7 Crag/Drink Pairings for the Thirsty Climber

Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy enjoy an Olympia Beer at the top of the Totem Pole.
Clint Eastwood drinking Olympia Beer at the top of the Totem Pole, in Arizona’s Monument Valley. From The Eiger Sanction.

Traveling to climb is great: it gives us the chance to experience not only new stone and unfamiliar cultures, but also to sample various beverages full of local flavor. Below is a tiny slice of the many, many fine crag/drink pairings to be found at famous climbing areas around the world.

What libations should visitors be sure to sample when visiting your local climbing area? Add your crag/drink pairing in the comments…

1. Rifle, Colorado / Avery Beer

Home to blocky limestone routes and the highest concentration of sticky-rubber kneepads in the United States, Rifle Mountain Park also plays host to a strange initiation ritual involving beer and climbing. Adam Avery, proprietor of Boulder-based Avery Brewing Company, is said to have set a challenge: a climber must down a sixer of Avery beer in three hours and then redpoint “certain routes” in order to earn a Team Avery hoody. Even if you’re not trying out for the team, after spending several hours greasing off Rifle’s notoriously sandbagged sport routes, you might want to try a Redpoint Ale, and Ellie’s Brown Ale, or perhaps a Salvation Belgian Golden Ale… to help sooth the sting of defeat.

2. Céüse, France / Gigondas 

In France’s Haute Provence, Céüse is routinely ranked amongst the wold’s finest climbing spots. The blue-and-white streaked, pocketed limestone there easily makes up for the long approach. Even better, the region in which this Platonic ideal of a climbing spot rests is full of vineyards and wineries. Among the area’s popular appellations is Gigondas, “a little brother of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.” The town of Gigondas, about 60 miles from Céüse, lies at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, a mountain range with climbing that actually overlooks the area’s vineyards. While in Céüse, you might also catch a glimpse of Chartreuse on local spirits menus. This tasty herbal aperitif produced by monks in the nearby Chartreuse Mountains is well worth a try.

3. New River Gorge, West Virginia / Mountain Moonshine

With thousands of sport routes, trad routes, and boulder problems on the area’s exceptionally high-quality Nuttall Sandstone, it’s no wonder the New River Gorge frequently ranks on climber’s lists as one America’s finest climbing destinations. The region in which the beautiful NRG is found, however, is economically depressed and not particularly known for its beers, wines, or liquors…  except, perhaps, for the famed moonshine that locals have been distilling illegally for well over 100 years. Nowadays, there are numerous legal, tax-paying moonshine distilleries across Appalachia who produce the high-octane, corn-based, unaged white whiskey. One of them, Appalachian Moonshine, can be found in Ripley, West Virginia, about 100 miles from the New River Gorge. Y in liquor stores around the state.

4. Kalymnos, Greece / Mythos Beer

Home to massive, tufa-studded limestone sport routes, the Greek Island of Kalymnos is known as a climber’s paradise. Relatively dry, with year-round climbing possible, many visitors here rent scooters to get around. In keeping with the general holiday mood that Kalymnos inspires, a light, easy drinking lager called Mythos Beer is popular among locals and visitors alike, according to Aris Theodoropoulos. It’s light on alcohol, so it won’t leave you with a hangover to ruin your climbing on the mythic formations the next day. Another popular Greek liquor you can find on the island is Ouzo. It’s a strong, clear booze flavored with anise, lending it an aromatic licorice taste. Add some water and it turns cloudy white… typically served with small plates of food called mezedes.

5. Red River Gorge, Kentucky / Bourbon (various local labels)

Miguel’s Pizza, the prime hangout and campground for Kentucky’s sandstone climbing paradise, is in a dry county. Still, one has only to drive an hour or two to access over a dozen bourbon distilleries. From Maker’s Mark to Woodford Reserve to Evan Williams, there’s no shortage of Kentucky’s famous barrel-aged distilled spirit in these parts. If you choose to tour these distilleries, be sure to assign a designated driver… or better yet, just pick up a bottle on your way into the Red and enjoy it around the campfire. (If you want to blend in with the locals, you might do better to hit the beer trailer just over the country line and grab a case of Budweiser or Miller Lite.)

