Meet “Road It Up,” The World’s Only #Vanlife Cocktail Account
There’s an undeniable appeal to the #vanlife lifestyle: no 9-to-5 schedule, plenty of time in the great outdoors, and every parking place (according to Instagram) is the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen. It’s not, however, the best lifestyle for cocktail fans who crave good ice, quality glassware and a variety of liquor. Or so you’d think, until you came across Road It Up, an Instagram account and blog run by Catherine Forest that documents her family, her travels and her cocktails.
Road It Up is filled with the trappings of the curated #vanlife Instagram feeds, made popular by accounts like @wheresmyofficenow, @tinyhousetinyfootprint and @homesweetvan. An April 2017 story in The New Yorker by Rachel Monroe titled, “#Vanlife, the Bohemian Social-Media Movement,” took a deep dive into the day-to-day existence of a van liffer and brought it into the mainstream. But Forest and her family have been living full-time in a van for five years, long before it was considered cool among 30-somethings looking for a nomadic escape. And to this day, Road It Up has something that clearly sets it apart from trendier accounts: cocktails.
It all started, like many great cocktail origin stories, in New Orleans. Forest, an herbalist who has made plant-based medicinal products for more than 15 years, started reading about the medicinal history of cocktails in 2016.
“Since we have children, going to a bar to taste a few of those intriguing cocktails was not an option,” Forest tells Supercall. “So I went into a shop and got a bottle of Peychaud’s bitters and some spirits and decided to make a few cocktails to dive deeper into the history of NOLA.” One of the first of those cocktails she dug into was a Ramos Gin Fizz, a drink that requires so much shaking, it verges on a full-blown arm workout.
But Forest clearly isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. She lives on the road with her partner, JF Roldan, and her three daughters (two of which are twins) in a red 1984 Wanderlodge Bus with a Westfalia Syncro (a favorite of the #vanlifer) attached to the back. They sold their house in Quebec, packed into the bus and left with no return date. The Road It Up bio succinctly sums up the entire adventure as, “Full-time bus living with kids + mountain biking + climbing + dreaming big Mixing delicious cocktails along the way.”
A quick scroll through the Road It Up feed reveals classic and original cocktails, sometimes shot outside and sometimes shot inside with a black backdrop. Mountain biking photos break up the drink ‘grams, as do pictures of their bus and various outdoors scenes. The photo selection follows a ratio of two parts cocktails to one part boho chic to one part outdoorsy family life.
I had this fixation to take a picture of that cocktail INSIDE an agave plant. Our friends have many in their yard, but as you know, they are pretty poky. I also had to find a spot where the glass would hold straight. I knew I had a 50/50 chance to lose it (and break the coupe!), but it ended up working pretty well. I love how the Saskatoon liqueur earthy tobacco-like taste works so well with Mezcal. Cinder and smoke 1 oz. Reposado Tequila ¼ oz Mezcal 3/4 oz. Saskatoon berry liqueur (homemade) 1 oz lime juice ½ oz agave syrup 2 dashes orange bitters 1 dash hibiscus bitters Combine ingredients, stir in mixing glass until ice cold. Serve in your favourite coupe glass. #redbusdrinks
“At first, it was really hard to take pictures of the cocktails I made because the lighting in the bus is really bad for photography, and I didn’t have the space for more photo shooting equipment,” says Forest, who has been taking photos since she was 14. Plus, shooting outside has its own problems that vary with the seasons and location. “It’s awesome when we are in the Yukon and have the midnight sun, but not so great in Mexico in December where I had to make cocktails at 4 p.m. It sure made for early nights!” She now has a use-what-you-have style photo setup with a milk jug as a light diffuser, a black dress as a backdrop, and foil as a flash bouncer.
Road It Up straddles two unique Instagram communities. On one hand there’s the #vanlifers, and on the other is the cocktail community, sometimes referred to as #drinkstagrammers. Popular cocktail accounts like Emily Wells’ @gastronomista_ (13,000 followers) and Elliott Clark’s @apartment_bartender (44.3 thousand followers) have taken cocktails and spirits from behind the bar and put them on everyday enthusiasts’ phones. Wells, Clark and many others created an accessible space for people who enjoy drinking and learning about spirits, but don’t necessarily have professional experience. They’re also, as Instagram influencer accounts tend to be, highly curated with a gorgeous aesthetic—an aesthetic that can be hard to match when you live out of a bus.
“With such limited space, you have to be pretty crazy to be a mixologist on the road!” Forest says. “I just love it so much, I make it work. The homemade bitters and liqueurs are slowly taking over our small pantry and fridge space, but my family is super cool about it.”
You know what the real challenge of living in a bus when you are an amateur mixologist? It’s not that the bus is slowly being swallowed by booze and other ingredients, tools and glasses or that you never have enough ice... No, the very real problem is that every 6 months we have to cross the border (Canadians can only spend 6 months/year in the States) and that only 2 liters of alcohol are allowed. Can you imagine? Last year, I kept about 10 bottles (I gave away at least as many) and declared them all and paid the taxes. It's not only expensive, but it's also a hassle… they have to come into the bus, check everything, etc. So this year, I'm planning on using most of it before we cross back in early May. That means not buying anything until then and be pretty creative as the months go by as the stocks dwindle. It’ll be quite interesting!
Vintage glasses are stored in shoe racks, and bottle options must be kept to a minimum. Because they’re Canadian, they can only spend six months at a time in the United States and can only bring back two liters of alcohol to Canada if they want to avoid paying exorbitant taxes. Hardest of all, though, is ice. The Wanderlodge runs on solar power, so the fridge turns off at night. Forest puts spring water in the back of the freezer first thing in the morning on days she plans to make drinks, but there’s little in terms of ice variety or quality control.
That said, there’s an upside to traveling with a cocktail mindset. Trips down from the Yukon are timed with berry season—Forest has made liqueurs from wild black currants picked fresh in Northern British Columbia, blackberries foraged in Bellingham, Washington, and elderberries plucked from the side of the road in Northern California. As they’re currently living in Arizona for the winter months, Forest has taken advantage of wild sage and rosemary, as well as fresh blood oranges and Texas grapefruit.
I had bookmarked this cocktail to make on a day when I get the juicer out to make a green juice (you gotta balance things out, right?). I used beautiful crisp Fuji apples to make some fresh juice and it really made the cocktail pop. Village to Village (by Thomas Waugh @deathandcompany) 1½ oz Blanco Tequila ½ tsp St. Elizabeth allspice dram 1½ ounce fresh Fuji apple juice ¾ ounce lemon juice ½ ounce honey syrup ½ tsp ginger syrup Garnish : 2 dashes Angostura bitters and a mint sprig Short shake all the ingredients with 3 ice cubes, then strain into glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish. @tikithesnowaway #redbusdrinks
The Road It Up blog and social accounts aren’t, and never have been, a way to sustain the family during their travels. While the largest influencer accounts receive enough money for sponsored posts to make Instagramming their sole income, Forest uses the platform to document her lifestyle and share the cocktails she creates. So if you see a big red bus pulling a Westy, give them a shout or stop by. You might get a taste of a lifestyle you never knew you wanted.