By Cameron J. Kirby
Even before the light of dawn filters through the boughs, I know I’ll be drinking prior to dusk’s golden hour. Whether I’m celebrating a kill in the field or dulling the void from my abject failure, it’s a constant after pursuing game, and my liver knows what’s expected of it.
Drinking before a hunt is allegedly frowned upon, and imbibing afterward is expected, but during the hunt … that’s generally a gray area. It’s rare to find an outdoorsman without a flask in their pack, and oftentimes, it sees more action than their rod or gun.
In my opinion, the choice of alcohol should reflect the activity: Tequila naturally complements offshore fishing due to the salty sea spray. Anything but Wild Turkey during a turkey hunt is simply a missed opportunity. Jägermeister (“Hunting Master”), the German digestif, has such a rich hunting heritage that it’s integrated into their name and brand imagery and is consumed—I can’t say enjoyed—after many successful hunts. Just look around the aisles of any liquor store and you’ll see bottle after bottle with hunting or fishing themes proudly displayed across their labels.
There is a long history of booze and outdoor pursuits; it spans nearly every culture and class of mankind. In the remote jungles of the Mato Grosso in western Brazil dwells a tribe called the Bororo who have streamlined and automated the beer-making process so well that the industrialized breweries should take note (when they’re not too busy alienating their customer base). A main staple of the Bororo is the palm heart from the Acuri Palm (Attalea Phalerata). The natives shimmy up the tree, cut out the meaty center, and simply wait. With time, the void left by the heart fills with a discharge of sap and mixes with rainwater. It then ferments and forms a low ABV beer that can be sipped straight from the tree with a hollow reed or brought back to the village via gourd. I’m sure it’s hard to beat after a long day of stalking quarry through the jungle.
The British nobility, while being avid hunters, drinkers, and accustomed to top-shelf living, concocted a fairly simple but efficient cocktail that’s right at home in a flask. The Percy Special was created and named after the 10th Duke of Northumberland, an avid hunter who entertained the British elite within his ancestral grounds. The Percy Special consists of equal parts Scotch whisky and sweet cherry brandy. Northumberland is known for having the top whisky consumption per capita in all of England, and I’m assuming this drink is the reason for their success as number one. It’s smooth, simple to make, and warms you from within. The perfect companion while waiting for the horn to blow and the hunt to commence.
The Duke of Northumberland wasn’t the only one to benefit from English Imperialism—we all have, with the advent of the glorious gin and tonic. Created by British sailors who required a regular intake of medicinal quinine to prevent and treat malaria’s ill effects. They soon discovered that like most things, adding liquor helped the medicine go down. With a steady supply of fresh Indian limes aboard their ships to thwart scurvy (the origin of “limey” as a reference to the Brits), they added a third ingredient to this holy trifecta, that we now call the G&T. It quickly became the cocktail of choice to raise over a fallen Bengal tiger, Asiatic elephant, or leopard. To this day, small amounts of quinine are found in tonic water, which is why it’s imparted with such a distinct flavor and fluoresces while under ultraviolet light.
While trekking through the woods, even the lowly beer can make an excellent companion within your pack. Made from aircraft-grade aluminum, it seems purpose-built for packing over the backcountry.
There is a certain irony regarding the removal of another’s liver and the act of exercising one’s own; however, most things we find comfort in are worn down or wear us down. As we age, we all collect ailments until one will eventually kill us. Enjoy your vices, none of us are guaranteed tomorrow—I’m sure the deer in the back of your truck bed would agree.