Rooted Apothecary

Wild Bilberry Rum Smash

Briana Wiles

It is not always bounty and baskets full of berries.  In fact sometimes it’s dusty old plants, minuscule berries and having to wait a day and find a different place to search for your prize.


The unknowing, the searching and patience in the season is all a part of it—but I suppose the same can be said about life in general.  And such as it was for the wild blueberries.


A blueberry by any other name is just as sweet, and these beauties are often referred to as bilberries or huckleberries, depending on your location.  Regardless of the name, if you live in the high rockies, you must abandon the fantasy of thick, rolling patches of tall blueberry bushes, ripe with berries the size of your thumb nail.   


The blueberries of the Rocky Mountains take a much different approach to ground cover, and I was fascinated that my favorite berry was actually very widespread here, easily found by parking the car and stepping off the road.  


So on a warm Sunday, we each wrapped up our afternoons, grabbed a libation of choice, and headed for the hills—trucks and jeeps alike clunking down familiar dirt roads.  At our destination, our leader, Briana Wiles, went to squatting close to the earth, and rifling up leaves that, once identified, could be spotted everywhere.


Overjoyed at our luck to find such bounty, we were quickly subdued when we realized the berries at this particular location where incredibly small and less abundant than we hoped.  But never the less, we stooped and collected a couple for the road, and I for one was blown away by the flavor packed in such a tiny package.


The flavor was equal parts vanilla and vibrant blueberry within a berry not bigger than a pin head.


But unfortunately, there were simply not enough of them to make this weeks cocktail: Wild Bilberry Rum Smash.


So the next day, determined to find more berries, I set out with Briana, Salix (the kiddo) and Bella (the malamute) to the patch of bilberries, which was apparently bursting at the seams.  


The truck bounced down the road on Kebler Pass, then on to Ohio Pass, and Bella hollered out the window at passing bicyclists.  And as simple as that, we pulled off the road and parked the truck, I stepped out with my mason jar in hand and was greeted with a hillside covered in the berries.


And not the dust-particle-size berries of the day before, but rather plump berries the size of tapioca balls and deep purple in color.  So ripe, my fingers were stained by the end of it.  


We rummaged through the hillside for an hour, barely making a dent.  And we chatted about life—the unknowing, the searching, having patience in the season—as we each filled our jars.  But the night was on it’s way out, and we figured we should be too, so we gathered the kiddo and the malamute and we bounced back down the road.  


And when you’ve gone to all the trouble of finding and harvesting wild bilberries for the purpose of cocktail making, you of course go to all of the trouble of using the best rum you can find.  Which lead me to Montanya’s Distillery  in Crested Butte for some of their Platino rum.  


Once home, I set out to making drinks for my hubby and I.  Measuring out around 3 Tbs of wild bilberries, with a squeeze of half a fresh lime, and teaspoon of organic cane sugar, I muddled the mix in my shaker.  I then added 2 oz of Montanya Platino Rum, added a couple of ice cubes and gave a hearty shake before pouring it into our ice-filled glasses and topping with club soda.  As always, add more or less of everything to taste.


The smooth aroma, and subtle vanilla notes of the rum melded perfectly with the vanilla-tinted berries and tart lime.  They combined so well, in fact, I made myself another.  Because I spent all that time rifling berries into my jar, I might as reap the rewards, right?


I guess in that way, the same can be said about life too.  We spend a lot of time in seasons of drought, hardship and what feels like endless searching, but when we find what it is we’ve been looking for, the rewards are paramount.


--Photos and article written by Cayla Vidmar of Rooted Apothecary