Four years ago, my wife and I hiked with some friends to a small summit up in the Hudson Valley of New York. For the early evening hike, we packed a small picnic – charcuterie, berries, small sandwiches and the like – but we weren’t prepared for what our friends pulled from their bag: a six-pack of beer.
“Wait, you drink beer on a hike?”
“Uh yeah. It’s the best way to do it.”
Enjoy within reason, of course, but one cold beer atop a summit after a grueling ascent … that’s pretty magical. It became our thing. We’d stop at the local 7-Eleven (ours had a solid beer selection) for a couple cans before heading on our day hike. We kept the beers to a low ABV and always paired with quick proteins, and we always put our empty cans back in our bags before moving on.
These days the hiking isn’t as regular (living in a flat area with a newborn will do that), but occasionally, when we get back out there, we remember to pack a couple cold ones. Sure the beer after the hike (at a local brewery) kicks ass, but the one at the top? That’s where the magic is.
Here are my favorite five summit beers; note that they’re either IPAs (single, mostly straightforward and moderately boozy) or helles lagers. I like a little complexity at the summit, but not so much that I can’t just appreciate sipping. Here we go:
All Day IPA / Founders Brewing Co.
This is the perfect hiking beer, a thirst-quenching, balanced IPA with just a kick of bitterness (from Amarillo and Simcoe hops). Bonus: At 4.7 percent ABV it doesn’t cloud your head. After a relatively tough ascent in just a drop of heat, a little of All Day goes a long way.
Two-Hearted Ale / Bells Brewery
Let’s stay in Michigan for this classic from, in my humble opinion, the best pound-for-pound brewery in America. A little bigger at 7 percent ABV, Two-Hearted balances a punchy and fruity hop taste (thanks to its big Centennial profile) and a robust malt backbone. Perfect for a long, sweaty hike that requires a long break with loads of funky cheese.
Finest Kind IPA / Smuttynose Brewing Co.
Another well-revered IPA, this one brewed with three hops (Amarillo, Santiams, Simcoe) is a bit more complex with citrus and sweet caramel malt backbone, but it never burns the palate. It’s probably as strong as I’ll have at a summit, and as it’s 6.9 percent ABV, it’s just on the edge of booziness.
Firestone Lager / Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
From another favorite brewery of mine comes this helles lager, combining the crispness of a pilsner with the light hoppiness of a pale. I wouldn’t recommend a pilsner for hiking (it’s more of a summer relaxation beer), but this gets you close while still maintaining a bite. At 4.5 percent ABV, it’s great for a break.
When In Doubt / Troegs Brewing Co.
Another helles lager, this year-round beer is a tough breadier and sweeter on the malt side but still delivers with that bubbly pop of hop (Tradition). At 4.3 percent ABV, it’s easy going down, and here’s a bonus: Troegs is in Hershey, Pa., part of my itinerary for Drive & Hike Appalachian Trail.
It’s here! Moon Drive & Hike: Appalachian Trail is available today. Think about it for your next road trip into the mountains!