For decades, centuries probably, folks have dreamed of a more convenient way of transporting beer on distant adventures supported by back, boat and bike. The problem is, no one was able to shrink a full serving of legit beer into a package much smaller than a 12-oz can, and 12-oz cans are bulky and heavy. Pat's Backcountry Beverages has broken through and done it, creating a beer concentrate that can fit into a pocket and mix a 16 oz ale with the help of plain water and an easy-to-use carbonation system. Beer is now a whole lot easier to carry ... but how does an ultra-portable brew taste?
Pat Tatera's inspiration for the portable beer system came on a backpacking trip about 17 years ago in Utah's Canyonlands National Park. He and his buddy stowed some cold beer in the car for their return back from the wilds. They didn't make it very far.
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"We get out to our designated campsite and it's like 1 in the afternoon," Tatera tells it. "We've got a whole day ahead of us still, so we milled around camp, found lots of little side hikes to do – but we just kept thinking about that cold beer that was back in the car. So we made the very wise decision to pack up our tents, pack up everything, hike way into the evening, and we car camped just so we could have a cold beer. From that point forward, it was like 'there's gotta be an intelligent way to be able to bring beer with you when you're on these lightweight outdoor adventures'."
The problem haunted Tatera for years. With his background in home brewing and chemical engineering, he took up developing a solution as a hobby, dabbling with different ideas and figuring out a lot of what not to do. Then, about five years ago, he got more serious about pursuing a commercial product, sinking his own funds into it, applying for patents and fine-tuning what he calls "Hybrid Brewing Technology." The unique brewing process creates a genuine beer concentrate that transforms into a cold, frothy mug of beer in minutes with nothing more than water and carbonation.
"For decades brewers have been trying to come up with a concentrated beer for the same benefits of Coke and Pepsi – they save a lot of money shipping and transporting their product as a concentrate," Tatera explains. "The same benefits exist in the brewing industry, it's just that it's never really worked. You know, they've always been trying to suck the water out of their beer, and the problem with that is you invest a lot of energy when you start removing water from something. So we came at it from a different trajectory, and we just asked a simple question: 'What if we don't add the water to begin with?'
"We don't remove a single drop of water to make that concentrate. How we handle that beer from the very beginning is what creates the level of concentration."
Not surprisingly, Tatera didn't go into too much detail about the specifics of his recipe or process. He did assure us that the product uses the very same ingredients as the cold one sitting in your fridge right now, along with much of the same brewing equipment that gets it there.
"We uphold the German purity laws – it's barley, water, hops and yeast," he says. "But from that point forward what we do with those ingredients is a radical departure from how the traditional brewing process takes place. If you come into our facility, you'll see fermentors, you'll see a mash tun, you'll see a brew kettle, but you'll also see some equipment that looks like some sci-fi movie, and that's where our very specialized technology allows us to do what we do."
Of course, a packet of 100-proof beer concentrate isn't actually a beer until it's fizzing and foaming in your glass, something that doesn't happen without water and carbonation. For that, Tatera and his team developed a portable carbonator in the form of a plastic water bottle. In fact, Pat's Backcountry Beverages actually launched the carbonation system, along with soda concentrates, about a year ago in an effort to help fund the brewing equipment that pumps out the beer concentrate.
Pat's Carbonator contains a specialized compartment for its Eco2Activator powder, a mix of potassium bicarbonate and citric acid, which creates the CO2 bubbles you know and love from traditional sodas and beers. With a little priming and shaking, the liquid inside transforms from flat to bubbly.
I witnessed the process firsthand, watching it transform a packet of 49 percent alcohol "beer syrup" and water into a pint of 5 percent beer in just a few minutes. I wanted to love the beer, because of how much potential ultra-portable beer has, but the "Pale Rail" that Pat's crew kindly mixed up for me fell a bit short of the "equivalent [of] most microbrews on the market" that Pat's advertises. Its flavor was thinner than a typical pale ale, and, perhaps it was because I watched it being added to water, but it did have a sort of "beer flavored sparkling water" character that couldn't compete with the full flavor of a traditional pale ale.
That said, the Pale Rail was better tasting than a lot of lighter, less flavorful beers on the market, and it packs an alcohol content that's quite typical of other beers. Considering that you'd traditionally not be drinking beer at all in the types of situations that Pat's system was designed for, it beats the heck out of the alternative. Buyers could also presumably play with the taste and character by varying the amounts of water and carbonation, something I wasn't able to try because supplies were quite limited at the demo I attended.
When applied to Tatera's original scenario, the idea is that you can easily carry the Carbonator (which doubles as a regular water bottle) and as many small packets of beer as you want, something you wouldn't even consider doing with traditional bottles or cans. It would be difficult to carry the quarts, liters or gallons of water necessary to create those beers, not to mention the additional quarts, liters or gallons necessary to re-hydrate you the next morning, but the system should work well in areas where you can collect and purify water on the trip.
Beyond that initial scenario, Pat's brewing methods also have potential to transform the greater beer distribution industry. Instead of being packaged and distributed in heavy, expensive kegs, beer could potentially be concentrated and mixed with water on site, similar to how soda is mixed in soda fountains. This could theoretically revolutionize the industry, saving all kinds of shipping, packaging and distribution costs. The brewing technology would have to be fine-tuned to the point where it could accurately recreate the taste and character of specific beers, but Pat's has developed a key starting point.
"We're having communications, collaborations with some of the major players in the industry right now," Tatera responded when we asked what the future might bring. "We are looking at everything from big, big, big scale, like being able to support the industry in moving, like, tanker trucks of beer from point A to B, but shrinking it down and saving an awful lot of fossil fuel in the process, to working with breweries that just want to be part of sort of the excitement of being able to bring beer anywhere people are traveling and hiking and in the backcountry."
So maybe you'll see some of your favorite beers available in concentrate form in the future.
Pat's Backcountry Beverages Carbonator is available now for US$29.95, or $39.95 in a package with six packets of carbonation powder. The beer concentrates will launch in September in two flavors: Pail Rail and Black IPA, starting at $9.95 for a four-pack, which creates 4 pints of beer. Because of their high alcohol content, the concentrates are considered distilled spirits and will be distributed through liquor stores. Pat's is working to secure distribution around the United States.
Once the initial two beers launch, the company plans to add a new style every month or so, including nut brown, American lager, pilsner, etc. Carbonator users can enjoy soda flavors like Pat's pomegranate cola and spicy ginger ale.
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