Perfect your outdoor drinking game with tipples and tinnies that are made for enjoying alfresco, writes
The best beers, wines and bubbles to enjoy outdoors.
One of the most important things to remember when drinking outdoors: don’t forget the corkscrew. This sounds like outmoded advice now that pretty much every wine is bottled under screwcap (in itself possibly the greatest single development in the history of outdoors drinking), but there’s a couple of reasons why it’s still a good idea to pop a waiter’s friend into your pocket as you head out.
Yes, most Australian wines are now under screw cap – but most European wines are still under cork. What’s more, natural winemakers, both Australian and European, tend to favour cork over screw. And you’ll want to be drinking natural wines because they taste particularly good with fresh air.
Also, sparkling wines – especially the pét-nats beloved of the natural crowd – are often stoppered with a crown seal rather than a cork these days, so you’ll need the bottle-opening bit of your waiter’s friend to pry them open (and watch them gush everywhere because they’ve been shaken up when you walked from the car to the beachside lunch spot).
When it comes to choosing outdoors wines, you could uphold the age-old Aussie summer custom of drinking lukewarm full-bodied shiraz with your char-grilled snags if you really wanted to. Knock yourself out. But let me tempt you with some other vinous options that I think taste particularly good drunk outside on a sunny day.
Super-zesty young dry white wines – riesling, semillon, sauvignon blanc, etc – work really well, as long as they’re kept really cold. I’m really enjoying a lot of chenin blanc at the moment for this very reason. Ditto for pale, dry rosé and skin-contact whites. Light, juicy reds such as gamay, cabernet franc and dolcetto also work better outdoors – in my humble opinion – than their fuller-bodied cousins, because they taste good chilled and can be kept in the ice bucket.
Vermouth’s great, too. Do what the Spanish do and kick off your next al fresco event with a healthy slug of chilled red vermouth over plenty of ice with a green olive and a sliver of orange peel. Drain and repeat. And you can’t go past a good Spritz, especially if it comes in pre-mixed form a la Maidenii’s handy half-litre bottles.
One of the best things to happen to craft beer in the last few years is the fact that so many brewers now put their New England IPAs and raspberry sour ales and oyster stouts in cans. Indeed, some like the brilliant Sailors Grave Brewing in Gippsland, only use cans. The benefits to the outdoor drinker are obvious: cans chill down quicker than bottles (handy if you’re very thirsty); they’re lighter (handy for when you’re carrying your picnic a long way through the bush); and they don’t smash when you drop them on the rocks (handy for when your picnic spot is at the edge of a waterhole).
Beer isn’t the only thing that comes in cans, now, of course. You can also find very good traditional cider (thank you Willie Smith’s in Tasmania) and even delicious wine in tinnies (thank you Inkwell Wines and Sparkke, both in South Australia).
Talking of alternative packaging… you may have noticed the gloriously retro return of the flagon and cask in recent years. This isn’t cheap plonk to be sculled by derros on some park bench at midnight, though. Oh no. The pretty, fruity Yarra Valley rosé that Stuart Proud sells in two-litre flagons under his Proud Primary Produce label, and the juicy Piemontese barbera that Giorgio de Maria imports in three-litre
bag-in-boxes are both seriously good wines. Yes, they may add some extra bulk to your picnic basket but they’re heaps of fun – and they certainly look the part as you’re sitting on a park bench with your hipster mates at midnight.
And look, it’s wonderful that we’re all trying so hard to reduce the amount of plastic in our lives, it really is. Yay us. But when it comes to drinking outside, plastic is your friend (see the aforementioned “smashing on rocks”). Gone are the days when plastic wineglasses were all super chunky and coloured blue or orange. Now you can find very good ones, both stemmed and stemless, from top manufacturers such as Plumm, that almost look and feel like the real thing. I’d recommend the stemless versions – they’re great for everything from water to red wine to Spritzes, and the smaller ones can even be slipped into old footy-club stubby holders for extra insulation. A good example of upcycling if ever there was one.
If your outdoorsy drinking adventure is a little more off-track than a backyard barbie or picnic in the park, you might want to invest in one of the splendid vacuum-sealed stainless-steel drinks containers from US manufacturer, Stanley. The 1.9-litre growler, for example, fits almost a whole flagon of rosé, and will keep it cold for 24 hours. Stanley also sell an all-in-one stainless steel “happy hour” kit including shaker, strainer, citrus juicer, jigger and rocks glasses. Who says cocktails are just for indoors after dark?
You’ll want to be drinking natural wines because they taste particularly good with fresh air.
Clockwise: Giorgio de Maria Carussin Bag & Box, Proud Primary Produce Up the Mountain Rosé, Maidenii Spritz, Sailors Grave Brewing Sou’ East Draught and Spritz Inkwell Wines Dub Style Preservative Free Bubbly.