6. Blue Mountains, Australia / Victorian Bitter

A few hours east of Sydney, the Blue Mountains (aka “the Blueys”) area in New South Wales is a massive red sandstone canyon chock full of amazing climbs. While perhaps not as popular among international visitors as the Grampians, the Blueys is worth a visit, both for the climbing and for the scenery. The small towns of Katoomba, Blackheath, and Mount Victoria offer coffee shops for morning fuel-ups and pubs to entertain in the evening and on rest days. Here, says Australian crush Chris Webb Parson, “The bogan drink—or cliché drink—is a beer called Victorian Bitter. We just call it VB. It’s funny though… If you’re from Queensland, you drink a brand called XXXX (four X).”

7. Frankenjura / Beer (various local brews)

This massive limestone climbing area comprises over 1500 crags spread over hundreds of miles and hundreds of little villages. Home to one of the largest collections of hard climbs in the world, as well as the first 9a ever climbed (Action Directe), visitors and locals looking to unwind after a day of pocket pulling will typically hoist one of the many hundreds of local brews. In fact, Frankenjura is in the Oberfranken region, described in the Huffington Post as “quite possibly the pinnacle of beer awesomeness in Bavaria,” which easily puts it near the top of beer awesomeness pretty much anywhere. Prost!

But wait! Before you click off to that cat video compilation your cousin sent you last week, don’t forget to add your favorite crag/drink pairings in the comments!

Stuck Without a Spork: 10 Workarounds for Eating in the Outdoors

The classic: biner as beer bottle opener. Photo: K. Marine

I was seated on a rock amidst the loosely consolidated dirt of the southern-Utah desert after a long morning of climbing, and I was feeling mighty hangry. The only sustenance I carried in my chalky old pack was a cup of delicious strawberry yogurt. Eagerly, I peeled back the foil lid and reached for a spoon, only to discover there was no spoon! I felt stranded, with no way to stir that fruit-on-the-bottomy goodness or convey it to my pie hole.

How little we appreciate the simple functionality of a spoon until we find ourselves without one! And while foods like sandwiches, fruits, and trail mix yield handily to manual eating techniques, others, like yogurt, soups, and saucy pastas, pose more of a challenge in the absence of proper utensils.

Science has shown that our nearest evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee, is quite deft in the use of tools for accessing and ingesting food items. So, too, have modern climbers and other outdoors people devised ingenious eating implements out of necessity. I, for example, was able to fashion a primitive scoop from the flimsy foil circle I peeled from the top of my yogurt cup, giving me the precious energy needed to finish out the day and perhaps live on to spread my genes.

Following are a 10 clever cutlery workarounds spotted in the wild. What tricky tactics have you employed when caught without a spork?

Sticks – Among the most obvious improvisations, a well-selected stick, de-barked and whittled to varying degrees, can be used to spear and roast foods like hotdogs and marshmallows, scoop messy foods, and even to stir things like cocktails or coffee.

Vadim using toothbrushes as chopsticks
Toothbrushes chopsticks. Photo: Gail Rothschild

Toothbrushes – Most climbers carry old toothbrushes for banishing excess chalk from handholds. The rigid plastic stems can double as chopsticks—particularly handy for noodles or salads.

Rocks – A good sharp rock can serve as a knife, while a slightly scooped stone takes on spoon-like properties. Large, flat ones can even be used as makeshift frying pans or plates. Pro tip: brush off dirt, lichen, or bugs before using.

Carabiners – The quintessential climber bottle opener. There are many ways to pry open your favorite non-twist-off bottle of suds with a biner—just be sure you don’t cause any sizable gauges in the rope-bearing surface, as it could end up snaggletoothing your rope’s sheath.

Shoes – Hard to open without a purpose-made tool, a wine bottle can be made to give up its cork with repeated blows against a wall using a shoe as padding. Behold, this instructional video stands as proof:

Knives – An advanced technique known as “the lip splitter” involves using the blade of your Swiss army knife not only for cutting, but also spearing and scooping food into your mouth. Zen-like focus is required to avoid terrible injury.

Nut tools – Sometimes all you need is a way to shovel stuff out of the container and into your hungry face. A climber’s nut tool, with its flat metal end, can tackle this task quite handily. These tools can even be used to cut or spread soft cheeses or similar.

Tin foil – One friend of mine commented that he has used tin foil to make a cup, bowl, shot glass, and spoon. The origami skills required here are not as advanced as they might sound, depending on the food substance you’re looking to contain or manipulate. Getting peanut butter out of the jar with a foil tool, however, requires a working knowledge of engineering principles.

