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Best Whiskey for the Backcountry, Tested and Reviewed

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Published Jan 12, 2023 2:01 PM

Whiskey and the American backcountry have been intertwined ever since Scots-Irish settlers began distilling grains from the new lands they claimed during frontier times. But beyond the history, whiskey is still practical for backcountry adventures today; it’s best at room temperature and has a great alcohol-to-weight ratio. 

There’s nothing better for taking the edge off a puckering peak or rewarding high-mileage days than a strong swig. Drinking in the backcountry is typically grimey and casual, so if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis on the complex tasting notes of high-end whiskey, you’re in the wrong place. However, if you trust the opinions of 14 ski bums who are seasoned in dirtbag drinking culture, then enjoy our list of the best whiskey for the backcountry. 

How I Tested Whiskey for the Backcountry

The best whiskeys for the backcountry sit in the snow.
My eight contenders sit in the Wydaho snow. Ashley Thess

On a snowy night somewhere along the Wyoming and Idaho border a group of 14 skiers and snowboarders gathered around a table. Eight whiskey bottles sat on a wooden lazy susan surrounded by an assortment of empty mugs, plastic cups, and even a glass or two. I selected nature focused whiskeys like Noble Oak who plants a tree for every sale, Tincup, the self-proclaimed mountain whiskey, and a Yellowstone themed bottle. Then as more friends accumulated at the Dancing Bear cabin, naturally, so did more whiskey bottles. And this set the scene for a blind tasting of all the whiskey on this list followed by real world field testing on the skin track and at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. 

Best Backcountry Whiskey: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Wyoming Whiskey National Parks Edition No. 2

Key Features

  • Alcohol Content: 105 proof
  • Taste: 5 out of 5
  • Pairs Well With: Big accomplishments

If you’re planning an adventure worth celebrating, this is your whiskey. This small batch is the best whiskey for the backcountry and beyond. It tastes great and is 105 proof for an optimal alcohol to weight ratio. A special trip calls for a special whiskey and this limited edition run honors our first National Park, Yellowstone’s 150th anniversary. Thanks to a partnership with the National Parks Foundation, this bottle gives back to the backcountry we love in the form of $5 from every bottle sold. 

Best for a Big Group: Tincup American Whiskey

Key Features

  • Alcohol Content: 84 proof
  • Taste: 4 out of 5
  • Pairs Well With: Honey and high mileage days

The Tincup American Whiskey has a sweet flavor that goes down easy. This Colorado-native will hit the spot post-adventure. Perfect for a dirtbag hot toddy (add a generous serving to hot tea and honey), this is a comforting whiskey that easily pleases a big group, hence the 4 out of 5 stars on taste. Even tasters who don’t necessarily like whiskey enjoyed this one. The Tincup bottle also includes a metal shot glass that screws onto the top. Even without proper drinkware you can easily cheers: Your partner can raise the shot glass and you can pull from the bottle.

Best for Drinking Alone: Noble Oak Double Oak Rye

Key Features

  • Alcohol Content: 96 proof
  • Taste: 5 out of 5
  • Pairs Well With: Summits and seclusion
Two flasks containing Noble Oak Double Oak Rye and Noble Oak Double Oak Bourbon sit on top of a mountain.
Two flasks containing Noble Oak Double Oak Rye and Noble Oak Double Oak Bourbon sit on top of a mountain. Ashley Thess

This was one of the top three fan favorites in the blind tasting so I decided to carry it 3,200 vertical feet to see how it tasted at the top of a mountain. My touring partner and I were the only two souls on the summit and this rye made the victory feel all the sweeter. After a long, beautiful, and secluded ascent, a sip of spicy high proof whiskey hit the spot. The Noble Oak Double Oak Rye is great for drinking alone because it serves as a reward for the climb and a draft of daring in preparation for a steep descent, plus it’s almost too good to share.

Best for Day Hikes: Four Roses Bourbon

Key Features

  • Alcohol Content: 80 proof
  • Taste: 4 out of 5
  • Pairs Well With: Day hikes and lemonade

Smooth, cheap, and easy to find, Four Roses Bourbon is my go-to best whiskey for the backcountry. It might not be fancy, high proof, or complex, which is exactly why it’s ideal for trips into the mountains. This old reliable is just like a day hike in that it’s always enjoyable, but typically not the most epic adventure. To step up your dirtbag drinking game, spike a Crystal Light Arnold Palmer mix for a refreshing and lightweight cocktail.

