Spirituality: The 86-Proof Campfire

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Outside magazine, July 1996

Spirituality: The 86-Proof Campfire

After you’ve cut superfluous inches off your toothbrush handle, ripped the covers off your paperback, and generally waged war on expendable ounces, it’s important to declare amnesty. Make room for a little self-indulgence–something precious to your soul.
Something spirited.

One woodswoman I know carries, and swears by, single-malt scotches, those rarified numbers that cost $45 a bottle and have weird Navajo-sounding names like Tomatin and Knockando. Only a fool gets between the drinker and the drink, of course, but somehow I just can’t get behind scotch. Then too, the white liquors seem ridiculously unsuited for the trail. My tastes run toward the
sweet browns–bourbon, dark rum, cognac, or brandy. You can sip any of them straight up, of course, but they excel in other crucial field tests, delivering maximum bang for the pack weight. Sweet brown liquors can give a prurient kick to the evening cocoa or coffee. (Try that with scotch and you’ve got an emetic, not a drink.) A little bourbon can do the Dance of the Seven Veils
in a toddy of sugared, lemoned hot water, the supreme drink for a frosty night. Sweet browns can also be used to upgrade dessert. A splash of Courvoisier in the instant pudding will push that kiddie sweetness well past puberty. A misting of Myers’s dark will turn mere coffee cake into 3D mouth theater.

My woods-buddy of the moment happens to be Maker’s Mark bourbon, a faintly honeyed corn that sings like an all-girl choir when you mix it in cool water. I’ve found that an ounce and a half of the stuff, imbibed with proper pace and reverence, is as good as any campfire. As long as there’s an inch or two in the Nalgene bottle, my wilderness nights will glow. I sip it in the
dark, eyes shut, and peer into the glorious flames of an ancient art. The fire that gave birth to its sugars still burns–on the inside of the skin.

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