Here have a tin foil hat.
Tinfoil: you’re using it wrong.

Bread – In Ethiopia, the Middle East, and various other cultures, flatbreads are used to pinch and scoop deliciously messy foods. If you have a slice of rye, crackers, or a tortilla among your rations, you have with you an edible utensil! Pro tip: the under-appreciated heel of the bread loaf here becomes the hero, offering superior scooping power.

Fingers – When all else fails, we return to the original eating implement: our fingers. These marvels of engineering can manipulate a vast array of objects, including those stinky tinned sardines in oil you brought because someone told you they were high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Hopefully you didn’t forget your wet-wipes, too.

Go Ahead, Eat the Mystery Meat

Mystery Meat at Petzl RocTrip Mexico

“Good Luck,” said the skinny French waiter with bulging eyes and a bad comb over. His accent was thick, so it came out sounding more like “Gewd lock,” but the meaning, and the meaning behind the meaning, was clear. We were screwed.

We’d walked into the uninspiring back alley restaurant in the tourist/climbing town of Fontainebleau, France, with low expectations, but it was late, and as my traveling companions and I had just arrived via plane, train, and automobile from the United States, we were well past picky.

Four of us, there were: my friend Jack, his girlfriend Wendy, and Wendy’s sister, Katy. The girls ordered salads Niçoise, while Jack and I scanned the manly meat section of the menu. I’d studied French for years and was ashamed to admit I had no idea what the hell I was looking at, so I just ordered the agneau, which I knew was lamb. Jack got the bœuf. We sipped cheap Pinot noir and waited for the food to arrive, mute with hunger.

At long last, the server dropped our plates on the table and quickly departed. Before me lay not the glistening, browned rack of lamb of my dreams, but an array of pink, flaccid, strips of raw meat, arranged in a soggy semi-circle around the plate. No garnish or sides. Nothing to trigger my already primed Pavlovian salivation response. Jack’s plate looked much the same.

“So is it, like, tartar?” I asked, hoping someone at the table had seen something like this before. Blank stares from the girls.

“I think so,” Jack said, sounding unsure.

“Shit.”

We gazed down, weighing our hunger against the likelihood of food poisoning. Jack ate a bit of his beef first. Then I tasted mine.

“Hmmm… It’s pretty good!” he said, relieved. It was good, or at least good enough. We began to dig in.

I’d eaten about half the plate of uncooked lamb when the waiter returned, carrying a heavy black block. He looked at Jack and me as he set the block down on the table and then proceeded to reach across and tong a strip of my lamb, laying it across the block’s surface. The meat sizzled merrily. It was now clear that the hot stone was meant as a cooking surface, with which we would add flavor to and kill the colonies of food-borne bacteria cavorting on our meat.

“Ahhh!” our table collectively cooed with embarrassed agreement. “Or course! We get it!”

The waiter’s eyes seemed to bug a little farther from his skull as he saw my half-empty plate. “Good luck,” he said, and then turned and walked towards the kitchen, where the busboy and another waiter loitered. They huddled together to exchange bets on the fate of the foreigners who had just consumed the uncooked and heretofore unrefrigerated meat dishes of dubious provenance. Jack and I could only cook and eat our remaining meat strips and then brace for what I assumed would be a night of intestinal pandemonium.

Back at our gîte, I had a hard time falling asleep. I lay in bed, head spinning with hypochondriacal anxiety, monitoring my stomach’s every gurgle like a volcanologist examining the peaks and troughs of a seismograph readout. Eventually, exhaustion overtook me and I sank into a listless slumber.

Sunshine, birdsong, the smell of a coffee and baguette with jam, no wrenching stomach pains — this is what greeted me as I awoke the next morn. I felt fit as a French fiddle and ready to climb on some of the finest sandstone ever formed. The waiter had wished us good luck, and good luck we had. All my worries had been for naught. Looking back, I mark this experience as the beginning of the end of my longstanding food neurosis.

* * *

When asked how many times he’d had food poisoning, writer, chef and host of my all-time favorite food & travel show, No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain answered thusly:

Just a few. Nothing too serious. My crew — who are more careful and fussy about street food, get sick more often — almost invariably from the hotel buffet or Western-style businesses.

