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Trails and ales

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July 2022 Issue

With lighter cans and funky outdoor designs, beer is becoming a popular post-trail debrief drink

It was by accident that ultrarunning champion Camille Herron discovered beer as the perfect drink to fuel her trail races.

“I had nausea during a hot 100km back in 2016,” she recalls. Husband and coach Conor had a six-pack set aside for after the race. “He offered me a beer to help with the nausea. I perked up after that and got back running! I had another one-and-a-half beers at another aid station – I set a 28-min course record.”

Herron has a number of world records under her belt, on trails and the road. It’s safe to say she knows a thing or two about what to do outdoors. And she’s not the only one to enjoy the joys – and benefits – of a trail beer.

Now, we’re not suggesting you go out on the trails and drink to the point where you endanger yourself. We are very much suggesting you don’t. In fact, we don’t advise following Camille Herron’s trail beer-drinking regimen at all. But the allure of the trail beer, particularly the post-hike or post-run beer, is a small joy many will tell you about. 

And there’s nothing new about it. Think of the longstanding tradition of apres-ski, having a few drinks with mates after a leg-burning day on the slopes. However, the choice of beers for outdoor enthusiasts has widened over the years as the craft beer market booms and many breweries target this demographic. 

In New Zealand, some local breweries are sponsoring outdoor events and some events, like the annual Shotover Moonlight Marathon in Queenstown, even have special beers brewed for their finishers (in this case by Queenstown brewery Altitude Brewing). These days you’d be hard-pressed to find a trail-running finish line that doesn’t include a beer tent as more races partner with breweries to offer a refreshing reward at the end of the race.

Danielle Robinson from Auckland-based Deep Creek Brewing Co. sums it up: “You made it, you drink it. A little treat for gratification.” Deep Creek sponsors a number of running events and is a favourite of Auckland’s North Shore-based trail runners for its commitment to the running community.

Ultrarunning champ Camille Herron found non-alcoholic beer a good recovery drink.

The rules of the post-trail beer 

That you’re reading this indicates you’re an intelligent, discerning individual who does not need to be told: always drink in moderation, on and off the trail.

Beer is not a suitable replacement for adequate hydration and should only be consumed in addition to a sufficient intake of water. Alcohol is a diuretic and, as such, can dehydrate you.

When it comes to trail beers, the lower the ABV the better.

Save your drinking until the end of the tramp so it does not impact on your ability to navigate and walk safely.

“Being among our community and bringing people together through adventure is what we’re all about,” Robinson says. “In 2022, we strive to be even more involved and we’re always on the lookout for new events.”

But aside from the gratification aspect of it, what makes beer so appealing to outdoor lovers? For one, there’s the social aspect after the day’s adventures. But it’s more than that.

“Beer really lends itself to relaxation after a good effort outside,” says Kate Mitchell, marketing manager for Wānaka-based brewery Rhyme x Reason. The brewery, surrounded by mountains, is a favourite of Wānaka locals and visitors, and its tagline is ‘Adventure-ready deliciousness’. Most of their beers have outdoor themes, and Mitchell reckons they are best enjoyed at altitude, next to a roaring fire in a backcountry hut or while admiring the views from a high point somewhere. When the company switched from bottles to cans, it was because of the environmental impact of the product and the way people enjoyed their beer. Customers like to pack some cans to drink at a hut or for a celebratory summit cheers.

This widespread adoption of cans in place of glass has helped to make beer a drink to enjoy anywhere. Cans are easier to recycle and more environmentally friendly than glass. They’re lighter and safer to carry, especially when empty and squashed flat.

Many New Zealand breweries are incorporating an outdoor theme for some of their beers, and beer names and their associated artwork often relate to nature or specific mountains or wilderness areas. Rhyme x Reason’s Mt Alpha beer, for example, is a tribute to one of the most iconic summits in the Wānaka landscape.

Rotorua-based Croucher Brewing also has a number of beers with an adventure theme, including its Ultra IPA, with a can that features runners on a trail. Auckland-based Brothers Beer has recently released its Cloudbreak Mountain IPA, a hazy IPA that the brewery says is ‘best consumed at high altitude’. It’s ‘a beer for mountaineers, adventurers and all other compulsive overachievers’. Brothers donates 20 cents from each sale of Cloudbreak to the Kea Conservation Trust.

In Queenstown, several Canyon  Brewing beers pay tribute to local wilderness spaces. Its Vacation series features outdoors scenes in three different can varieties. A portion of sales goes to the Backcountry Trust to help look after huts.

Cans offer a larger surface area for breweries to create catchy designs

In one neat can (and they’re getting neater, with some Kiwi beer cans being true works of art), you get three things that you’re very likely to need after a long day on the trails: water, carbs and a tasty reward. A good dose of thirst-quenching energy is often needed to replenish the body after a day out, and beer is that. It’s also an excuse to sit around reminiscing about the day with your trail mates while spinning a yarn or three.

For Herron, another benefit is that sugar is replenished without all the sweetness usually found in an energy drink. So much so that she has discovered a newfound love for non-alcoholic beers. These have the same benefits of the post-run beverage without the pitfalls of alcoholic content. “I chugged a non-alcoholic beer in 15 seconds at my last race,” she says.

Ten Kiwi beers to try after a day on the trails

In no particular order (they’re all very tasty), here are 10 beers from Aotearoa breweries to be enjoyed after a day on the trails:

Garage Project Tiny But Mighty – 0.5% ABV

Canyon Brewing Tussock Basher – 2.5% ABV

McLeod’s Northern Light Lager – 2.3% ABV

Rhyme x Reason Joy Rider Pale Ale – 5.2% ABV

Altitude Brewing Sled Dog Session Hazy IPA – 4.5% ABV

Deep Creek Brewing Undercurrent Pilsner – 5% ABV

Eddyline Brewery Trail Carver Pale Ale – 5% ABV

B. effect Brewing Hero Dirt Session APA – 4.6% ABV

Choice Bros Rebel Rebel Session Pale Ale – 2.2% ABV

Croucher Brewing Low Rider Session IPA – 2.5% ABV

Once again, we do not recommend doing so (unless you are Camille Herron). Let’s not kid ourselves: just because beer isn’t exactly an unhealthy option after a hike, it doesn’t mean it’s the healthy option. Beer is not a post-trail recovery drink – but, when chosen well (with low ABV – alcohol content) and paired with the right nutrition and hydration, it can be a beneficial reward.

As Deep Creek’s Robinson points out: “Beer and adventure have been a classic staple for many generations. Had a surf? Sit on the shore and have a beer. Need a refreshment after a long hike? Have a beer. Beach cricket? Beer. It’s a celebration of completion, a toast to another great adventure and a ‘cheers’ to many more.”

So, cheers to your trail beers and the understated joy of the post-trail celebratory drink.