Best for Peaks: Noble Oak Double Oak Bourbon

Key Features

  • Alcohol Content: 90 proof
  • Taste: 4 out of 5
  • Pairs Well With: Sour Punch Straws and double blacks

A smooth and simple whiskey, the Noble Oak Double Oak Bourbon is best if your descent is puckering enough without the help of a biting beverage. A long pull of this relaxed bourbon will calm your nerves. If you’re looking for liquid courage, take a sip on the lift while you scope out your next line. In my experience, Sour Punch Straws (preferably green apple flavored) pair well with this Noble Oak. They serve as the perfect chaser, actually work as a straw if you’re desperate, and give you a sweet bite of speedy energy to straight-line that slope. 

Puts Hair On Your Chest: Tincup Straight Rye

Key Features

  • Alcohol Content: 90 proof
  • Taste: 3 out of 5
  • Pairs Well With: Pickle juice and type II fun

Tincup’s Straight Rye is similar to type II fun in that you might not have the best time in the moment but after the fire in your throat is quenched, you’ll want more. The evil twin to Tincup’s sweet-like-honey American whiskey, this rowdy rye will put hair on your chest. It’s ideal for a type II (bordering on type III) day because you can forget your slog and finish strong. I’d recommend enjoying this bottle in the form of pickleback shots. If you follow a shot of whiskey with a shot of pickle juice, it has the magical ability to dissipate the burn and imparts a briney tart aftertaste. 

Best for Campfires: Pendleton 1910 Rye Whiskey

Key Features

  • Alcohol Content: 80 proof
  • Taste: 5 out of 5
  • Pairs Well With: Long-winded toasts and good company
Three of the best whiskeys for the backcountry sit on a table.
The Wyoming Whiskey National Parks Edition No. 2, Noble Oak Double Oak Rye, and 1910 Pendleton Rye were the top three favorite bottles in the blind tasting. Ashley Thess

The Pendleton Rye also won top-three honors in the blind tasting, which was a happy surprise to the purchaser who picked it up at a gas station in rural Idaho. Nothing bonds people like the outdoors and whiskey and this Pendleton is my pick for passing around the campfire. Tall tales, long-winded toasts, and healthy debates are waiting at the bottom of this bottle. If you’re whiskey-savvy enough to notice the notes of charred oak, maple, and butterscotch, this will perfectly fit the smoky atmosphere surrounding a bonfire. If you’re not whiskey-savvy, you’ll still enjoy passing around this bottle of quality liquor and quality memories.

Honorable Mention: Robbers Roost

Key Features

  • Alcohol Content: 80 proof
  • Taste: 4 out of 5
  • Pairs Well With: Red rocks and sunsets

Red rocks and red cinnamon meet in this Utah-local upgrade to Fireball, named after the famed Old West outlaw hideout, Robbers Roost canyon. While not the traditional whiskey you’re used to swigging in the backcountry, this spicy and sweet liqueur will warm your insides. You’ll only find this bottle in Utah, but that’s also where it’s best enjoyed. I’d recommend it on a chilly desert night as you watch the sun set into a matching amber color.

Dishonorable Mention: Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey

Key Features

  • Alcohol Content: 66 proof
  • Taste: 1 out of 5
  • Pairs Well With: Recklessness and shame

The best whiskey for the backcountry is for sipping, sharing, and shredding. In the backcountry stakes are high enough without consuming a shameful amount of alcohol. Guzzling too much isn’t just embarrassing; it’s reckless and beyond potentially injuring yourself, you could get someone else seriously injured or killed. If you’re dehydrated, hungry, or at a higher elevation (all probable in the backcountry), alcohol can affect you more than normal. So ignore social media trends and leave the Fireball at home (or better yet, at the store). Respect the limits of your liver and the power of the backcountry. 

Final Thoughts

After spending a few days with these whiskeys and getting to share them with my dirt bag friends, I can confidently say that any one of them will make your next adventure more memorable (or significantly less memorable if you aren’t careful). They taste great while encouraging sendy behavior and bonding. My top shelf pick, Wyoming Whiskey’s National Parks Edition No. 2, is best for that epic trip you’ve been planning a while. For everyday adventures, Four Roses is my favorite.

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