I once went on a first date that involved an evening, headlamp-illuminated skin up the local mountain. It was a perfect night. Full moon. Nobody else for miles. She led a blistering pace, which I did my best to sandbag by stopping to ask lots of questions. At the top, she made a little fire in the woodstove of a tiny hut as we discussed our favorite writers. At some point, we realized it had gotten much later than expected. Our provisions were scarce. She had a Snickers. I had a flask full of Knob Creek—a permanent part of my backcountry kit. It was enough to sustain us. (My date is now my wife.)
Humans have carried alcohol in discrete, pocket-sized vessels for as long as there have been humans. Stone agers poured fermented wild grapes into animal skins. I prefer bourbon or tequila in stainless steel. The flask is culturally ubiquitous, but it’s the ideal outdoor-person’s tool: compact, lightweight, and powerful.
The thing about flasks is that they have a way of cementing in memory the most sacred moments of our lives. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you fill them with. At the top of a peak, on the chairlift, around a campsite, they’re part of a ceremony, a way of saying to the friends (or complete strangers) that this moment matters. That pause forces us to appreciate the wonder around us.
Flasks are not about getting drunk. The typical flask carries eight ounces of liquid. It’s a swig meant to be enjoyed, savored. (So probably avoid the Ten High.) The goal is to ensure those eight ounces serve an intentional purpose. Here are a few of my favorites.
A friend of mine describes Beckerovka as “Christmas in a bottle.” That’s because the Czech liqueur (available in any American liquor store worth its salt) tastes like pine trees, cinnamon, and nostalgia. Essentially it’s the original Fireball, without any propylene glycol.
2. Boutique Bourbon
Don’t be cheap. Remember, the idea is commemoration, indulgence. Don’t insult your brethren with a straight pull of Evan Williams. Basil Hayden will do. Better yet, find a boutique brand with a story, like Black Maple Hill in Joseph, Oregon, at the foot of the Alp-like Wallowa mountains.
3. Fancy Tequila
At some point, tequila developed a reputation for headaches and worms. Sure, if you buy something cheap and mix it with sugar, you may regret it in the morning. But a quality añejo, like the one made by Chinaco, is full of nuance and flavor. Punchy and energizing, it’s an ideal flask-filler.
4. Oaxacan Mezcal
Mezcal is having a bit of a moment. Mezcal can be made from 30 varieties of agave. Explore what you like best and share the reasons with your friends. Bonus points if you bring it back from Oaxaca, where there’s a mezcaleria on every block.
5. Low- or No-Booze Booze
Want the satisfaction without the buzz? Haus low-ABV aperitifs include Ginger Yuzu and Bitter Clove and have something like half the alcohol content of typical liquor. Then there’s Bax and Ghia, which makes completely delicious and entirely non-alcoholic spirits and aperitifs that you’d never know was abv-free.