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For those who enjoy a nice drink around the campfire, it’s an age-old question — beer or wine? While some of it comes down to preference, each offers distinct advantages and disadvantages for bringing along on your next camping trip. Let’s take a closer look at how they compare.
Beer Versus Wine At-a-Glance
Beer is a carbonated alcoholic beverage that’s been around for about 7,000 years, making it one of the world’s oldest beverages. Brewers boil a soupy mixture of water, grains, and hops and then add yeast to create it. This mixture ferments for several days to several weeks while the yeast consumes the sugars from the grains, creating alcohol and carbon dioxide. At this point, they can filter the beer, give it extra carbonation, or just enjoy it as-is. Most beer ranges between 4-8% alcohol by volume, though there are specialty beers of up to 12-13%.
Wine has been around for nearly as long as beer and has enjoyed an even more distinguished history, from the tables of the wealthy to religious ceremonies. Wine consists of grapes, water, sugar, and specially designed wine yeast. They crush the grapes to extract their juices, which they combine with water, sugar, and yeast and ferment, sometimes for years or even decades. Wines usually range from 12-15% alcohol by volume.
When considering the best camping drink, we’re scoring beer and wine in these five categories. Let’s see how they stack up.
Both beer and wine are relatively portable, though each offers some different advantages. Beer generally comes in cans or bottles, either boxed in cardboard or held together with plastic rings. In either case, you can usually stack beer easily, making it simple to transport even large quantities. For especially rowdy camping trips, you could even bring a keg.
Wine almost always comes in standard-sized bottles, though you can sometimes find smaller and larger serving sizes. While you can easily tuck away a single wine bottle in a bag or storage area, transporting larger quantities can be difficult without equipment like a wine rack.
Beer and wine have different temperature requirements, which can affect how you enjoy them while camping. You’ll almost always need to keep beer cold, either in a cooler with ice or a refrigerator. You’ll rarely find a beer better served at room temperature or someone who prefers to drink them this way.
In many cases, you’ll also want to keep white wine chilled as well. You can generally store and serve red wine without temperature control, however. Just make sure it doesn’t get too hot from sitting in direct sunlight or enclosed spaces.
Typically, we break wine down into four main categories — red, white, rosé, and sparkling. Within those broader categories, there are many smaller varieties with more nuanced differences. While the trained palate can distinguish between these more intra-category choices, most of us just think broadly of white or red.
On the flip side, beer comes in seemingly ever-increasing and diverse flavors and styles. Light beers or lagers will offer a crisp, lighter flavor profile. Stouts or porters will be rich and dark, with nutty, chocolatey, or coffee-like flavors. In between, you can enjoy everything from sours to IPAs to wheat beers, all of which offer unique flavor profiles.
Both beer and wine are famous for their pairings with food. In fact, many brands will list suggested food pairings right on the bottle or can. Whether you’re eating a light salad or a heavy, flavorful piece of grilled meat, you can perfectly pair your drinks.
With beer, you’ll generally want lighter beers with lighter foods to avoid overpowering delicate flavors. Dishes like barbecue or roasted meat can hold up to more intense flavors like IPAs or porters.
Wine has a longer and more sophisticated history of food pairings. While there are many particular suggestions and rules, observe the same principles as with beer. White wines work best with dishes like seafood, which complement the crisp floral or fruity notes of the wine. Red wines excel when paired with steaks or other meat that can compete with the dish’s bold flavors.
If you’re looking for a taste of the area you’re camping in, both beer and wine can help you find it. There are more than 11,000 wineries in the U.S., compared with nearly 9,000 breweries. However, wineries are more geographically clustered, with more than half located in just three states: California, Oregon, and Washington. Unless you’re camping in a noted wine region, you may have difficulty finding good local wines. On the other hand, you can brew beer just about anywhere there’s clean water. There are thousands of small craft and microbreweries around the country, and you may be more likely to find one close to your campground.
Pro Tip: You can stay at one of the many Harvest Hosts that are wineries and breweries so you can enjoy drinks and not have to worry about driving home.
Beer Versus Wine: The Winner
After carefully considering the strengths and weaknesses of both categories of booze, we’ve made our pick for the best camping drink. Let’s see which comes out ahead.
Best Overall: Beer
We’re giving top overall honors to beer. It’s highly portable and comes in many varieties you can pair with your food or snacks. You can also usually find a local brewery to give you a taste of the area. Beer also offers the advantage of lower alcohol by volume, meaning you can, if desired, enjoy several during an evening or afternoon around the campsite without worrying about becoming too intoxicated.
Best for Cold Weather Camping: Wine
If you’re wrapped up in a blanket around the campfire this winter, a glass of wine may be a perfect choice. Red wine can have a warming effect even when served at room temperature. Better yet, you can add cinnamon and other spices and heat it up to create a delicious and fortifying mulled wine.
While we ultimately gave the edge to beer, wine also has some distinct positives as a camping drink. At the end of the day, whether you choose beer or wine for your next camping trip is a matter of personal preference. The best drink is the one you enjoy, and that enhances good times around the campsite. Which is your pick?
A great option for wine, especially when storage is an issue, is a quality boxed wine. We usually buy bottled wines in the $8-14 range, and have found that the Bota brand of boxed wine offers the same quality, at about $5 per bottle. Where we live, a Bota box costs $18-20, and contains the equivalent of four standard 750 ml bottles. It comes in all the typical varietals, and stays fresh for weeks and weeks, which is a big plus. You can remove the plastic bag from the box and put in the fridge or ice chest easily also.
We drink wine almost every day, and about 65% of it comes from a box. We occasionally buy the Black Box brand, and I’m sure there are others that are of similar, or even better quality, at higher prices perhaps. Also there are cheaper offerings, which is how boxed wine got it’s bad reputation, but there may be some of those that are enjoyable also, and with the same storage/freshness advantages.