February 7, 2017 by Cody
Hey there folks! Another edition of the Imbiber is here! The whole idea of this blog is to branch out and explore what it means to drink beer in Maine. I have ideas swirling around in my head quite often, and one of them has been exploring the idea of the summit beer. Those who hike and drink are all too familiar with this lovely combination of summiting and enjoying a cold one after a long journey. I, however, am not an avid hiker by any means (I know, I don’t like lobster either…sue me), so in order to explore this phenomenon more thoroughly, I have turned to my hiking aficionado roommate, Patrick Ochieano, to delve into his frothy expeditions. Thanks Patrick!
Anyone who knows me probably knows that I love to hike. One quick glance at my Facebook profile or Instagram account would probably give me away. I hiked a fair bit growing up in northern California – with my family, with the Cub Scouts, and later at summer camp in the Lake Tahoe region. In my late teens I took up smoking, and began a decade of pretty unhealthy living – over a pack a day of cigarettes, lots of college and post-college boozing, and a lifestyle of general lassitude and laziness. At my peak I weighed somewhere around 225 lbs (I am 5’8”, and graduated high school at 140 lbs). At 27 I quit smoking (Chantix, baby!), started hitting the gym a little bit, and eventually started signing up for running races (5k’s at first, then further).
Of all the ways to get my endorphin fix though, hiking is probably my favorite. For one thing, it’s a social activity (assuming you can find other people to hike with, which in Maine isn’t too hard). Running is generally about as social as a game of Freecell on your work computer, and people close themselves off at the gym like they’re guarding state secrets. But when you spend all day climbing a mountain with someone (or a group of people), you get to know each other. It’s a shared experience, and regardless of what happens in the future, you can always look back and say “remember when we climbed that mountain together? That was awesome.”
Hiking also gets you out of the house and out of the city into some really beautiful landscapes. Many of the people I hike with have gotten into photography, and opportunities to share your photos with the world exist today that have never existed before. Maine is a pretty great place to live if you’re a hiker – the White Mountains of New Hampshire alone are about 2 hours away by car. You could spend 25 years hiking there and not climb every peak.
Anyways, this is a beer blog and not a hiking blog, so I will get to the point. Cody asked me to discuss a subject near and dear to my heart, so I would like to talk about something that has only recently become a staple of my hiking trips – the summit beer.
A summit beer is, like the name suggests, a beer drunk at the summit of a mountain (this makes it decidedly different from, say, a shower beer, or a stuck-in-traffic beer [not recommended]). The summit beer is celebratory in nature. It is the hiker’s way of saying “I just climbed to the top of this mountain, the scenery is gorgeous, and life probably couldn’t get much better than it is right now, except…..*POP* glug glug glug…..I think it just did!” The *POP* is important because, unless you’re a fan of picking broken glass out of your hiking gear, cans are usually a wiser choice than bottles. I will get to my personal favorite choices for summit beers in a bit, however suffice it to say that being in a can and being of reasonably high alcohol percentage are two things I look for.
As I was saying, having a beer on top of a mountain is a pretty fantastic experience. I would compare it to the first cigarette of the day, or a juicy burger after a month at sea in terms of it’s superiority to your day-to-day beer. It’s the “make-up sex” of beers.
The best summit beer I have had in recent memory came last August, when my girlfriend Emilie, our friend Ash and I climbed Speckled Mountain in New Hampshire. We got a late start, so it was getting late in the day when we finally reached the summit. It was a ridiculously hot summer day, and in my pack I had two 16 ounce cans of Afterglow beer by Foundation Brewing Company. At 7% ABV, it packs a punch. I gave one to my girlfriend, had one myself, and within minutes I was basking in the warm “afterglow” of being on top of a mountain with nothing but nature for miles around. By the time we got moving again, we practically skipped down that mountain (in fact, we ran a decent portion of the descent, just because I hike with weirdos).
Many of the beers I bring along hiking have hiking themes right on the can. Long Trail Ale in Vermont has the hiker symbol in their logo. Pamola Ale by Baxter Brewing Company is named after the mythological Native American creature Pamola, who with the head of a moose and wings of an eagle haunts Mount Katahdin, making anyone trying to climb the Knife’s Edge question why they ever got talked into this misadventure (or maybe that was just me). Anything by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is usually a solid choice. Hard apple cider, while not technically beer, is damn good stuff and is frequently in my pack.
I am perhaps not the elite beer connoisseur (read: snob) that some of the people reading this blog are. I have no qualms buying my beer at a gas station, provided it’s of the high end variety (no Bud Light for me, thanks). At the end of the day beer is beer, and after 4 hours in your pack on a warm day, it’s not going to be at peak taste anyways. However after climbing a mountain, with amazing scenery all around, this will not be a concern. The buzz from the beer will mix perfectly with the endorphins and the Vitamin D, and for a few moments in time, all will be right with the world.
I generally try to bring a few extra beers with me. If you’re hiking in a group, sharing the bounty is always a good idea. And sometimes you finish one beer and just want another! It’s best to be prepared for this contingency. I never have more than two, as I still have miles of rocks and streams to get over on my way back to civilization, and rolling your ankle hurts.
Even on winter hikes I will bring a summit beer. People look at photos from winter hikes and assume that it is a frigid, miserable experience. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is nearly impossible to be cold while powering through snow up a mountain, and the only chilly times are when you stop long enough to let the heart slow down and the sweat freeze. Summit beers on winter hikes are very doable (and enjoyable), provided you don’t linger too long snapping photos. Plus, guaranteed cold beer!
So there it is, my ode to the summit beer. Should you ever find yourself on top of a mountain (and if you live in or around Maine, I highly recommend this activity) do yourself a favor and be prepared – bring some beer in your backpack. Because when your hiking buddy whips out a tasty brew and all you have is trail mix and water, you will kick yourself for your lack of foresight. Happy trails.