We brewed our first “nomadic beer” on a canoe trip in the Wisconsin Northwoods.
Our goal was to make a souvenir brew, a bottle of nostalgia—something to enjoy after work drew us back from our weekend getaway. We loaded our canoe with camping supplies and basic brewing gear: a cooler for mashing, an empty keg for boiling, a bucket for fermenting. We brought hops, yeast, our own malt, and wild rice and carrots from a local farmers’ market, and we collected wild bog myrtle as we paddled.
We set up camp on the edge of the lake and collected stones to warm in a fire and drop into a kettle of cool, clean lake water, bringing it to a boil. The rocks warmed slowly, giving us time to enjoy the evening. We roasted our carrots over the fire. On the lakeshore, far from our garage homebrew setup, we could stare off over the water while watching the sunset, listening to the loons call, and, as we dropped the rocks into our mash, smelling rich aromas of malt and fire. By morning, we had a beer to take home and enjoy as fall turned to winter.
Since, the two of us have continued to brew on the road. On a recent trip from our home in Indiana to South Carolina, we made a fruited farmhouse ale—in a wooden barrel, using a sweetgrass basket for filtration—from Georgia peaches, Marsh Hen Mill’s heirloom Carolina Gold and China Black rices, water from a mountain stream, local hops, pine needles, and craft malt that we picked up in North Carolina.
Here are a few tips for nomadic brewing, best complemented by a good brewing guide. Our bibles, ideal for this kind of beer, are Scratch Brewing’s The Homebrewer’s Almanac and Historical Brewing Techniques, by Lars Marius Garshol.
1. Keep the equipment simple.
We like to use one old whiskey barrel for mashing and boiling. We’ve been filtering the mash using organic material—so far, straw, hay, juniper branches, and sweetgrass, though many kinds of grasses, leaves, and branches can work. You can use a camping cooler for mashing and a large pot for boiling. Then, you’ll need a wort chiller that fits in the barrel—or a source of cool water nearby—and a plastic bucket for fermentation.
2. Gather as much local flavor as you can.
Make time for stops at local hop yards, malthouses, mills, orchards, and so on. Ask for a tour and buy some products. Meeting the people and making those connections along the way will make your nomadic brew special and memorable. Forage for ingredients if you are up for it. We like to get to know the agricultural and wild products in the area(s) where we’re traveling. Just be sure to do your research or buy a guide to assist you if you plan forage in areas that may be unfamiliar to you.
There is no one all-purpose beer recipe, but for less experienced brewers, we can offer some rules of thumb: First, plan to use about two pounds of malt per gallon of beer. Plan to make about three-quarters of your mash bill a base malt—two-row or pilsner—and one quarter more character-rich malt(s), such as wheat, rye, crystal, or chocolate. Try starting with a pound of fruit per gallon. You can add up to four pounds per gallon for more intense flavor, but each brew and fruit will give you a different result. Hop and herb amounts vary so much by variety and beer style that we can’t give you much guidance, but we go typically go light on hops when brewing these nomadic beers.
As for yeast, either pack some in a cooler with you, bring dried kveik yeast, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try spontaneous fermentation.
3. Brew somewhere beautiful.
Near the end of your trip, pick an afternoon or evening for a brew day. We prefer using local water, gathering rocks to heat the water, and cooling the wort back in that water source, but the only requirements are a good water source and a beautiful view. Once you have found your perfect spot for the night, get a fire going and enjoy the most beautiful brew session you’ll ever experience.