By Julia Ritz Toffoli
I never went to summer camp when I was a kid. I occasionally went camping (very rustically, as my dad thought that carving our own cutlery out of sticks, and other such activities quite unnecessary in the modern era, would “build character”), but I never had the classic, crafting, canoeing, capture-the-flagging, whispering-secrets-to-your-bunkmate after lights out, overnight camp experience that so many American kids have growing up.
From my friends who did go to camp, I heard a mixed bag of stories. The freedom was intoxicating, the nature walks were a welcome change from city life, and they could cannonball into lakes to their little hearts’ content. There was also horrible cafeteria food, cold showers, and swarms of mosquitoes. All of that I could take or leave.
But the stories that always made me so envious—the stories that made me wish I could trade my wonderful summers in Europe visiting family for a month at a lakeside camp in Maine with my friends—were the stories I heard about sitting around the campfire at night, roasting marshmallows, making s’mores, telling ghost stories, and melting into those endless, indigo summer evenings.
Naturally, I’ve sat around my fair share of campfires (mostly as a teenager, drinking cheap booze and pilfering rolled cigarettes from my older cousins). I know how mesmerizing those dancing flames are, and how everyone’s illuminated faces form a golden circle against a vanishing backdrop. I love the distinct sound of crackling wood, and its radiating warmth. And mostly I love that rich, earthy smoke that clings to your hair and clothes, so that when you smell it the next morning you get a wave of nostalgia for the night before.
But there’s something so special about living those experiences as a child, at an age when everything is still magical; I wish I could recreate that feeling.
So I tried! Enter the Campfire Old Fashioned. Camp for grown ups, if you will!
While an Old Fashioned isn’t typically a warm-weather cocktail, this one—with the sweet smokiness from the High West—evokes the summer scent of a smoldering campfire, bringing you straight back to those summer camp days.
High West Campfire is an unusual blend of Bourbon and Scotch, resulting in a beautiful harmony of peaty and caramel notes. For a unique twist, I replaced the traditional sugar with a Kampot pepper infused simple syrup. The pepper brings out the spice and smoke of the Scotch, while highlighting the floral sweetness of the Bourbon.
So while we may be too old to go back to summer camp, thankfully we’re old enough to drink! And this way we can enjoy the taste of campfire nights, with none of the cold showers and mosquitoes.
Campfire Old Fashioned
- 2 oz High West Campfire
- 1/2 teaspoon of Kampot Pepper simple syrup
- 2 dashes angostura bitters
- 1 dash Regan’s orange bitters
- Lemon peel and/or orange peel for garnish
In a mixing glass (preferably chilled in the freezer), combine the High West Campfire, Kampot simple syrup and bitters. Add ice and stir gently for 20-25 seconds. Strain into a frozen rocks glass, over a single large ice cube. Twist the lemon and orange peels over the drink to release the citrus oils. Gently run the peels along the rim of the glass and then garnish.
Kampot Pepper Simple Syrup
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp whole fresh black Kampot peppercorns*
- 1 tbsp cracked fresh black peppercorns
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water, and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly, until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain out pepper. Store in the fridge with a tight-fitting lid; keeps for up to one month.
* Kampot pepper is an especially fragrant varietal of black pepper from Cambodia, and our Owner-Editor swears by it. Yet if you can’t find it, any fresh black pepper will work just as well.