Likewise, I’ve visited rural Mexico and rural China, eating whatever was put in front of me, and managed to escape Montezuma’s Revenge and its equally debilitating Chinese corollary. In my travels, I’ve learned that there’s an important difference between thinking something looks or smell gross, and the likelihood of that food actually causing you harm. This bears out my belief that it’s surprisingly hard to predict when food poisoning will strike. Alongside the expected poultry and ground beef on the CDC salmonella-outbreak list, you’ll find such unusual suspects as mangoes, cantaloupe, pine nuts, alfalfa sprouts and even turtles and hedgehogs (I do not believe the last two were ingested, but you never know…). This year, nearly a dozen people were sickened by, and one has already died from, a listeria-tainted ricotta cheese. Ricotta cheese, for Pete’s sake! You just never know.

And like Bourdain’s camera crew, every time I’ve gotten really sick from food, it’s been at some run-of-the-mill American establishment, the most notable instance being a Wendy’s in Athens, Ohio. My cheeseburger, a tad pink in the middle, tasted fine, but that night I was gripped by the irresistible need to purge my stomach contents. I spent the next six hours shivering and groaning on the floor of a toilet stall, taking turns sitting on and driving the proverbial porcelain bus. So weakened was I by the unforgiving onslaught of beef-bourne bacteria that my friend had to drive me home in my own car. It was years before I could bring myself to eat another Wendy’s burger. Bourdain, who identified the most stomach-churning thing he’d eaten in his travels as “lightly grilled warthog rectum,” avoids American fast food whenever possible. And he never eats chicken nuggets.

All of this is just to say, there’s not much point in worrying.  One of the wonders of the climbing lifestyle is the many places it takes us. Foreign lands, forgotten backwaters, wild deserts — the dedicated climber will often find herself in places that she otherwise never would have visited. And in those places, she will have to find food. What is available, what the locals are eating, will not always be familiar or appetizing — heck, it might not even meet the most basic food-safety guidelines — but it is part of the adventure. All the hand wringing in the world won’t sanitize that street taco or that mystery-meat kebab, so either don’t eat it and live with your gustatory boredom and ravenous hunger, or chow down with your friends and relax, knowing the chances are good that you’ll be fine.

Still, I’m going to have to pass on that warthog rectum. Thanks.

SLC Eats: Tulie Bakery

Tulie Bakery, one of the finest establishments in Salt Lake City.
Tulie Bakery, one of the finest establishments in Salt Lake City.

Compared to New York City and Boulder, Colorado, my two previous places of residence, Salt Lake City’s choice dining options are, for the most part, few and far between — a handful of jewels scattered in a gravel pit. The gravel, in this case, is the mostly bland urban and suburban neighborhoods, strip malls, chain establishments, and restaurants with the moto: “Quantity over quality.” To find the treasure, you have to go a-hunting. Which is good and bad. Good because it makes the moment of discovery all the more satisfying. And bad because it means extensive research and car (or bicycle, if you’re into that kind of thing) mileage is required to find the really killer spots. (In the future, I plan to blog about more of the places I’ve discovered to eat, drink, and be merry in Salt Lake City.)

One of the first gems I discovered upon moving to Salt Lake two years ago is the Tulie Bakery, on the edge of the trendy 9th and 9th neighborhood. Winner of many awards and recognitions, I was surprised to find that few of my friends, who have lived here for years or even their entire lives, had been to Tulie. Admittedly, you might not stumble across it if you didn’t know it was there. Tulie sits in a suburban setting, along one of Salt Lake’s extra-wide landing strips roadways. You could easily visit the excellent Café Trio (680 South 900 East; triodining.com), which occupies the corner real estate a few doors down, and not notice its glass façade.

Keep your hands out of the cookie jars.
Keep your hands out of the cookie jars.

The French-inspired Tulie is approaching its fourth year in business and continues to draw crowds to its clean, well-lighted, rustic/modern interior. The usual suspects at the bakery comprise a relatively diverse mixture of young parents with smartly dressed toddlers, well-off empty nesters, the obligatory foodie hipsters, and a random smattering of difficult-to-classify individuals willing to pay a premium for the “pure, high-quality ingredients that flow seamlessly with the decor,” as it says on the Tulie website.

A mild crowd for a Saturday morning at Tulie.
A mild crowd for a Saturday morning at Tulie.

