's accounting in order, and Kendall, who heads up customer service, visited a number of local distilleries on their bike tour of Scotland's boundlessly beautiful landscape.
“Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull, stood out as our favorite distillery by far. The small island felt very remote, and the colorful little town was sweet,” Kaitlyn explained.
Kendall added, “The distillery felt really old and the tour was intimate. Felt like we had gone back in time for a moment.”
Image courtesy of Tobermory Distillery.
Tobermory truly is old, and one of great history. Started by John Sinclair in 1798, this distillery witnessed a century of successes before tough years from such periods as the Great Depression and Prohibition caused multiple shutdowns and closures. But Tobermory has truly weathered the test of time, and now stands strong on its foundation of tradition.
Kaitlyn finished, “We tried Ledaig and Tobermory, from various years, and Tobermory was our favorite. We bought nips from Tobermory and many of the other small distilleries as we toured the country. They were easy to carry in our bike packs and allowed us to keep sampling all of the local flavors along the way.”
6. High West Rendezvous RyeEnjoying many mountain adventures and making sure our business is operating smoothly, Brent, our COO, has travelled the world over. And on those journeys he has sampled whiskeys from around the world — from Kentucky to Scotland to Japan — and places in between.
Image courtesy of High West Distillery.
Without missing a beat he offered, “When it comes to whiskey around a campfire, especially in winter, my favorite is High West Rendezvous Rye. The traditional straight rye blend gives it a full flavor that can’t beat.”
“High West has a distillery/restaurant right in downtown Park City. They serve excellent food and make the best Old Fashioned I’ve ever tasted. In the last few years, since they were purchased by Constellation Brands, they set up a beautiful tasting room that feels somewhat like a bar/library with lots of dark weathered wood and comfortable leather stools.”
Brent makes a pretty fine Old Fashioned too.
“When I’m in the area, I always try to visit High West — for the food, the drinks, and the atmosphere. They also have a small storefront where you can purchase their spirits and branded gear. I brought my brother and my friend Ken Jones there after our Utah MTB trip this past fall. Neither are whiskey drinkers ... both loved their drinks. As I said, they make the best Old Fashioned I’ve ever tasted. But on this trip, their whiskey lemonades were refreshing and frankly, dangerous. I went home with a bottle of Rendezvous Rye, of course.”
7. whistlepig Straight Rye
Image courtesy of WhistlePig Whiskey.
“I’ll also throw another favorite out there … WhistlePig 10-year Straight Rye Whiskey. It is very nice with a lot of flavor. It’s great served neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, and perfect for the campfire. And if I were to add a pro tip … for a true Old Fashioned, you gotta have Luxardo cherries. Not the same without them.”
7. Basil Hayden's Straight Bourbon
Lauren, our digital marketing manager, discovered Basil Hayden’s when she received it for a wedding gift.
“I love it because it’s super drinkable on its own, even for me. Now we always give it to our friends as a wedding gift as well.”
Image courtesy of Basil Hayden's Distillery.
“But I recommend it as the perfect winter campfire whiskey because of a great experience I had while in Asheville, North Carolina. We were down there for my brother-in-law's birthday when a huge snow storm dropped over a foot of snow. It was the most snow they had received from a storm in years! It was so pretty, light and fluffy flakes … and we were sipping some Basil Hayden's around a bonfire watching snowflakes fall from the dusky sky. When it came time for a second round, my brother-in-law grabbed our glasses and filled them with the fresh snow and poured Basil Hayden’s over the top. It didn’t need anything else, it was the perfect mix in that moment.”
Clementine peels and maple syrup make it nice.
Winter Camping Old Fashioned RecipeWe didn’t want to mess with perfection, but we’ve added a couple twists to make this a little different. We're adding a little rustic style to your camp dram by focusing on the ice. A sharp knife will be useful here. Start by taking a cup full of snow and add a bit of water to make a slush cake. Let it set out until it starts to freeze solid. Just before it does, take your knife and cut it into a large, perfectly square cube shape and let it solidify.
- A couple glugs of High West's Double Rye!
- A spoonful of maple syrup
- Clementine garnish (clementines are great in winter - fragrant, small, and packable)
- A couple dashes of orange bitters
Combine in your camp mug with your sculpted ice cube, a couple swirls and enjoy.
A well-supplied prospector always had room for whiskey. Image courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections.
The virtues of whiskey connect so closely to our adventurous spirit. We think of the mountain men coming down from the hills for their annual rendezvous, well-supplied with whiskey from the East. We think of cowboys and miners galloping into silver town saloons to enjoy a few whiskeys and tempt their luck at a hands of cards with the other surly patrons.
Bringing forth these images, whiskey is the perfect campfire companion on a crisp winter night while camping. The smokey flavor on your tongue pairs nicely with the fire. The warmth runs through your chest, removing any chill, like the steady stream of sparks from the fire floating upward into the stars.
As with any adventure, especially when you are deep in the backcountry in the middle of winter, it is always better to maintain optimal physical strength and keep your wits about you. So if a night cap is your pace, we recommend enjoying in moderation. Having a few whiskeys can make you feel warmer when the mercury plummets, but it can actually be quite dangerous when the alcohol wears off.
Happy trails, friends.