[ADULTS ONLY, 21+]
Passing a bottle among friends is a rite of passage at camp, as much as blooding the face for a first kill and cutting of shirttail in the case of a miss. This year, make a distinct impression on your campmates by sharing something good. These six bottles are something to celebrate in themselves, worthy of both an opening-day tipple or end-of-season blowout.
JACK DANIEL’S SINGLE BARREL SELECT
Fans of Old No. 7 looking for an upscale experience will find something familiar here. The special-select Tennessee whiskey has that same creamy, caramel start at the tip of the tongue, but finishes longer with more mellowing oak flavor than the original. It also lacks that back of the palate burn you might remember from tipping square-shooters of Jack back in college. Only one barrel in 100 is good enough to be called Select, so don’t ruin it with Coke. Simply enjoy a finger or two over ice … or better yet, neat.
Every man (and all good women) should have a go-to bottle of bourbon, something not too pricey, but still easy drinking. Bulleit is an excellent candidate to be that bottle. It’s a simple and straightforward bourbon—sweet, caramelly with a decent hit of vanilla and oak. But with 28 percent rye in the mash bill, it has enough spice that it doesn’t get boring. That also helps it stand up nicely to a mixer, like a good ginger ale. Priced affordably, so you can always keep a bottle in camp.
THE BLACK GROUSE
I’ll leave the serious scotch tastings for another review and, instead, focus on a good blended bottle that’s easy to drink, yet still fairly complex. The Black Grouse is the smokier sibling of Famous Grouse, a hunting-camp staple, and it gives new scotch drinkers a light introduction to what real peaty bottles can be. It’s not overpowering, however, and nicely complements the spice, oak and malt flavors familiar to anyone who’s had a good blended scotch. The finish returns to the smoke that started with the nose, and remains long after each sip.
COOPER’S CHASE VODKA
Locally sourced ingredients—including artisan water from the Ogallala Aquifer—distilled in a homemade still are the hallmarks of this small-batch spirit. Cooper’s Chase competes with the big boys in every category except cost. A room-temperature sip reveals an uber-clean taste with only the subtlest of alcohol bite. A little spice hits first, but the finish is mostly citrus notes with a mouth feel more akin to heartier, darker liquors. With this kind of body, Cooper’s Chase stands up well in a morning Bloody Mary, but is best sipped with just a splash or two of soda and twist of lemon.
HIGH WEST DOUBLE RYE
As the name suggest, this brown likker blends a spicy 2-year-old rye with an older rye that sports a low mashbill of just 53 percent. This creates a supremely drinkable whiskey with cinnamon, caramel and vanilla notes to compete against the heat of the younger half of the blend. A little sweet for a straight rye, mostly from the addition of corn to the mashbill, which tempers the high-test nature of a 92-proof rye. Still, an all-time campfire favorite (and speaking of fires, brave souls should try High West’s smoke-infused Campfire Whiskey).
DECOY CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Including a bottle going by the name of Decoy in a hunting-themed roundup might seem like a gimmick, but trust me, this might become your everyday red. From Duckhorn Vineyards (whose eponymous bottle is extravagant), this cabernet is ripe with jammy notes of raspberries and black cherries. Finishes with chocolate and spice. A medium body and tannins give each sip structure to stand up to the fat and flavor of a grilled duck breast or hearty elk steak.