Dec. 14, 2013 at 8:03 AM ET
Weight is the enemy of the backpacker, as every added ounce can lead to increased muscle strain, fatigue, and the desire to turn around and stay at the lodge.
For fans of craft beer, enjoying a decent brew while hiking or camping away from the car usually involves lugging around heavy cans of beer, which can turn a lovely trek into a grueling slog through the woods.
But now the folks at Pat’s Backcountry Beverages have created a solution – their new Brew Concentrates come in featherweight 50ml packets and can be reconstituted with carbonated water (courtesy of their trail-ready 16-ounce carbonator bottle).
If you’re using a water purifier or good old-fashioned boiling to transform lake or river water into a drinking supply, the weight savings are significant. Plus, you don’t have to worry about pressurized aluminum cylinders exploding beer all over your gear if you slip and fall or are a little rough with your pack.
The real question is this: Can a trail-blended beer concentrate taste as good as a Dale’s Pale Ale or 21st Amendment Back in Black?
The answer requires assembling the beer to find out – it’s not a simple task, but it’s a cool bit of science that’s very satisfying when you make it work.
Building the beer
There are several steps involved in reconstituting a beer, and each must be performed with attention to detail to ensure you’ll be drinking a foamy brew and not a flat canister of diluted beer concentrate.
The first time through the process can be overwhelming. You have to prime the cap, mix packets of citric acid and sodium bicarbonate into the orange carbonation chamber (make sure you massage the packets before using them so they aren’t clumpy), add in your beer concentrate, and top off the bottle with 16 ounces of water.
Now comes the embarrassing part. The carbonator bottle is basically the Shake Weight of the great outdoors, requiring two seconds of furious shaking, a one-second pause, a quick lifting of the lever on the cap to release the CO2 you’ve just created, and then another two-second pause as the bubbles are released into your beverage.
These steps are repeated dozens of times over the course of one or two minutes. Hopefully you’re camping alone, or at least with someone who’s not going to record you and post it on YouTube.
Once the shaking sequence is over, you put your beverage down and rub your aching arm as the beer settles. You then screw off the cap (be prepared for it to spit a bit of beer as you do) and enjoy your bubbly creation as you marvel at the fact that such a thing is possible. It seems like magic the first time you get it right (which might take a couple of tries – hang in there).
Impressing the beer geek
Pat’s makes two “beers” (they’re not allowed to market them as such, as they are technically “distilled adult beverages”), a pale ale called the 1919 Pale Rail and Black Hops, a facsimile of a black IPA.
The 1919 Pale Rail is a very serviceable 5.2 percent ABV pale ale when reconstituted with the recommended 16 ounces of water, featuring an earthy malt backbone and a nicely balanced pine-forward hop profile. You certainly wouldn’t be suffering while sipping one of these around the campfire. If you prefer the flavor amped up a bit, use less water when reconstituting the beer to beef up the flavor and alcohol content.
I enjoyed the 6.2 percent ABV Black Hops even more, as its dark body, roasted malt flavor and lingering pop of hops made me feel like I was drinking a brew fit for a beer geek. I even poured it into one of my fancy Spiegelau crystal pint glasses to get the full effect (it foamed up beautifully, like it was coming from a brewery-sealed bottle – impressive!).
Overall, both beers are worthwhile, even if they have a slight homebrew quality about them, with just a hint of sourness lurking deep behind the malts.
A four-pack of Brew Concentrates runs $9.99, and it costs about 50 cents a pop for the activation packets needed to carbonate them. Without figuring in the $29.95 for the carbonator bottle, that’s about $3 per beer.
These DIY brews will appeal to beer geeks and gear geeks as well. They’re a celebration of science and ingenuity, showing that artful distilling, basic chemistry and a some good old-fashioned elbow grease can allow us to conquer nature (at least the part of it that says it’s impossible to craft a beer in the wild).