Back in December I posted my guide to Gifts for your beer loving cyclist, and among the products featured was the “beer concentrate” system developed by Pat’s Back Country Beverages from Talkeetna, Alaska. As fate would have it, my youngest sister had ordered the system for me as a Christmas present – so my chances of trying the product increased to near certainty – I just needed to add an adventure, and water!
I became interested in Pat’s system well over a year ago as the final kinks were being worked out and the initial marketing of the product began to sweep the internet. After lugging beer miles through the back country for camping or fishing trips, the folks at Pat’s realized there must be a better way! Water makes up the bulk of the weight of beer, and the packaging, whether cans or bottles needed to be carried in and out of the site as well. While the weight is no problem if a machine is doing your work for you – when you are moving under your own power it can add up quite quickly, and the bulk will take away space from more important gear. So they got to work to develop a smarter way to enjoy beer in nature.
This camping/adventure beer seemed interesting to me, and here was a very environmentally conscious company, not only reducing the costs of shipping the product, and wasteful packaging, but using a low water, low energy brewing process to create what essentially amounts to a 50-60% ABV “shot” of flat beer. Go ahead and take a look at their eco2nomics vision and tell me you aren’t impressed.
With the packaging staring me down from a corner in our living room every day since late December, I couldn’t wait for a spring thaw to head out on an S24O bike trip. I had to try this unique product, but felt it wouldn’t be quite the same from our kitchen counter. I had to capture the ethos of nature, so I hiked along a treacherous trail to the nearest park service land I could find – Lincoln Park in Northeast DC! Upon arrival I was dismayed to know my activities were frowned upon, but nonetheless I pushed onwards towards our camp.
It wasn’t back country wilderness at all – but it would do for a test of the carbonation system! Amidst families building snow forts and a curious group of Amish teenagers playing frisbee, I set up “camp” adjacent to a nice large tree. My snowman companion was of little help. What you see is the brew concentrate, the eventual beverage container (larger bottle), the carbonation unit (smaller orange vessel), and a Nalgene carrying my water supply (there were no clean mountain springs to be found, so I came prepared). Absent are the small “sugar packets” of carbonating materials.
I was initially surprised that the carbonation came from a chemical reaction, using two pretty benign sounding ingredients – citric acid and potassium bicarbonate. I figured carbonation would come from a miniature CO2 canister, akin to those used to inflate bike tubes, though I do know that those gasses aren’t necessarily food safe – and making them so would require a significant amount of work.
The process of brewing your beer is pretty simple. First, “prime the pump” on the grey lid, then add 16oz. of water and concentrate to the larger bottle. Next, add the contents of the carbonation package into the orange container, and screw the system together and for two minutes perform a “pump, shake, rest” dance that draws suspicious glances from passersby. Pretty quickly you’ll feel pressure building up and see the bubbles building. On my first try the carbonation seemed to take pretty well, but my second pint was very flat. It’s a shame to have wasted the rather expensive beer (it works out to about $3.00/pint) on learning to master the carbonation process – so I would recommend practice on regular water. Overall the system did seem pretty easy to use, but consistency will take time to master.
So if you’ve invested $30 for the bottle, another $6 for the carbonation packages (12/unit), and $10 for a four-pack of beer, then carried it out into the wilderness to enjoy by a campfire or on a river – you hope for something that matches the splendor of your surroundings. I tried a pint of both the 1919 Pale Ale and the Black Hops black-IPA on my expedition, but I can’t honestly say they were very spectacular.
Upon opening the package of 1919 Pale Ale concentrate I could immediately smell a heavy fruity hop odor, which got me excited. Following my two-minute carbonation dance I smelled – and yes tased, grapefruit-y hops pouring out of the bottle. At first I picked up on those hops in this nicely balanced beer, but I soon had a stale cardboard taste in my mouth, eventually followed by a dank resinous hop sensation. The flavor profile was somewhat flat and reminiscent of my home brewing adventures – not “pour down the drain” bad, just somewhat disappointing after so much anticipation.
The Black Hops had many of the same characteristics, though there was a biting sweetness with a mild roasted malt flavor that hit and quickly faded, likely due to the additional malts necessary to create the black IPA style. Again, slight stale cardboard and a thin flavor profile.
The generally disappointing beer shouldn’t dissuade you from buying this product – if you truly are heading out into the wilderness, miles from a general store or gas station. Out there, treating water from a creek or spring is commonplace, and after a long day some beer is certainly better than no beer at all (unless you brink a hip-flask of bourbon – which may be a smarter move overall). Another good use for the product is home brewing – giving you a chance to test carbonate a small sample of your batch before you go to the effort of bottling everything.
But, if like me, you will primarily use Pat’s beer concentrates for shorter weekend-length bike camping trips, where the distance and terrain makes it relatively easy to carry a few beers, and a general store is often a short ride away. In that case, I don’t think this product is for you. You’ll be carrying the concentrate, brewing container and probably bottled water – so you might as well just bring a six-pack of your favorite local brew – where you have more selection and a known-quantity with regard to taste and carbonation.
I’ve got six more packages of concentrate – so I am not giving up on Pat’s Back Country Beverages, and I hope to try more flavors as they become available. I will bring the system on some S24Os this summer for the novelty – but I hope the taste profile can improve as the product is on the market for a longer time. If we take an S24O together this summer, then I’ll gladly let you sample and form your own conclusion!