Friday, January 23, 2009

Alcohol is Permitted at Your Campsite Only

It wasn’t exactly camping, when Mr. June and I sat by our green log fire in the Virginia woods. In fact, although the cabin we’d rented was drafty and ten feet long on any side, we’d bought a space heater from the Target in town, and fashioned ourselves an almost cozy nook. Nevertheless, the January temperatures, and frustratingly low wattage electricity left us scrambling for bits of twig and paper to fortify the damp logs we’d bought in from the campground store. With a half pint of lighter fluid we’d crafted a suitable excuse for a campfire.

On our drive down to Virginia the day before, which happened to be a Sunday, I was hit with a mild Northerner panic – just short of Philly – that we would not be able to buy beer in our destination state on such an utterly holy day. Stella was procured in Pennsylvania, and we still had a bit left over, as it was nearing unbearable temperatures for cold beverages. I was wrong about the Sabbath, of course, and not only were we able to buy intoxicants, we found wine and beer under the very same roof and that the campground store that furnished us with firewood would happily supply us with Natty Ice, Bud Light or even Miller High Life. But this was a vacation, and a celebratory one at that, so we sought a decent place to eat, and perhaps a bottle of wine that surpassed the convenience store variety. Something delicious and warming to toast the new President.

The wine store, however, was discovered by accident. On vague recommendations we’d found dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant not far from a Friendly’s and a Hooters in a dreary strip mall. The parking lot was speckled with large, dusty Suburbans and the lights on the storefront between the restaurant and the wine store advertised a
C lifo nia Tan. But the windows were clean and large, the display cases offered something that looked palatable, and I had once and for all proclaimed that it was far too cold for me to be drinking beer either out doors or nearly out doors.

The anti-beer sentiment lasted only as long as it took us to walk to the back of the well-lit space and see fridge upon fridge upon shelf of unique and tempting brews. The selection rivaled both our favorite secret bodega and the high rent craft beer salons back home in Brooklyn. Mr. June wavered through the English Ales then ran his fingers over Old Engine Oil and Belhaven’s Wee Heavy before settling on an Orkney Skull Splitter, something he’d been wanting to try but never had run into in New York. I, for my part, went directly to the Stouts, and did not pause until my hand rested on the very first bottle it happened to bump. It was a Milk Stout from the Lancaster Brewery, and because we’d just driven though Pennsylvania, I took that as a good sign. And because I still dreaded the idea of drinking cold beer on a cold night, I padded off to the Spanish reds.

The wine selection was just as overwhelming as the beer, so in a generalized state of panic I scanned the racks for a familiar grey label, though it had been ages since it had appeared, to save me from making my uneducated wine mistakes. “My wine”, which had been highlighted on the wine list of a restaurant I once worked at and, over the years, had been nothing but a spectacular hit at parties, and a luscious, deep, fruity sensation for myself. But it had been a long time since I’d actually found it in New York, and the sight of it, for a decent mid-range price, nearly startled the Milk Stout out of me.

Back at the campsite, feeling content that the eve of the inauguration would not go improperly celebrated, I snapped open the staples on the brown paper bag, and unwrapped our bottles from the tissue paper. I poured the wine into blue plastic cups, took a sip, and with disappointment discovered that it was, in a word, bland. Mr. June agreed, and suggested that we leave it to air a bit, while sampling our beers. The Milk Stout seemed to have a wide variety of spicy flavors, or it might have, but my butt was sore from the pile of fire logs, and my fingertips kept going numb from holding the bottle, then, after an incident with the lighter fluid, we returned to our beers to find they had sat too long, and, of all things, were warm. The Skull Splitter tasted like tepid hop soup, and the Milk Stout had to be put out of its misery quickly.

The wine never opened, because there were no rooms that had been heated to the level of “room temperature” to be found, so it remained cold and one dimensional, and although we finished the bottle, it was in the style of great gulps, sometimes wishing there were a nice bottle of cola handy to cut the biting alcohol. How I longed for a pint of Jack Daniels, or even Ten High, something cheap an effective. Something Joe Six-Pack would keep around for a special occasion.

The remaining Stellas offered a bit of consolation, but by that point we agreed that, in the future, all imbibing around campfires would be as cheap and local as possible. It is, after all, camping. And drinking while camping is designed to make the cold less cold (even three ice cold cans will get you there), and the bugs less bitey, and the money last longer. There is nothing un-celebratory, or, for that matter, un-American, about a bottle of Budweiser. Unfortunately the campground store closed at 7pm.


  1. Never let it be said that our proud American spirit be dead; not as long as we have American spirits.

  2. If you have about $20 and are near an REI (or any of these modern new fangled camping shops in NYC), I recommend for any wine snobs ...

    Built NY Two Bottle Tote
    ... which helps insulate the wine, keeping it both chilled AND warm (depending on the temp of the wine when it went into the bag) ...

    and some Stainless Steel goblets

    Why Stainless Steel goblets? They just look cool!

  3. That is one of the saddest inauguration stories I've heard! "Swigging" whiskey is a CRITICAL component to camp fire living - I can't believe you forgot this...