How to Forage Your Cocktail Ingredients

A guide to outdoorsy cocktails and in-the-wild flavors from the co-author of "Backcountry Cocktails"

June 22, 2023 6:55 am
In the book "Backcountry Cocktails," here pictured ona. table with a map and a camera, you'll learn skills from foraging cocktail ingredients to getting out of bear attacks
In "Backcountry Cocktails," you'll learn how to forage drink ingredients — and scare off bears.
Jenn Bakos

In Backcountry Cocktails: Civilized Drinks for Wild Places, authors Steven Grasse (the co-creator of Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum and founder of New Hampshire’s experimental craft distillery, Tamworth), food and travel writer Adam Erace, and Tamworth Distilling’s mixologist and canoe guide Lee Noble create a guide to crafting sophisticated drinks that are inspired by nature. “The White Mountains are the spiritual heart of Backcountry Cocktails, but this book is not a travel guide, souvenir or keepsake just for folks who reside or vacation here,” they write. “Rather, we want the area to serve as a state of mind, a four-seasons stand-in for any wild place where you might find yourself in need of a quality cocktail: a starlit bonfire at an off-grid campsite, a hygge ski chalet booked on Airbnb, a hike through a national park or the deck of a vintage Chris-Craft that gleams like a wooden rocket across a secret lake whose location is passed down like a family heirloom.”

In between the al fresco drinks recipes, they utilize an array of experts for some non-boozy outdoor advice, such as a field guide to medicinal plants, a bear attack survival how-to and the self-explanatory “How to Traverse a Beaver Dam” — useful stuff for both imbibers and teetotalers alike. 

The Wild Hare cocktail from "Backcountry Cocktails"
The Wild Hare cocktail from “Backcountry Cocktails”
Quaker City Mercantile

And there’s advice on foraging, too. Some of it is life-saving stuff (e.g. which mushrooms are poisonous) and some is to the service of crafting a great drink by utilizing what you find on your hikes or mountain escapades. “Spring through fall, there is a lot growing wild that can be foraged for cocktails and cooking: ramps, mustard, fiddlehead ferns, dozens of berries, edible flowers like violets, jasmine, honeysuckle and borage, crabapples, brach plums, pawpaws and so much more,” co-author Erace tells InsideHook. “It all depends on where you live and what grows there.”

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The most important thing to watch out for is a potential wild ingredient that may be hazardous. “There are a lot of toxic lookalikes in both the mushroom and other plant families,” Erace says. “Berries especially can be poisonous to those who don’t know what they’re looking for. Always consult an expert or guidebook.” And even with non-toxic berries and other ingredients, you’ll want to wipe what you forage or plunge them in water (at the very least).

Below, a foraged cocktail from Backcountry called the Forager’s Smash. The great thing about this one is that you can sub in other foraged ingredients. “It’s a very versatile drink that will more or less work with any berry or summer fruit and tender herb,” Erace says. “Blueberries and tarragon, raspberries and basil, peaches and cilantro are just a few examples.”

So get outside, get your ingredients and enjoy. 

Forager's Smash
Forager’s Smash
Quaker City Mercantile/Running Press

Forager’s Smash

You spot them by your feet, like little red gumdrops on the ground — wild strawberries. On a late-spring walk through the woods, there are few greater rewards than discovering a cache of these rubies. Fragariavesca and Fragaria virginiana, the two common varieties of wild strawberry, are hard to come by, but you only need to collect a half dozen to make a memorable springtime smash. This old-timey, fruit-festooned cocktail is akin to a Mint Julep, but our vodka-based version feels closer in spirit to a Mojito. If you can’t source the ginger vodka, just add two sturdy slices of fresh ginger to the muddling mix or make your own by combining fresh smashed ginger, a touch of sugar and neutral vodka in a sturdy container for a week, then strain and bottle the infusion.

Forager's Smash

Prep Time: 5 mins

Servings: 1

  • 2 oz. / 60 ml. Tamworth or other ginger vodka
  • 8 large mint leaves
  • 6 wild strawberries (substitute 3 medium or large store-bought), halved lengthwise
  • 1 sugar cube
  • Mint sprig, for garnish
  • Strawberry wheel, for garnish
  • Instructions
    1. Gently muddle the vodka, mint, berries and sugar in the bottom of a short glass.

    2. Fill the glass with ice and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

    3. Top off with more ice, if necessary. Garnish and serve.

Photos and recipe courtesy of Running Press


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