According to their menu, the Tulie Bakery has five core culinary offerings: breakfast pastry, hot pressed sandwiches, pastry ( for other times of the day, I gather), cakes, and the catch-all “cupcakes, cookies, and bars.” Of these, I have found the breakfast pastry to be the most superlative. Everything I have tried, from the morning bun to the pain au chocolat to the crème fraîche coffee cake has been worthy of recommendation.

Yes, everything is good — great even — but floating above it all, like a plate of ethereal, golden, powder-caked balloons, are the beignets, which are baked only on the weekends, at some time around 8 or 9 in the morning. Sold individually or in sets of four, these French-style (via New Orleans) “donuts” bear hardly any resemblance to their denser, tire-shaped cousins. I have missed the “golden hour” — from when the beignets come out of the oven to the time they sell out — on several occasions, which never ceases to fill me with disappointment. Another plus, and one that richly compliments the beignets: Tulie Bakery has trained their employees to pull excellent espresso drinks.

Tulie's famous beignets, fresh from the oven.
Tulie’s famous beignets, fresh from the oven.

Yes, the sandwiches, cakes, pastries, cookies and tarts really are among the best in Salt Lake City. Personal preference will vary, but there is no denying that the overall quality of the food at Tulie is second to none. Were I a wealthy man, I might stop in every day, but dietary and pecuniary limitations restrict me to weekly visits. That’s just enough to leave me always wanting more, which, I think, is really the way it ought be to allow for maximum appreciation of any food this good.

Tulie Bakery is located at 863 East 700 South, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Contact information, hours of operation, a complete menu, and more can be found at their website: www.tuliebakery.com.

Can You Cold-Brew Coffee With A French Press?

A French press.
A French press.

A little while back, I posted a blog and video about using the Toddy Coffee System to make iced coffee. With the Toddy System, you steep coarsely ground coffee in water for 12 hours and then drain the coffee through a very fine, fibrous filter. The result is a potent coffee concentrate that is low in acid — you dilute it with water and can drink it over ice or heated in a microwave. Either way, the system does the trick. I tend to prefer Toddy-made iced coffee to most coffee shop iced coffee, since it’s less bitter but still seems to contain full caffeine content.

I was intrigued, however, when a few readers mentioned the idea of using a French press to “cold-brew” coffee in this way. With a French press, if you’re not familiar, you put coffee grounds into a central chamber, pour in hot water, and then after a few minutes depress a plunger that pushes the grounds to the bottom, leaving you with hot coffee. Substitute hot water with cold and let the grounds sit for 12 hours instead of three minutes, and, in theory, the French press should do the same thing as the Toddy system. However, after a few weeks of French press cold-brewed coffee, I’ve concluded that the Toddy system is better for cold-brewing coffee in two important ways:

1) It’s sedimentary, dear Watson – The round, tightly knit woven filters used in the Toddy system catch nearly every particle of sediment from the coffee grounds. The metal mesh filter of the French press, with its larger openings and imperfect seal with the sides of the container, allowed fine particulates to enter the final product, even with coarsely ground coffee. Not the end or the world, but if you’ve ever swilled a silty final draught of coffee from the bottom of a cup, you know how it can set your teeth on edge.

2) If a little iced coffee is good, more is better – I’m not one to go with quantity when quality is on the line, but in this case, the capacious brewing container of the Toddy system allows me to cold-brew a large amount of high-quality concentrate at once, meaning my supply lasts one to two weeks, depending on how frequently I need a coffee fix. My French press made less than half the concentrate of the Toddy, so I was making batches more frequently. If you have a massive French press (which you probably don’t), then I guess this isn’t a problem for you, and you have only a little sediment to worry about.

The Toddy System
The Toddy System

The verdict: If you’re an iced coffee lover and you plan to drink the stuff daily  (or if you have an issue with acid, which, according to Toddy, a lot of people do), then you should just bite the bullet and get the Toddy system, even though it costs $40. The high volume and low sediment make it superior to a French press for the purpose of cold-brewing coffee. Plus it comes with a nice, lidded glass carafe.

Important note: I don’t work for Toddy and I bought their product with my own money and of my own accord. I did, however, shatter the glass carafe and ruin a brewing container by trying to push the filter out with a butter knife, thereby nicking the drainage hole, which in turn ruined the seal with the rubber stopper. Replacing these items doubled the cost of the Toddy system. Still, I would recommend it, with the caveat that it’s kinda breaky…