From the Ashes of A River Fail: Two Cocktails

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about heading off on a trip down the Wind River. I was concerned that our group, with all our goods and chattels for the 17-day  journey, was going to be overweight for the flight to the put-in at McCluskey Lake. Well, turned out there was no need to worry — we were 400 pounds under.

Dang! One of the pilots joked about setting up an off-sales at the float plane landing for people like us, who discovered at the last minute they had room for more.

But we had calibrated our needs pretty finely, and came back with unconsumed booze, now put away in the liquor cabinet still in stainless steel bottles.

A box of red wine and one of white were the gifts that kept on giving, right to the last night. The first Saturday night we enjoyed Negroni cocktails, accompanied by wigs, a grass skirt and river-induced hilarity, as though the clear water of the Wind had got into our veins and bubbled there.

We had sun and rain and then sun again flashing across our campsites; we had thunder and lightning and searing heat.

On the latter part of the trip the heat was so intense we swam three or four times a day, taking a last dip at night in order to sleep. We stayed two nights at each of five campsites, hiking in the afternoons up into the mountains, walking the ridges of the Wernecke range, in the heart of the Peel watershed, then coming down to the river for dinners prepared over quick, hot, cooking fires.

For 17 days our world consisted of each other, the river, the mountains, the forest, the grayling (gutted, scaled, doused in seasoned flour and pan-fried in butter) and the three other small groups we caught glimpses of here and there as we paddled down to the Peel.

We saw 10 moose, one caribou, several dozen sheep and a grizzly, who grazed in the blueberry patch two of us had just vacated. He must have known we were there before we knew he was, but he just ambled away in the other direction, co-existing with us in an attitude the legendary bear-hunter turned bear-photographer and conservationist Andy Russell has called an “almost magnanimous acceptance and just plain willingness to ignore.”

On the last Friday night of the trip I stirred up a cocktail that was not a spectacular fail, but pretty close.

Here’s the thing: you can’t make rhubarb-cranberry syrup, save the pulp, add birch syrup, dry the pulp into leather, reconstitute it, and expect to end up with syrup again. No. A couple of people sampled the resulting juice when I wasn’t looking. They didn’t like it.

“But I’m sure it will be great in your cocktail,” they exclaimed, with an almost magnanimous acceptance and just plain willingness to ignore.

So the cocktail was 6 ounces of Appleton Signature Blend rum, an airplane-sized bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin —  about 2 ounces — a muddled lime (fresh lime, precious at that stage in the journey) and 6 ounces of reconstituted rhubarb leather drink.

Not bad, was the verdict. Really not too bad. (The secret to a good river trip with a group just getting to know each other is lots of laughs and a finely-tuned politesse.)

Now, looking back with what one of the group would call “50-50 hindsight” I’d use some of those extra pounds to take a little rhubarb syrup with me, or perhaps a stainless steel travel bottle of Aperol. And whip up a cocktail worthy of one of the most beautiful places any of us had ever been.  


(adapted from

2 oz gin

1½ oz rhubarb syrup

½ oz Aperol

2 dashes orange bitters

Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice and strain into a Martini glass. Garnish with a thin shaving of rhubarb.

Wind River Baroque

(adapted from

1½ oz Appleton Estate 12 year old rum

¾ oz Bombay Sapphire gin

¾ oz fresh lime juice

½ tsp sugar

2 dashes maraschino liqueur

Shake lime juice and sugar in a cocktail shaker until sugar is dissolved. Add ice and pour rum and gin over top. Strain into a chilled coupe or Martini glass and float maraschino. No garnish.

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