You've spent the entire day hiking in the backcountry. Filthy, sweaty, and tired, you want nothing more than to fall to the ground and fill your mouth with cold, life-restoring beer. Well, you kind of can; Pat's Backcountry Beverages claims to have the answer to every camping ale addict's prayers: a hyper-potent, concentrated beer gel that comes in its very own packet. Just add (carbonated) water.
Of course, the hopheads over at Pat's aren't the first to come up with a beer concentrate, although they may be the first to do it right. Up until now, any sort of portable, concentrated beer got that way simply by taking the finished product and evaporating water from it. The problem here is that it's not just the water that disappears in to the ether—the flavor goes too.
To get around this little problem, Backcountry Beverages namesake, Pat Tatera, decided to reinvent the process from scratch, creating what he calls a "Hybrid Brewing Technology." The process starts just like any other small-batch brewery would, but that's about where the similarities end. PopSci explains the mechanism behind Tatera's patented technique:
He boils water and malt to create wort—unfermented beer—then cools the mixture and adds yeast to ferment it. Instead of finishing the brew there, he builds a concentrate. He vacuum distills the mixture and reserves the ethanol, leaving behind a syrup. Then he starts the process again, adding the syrup instead of water. He ferments again, removes the ethanol, and repeats. In total, he brews each batch four times. He then soaks hops in the reserved alcohol and adds it to the syrup.
Now, as fun as Go-Gurt-style beer gel sounds, it doesn't really seem all that appealing after a long day of hiking. Add in the fact that each 1.7-ounce packet is either 49 or 58 percent ABV depending on the variety, and that hyper hoppy, viscous stuff becomes just about the last thing you'd want to send cascading into your mouth. That's were their Portable Carbonator comes in.
While we used store bought carbonated water for our purposes, the idea is that you simply go to the closest stream or babbling brook, fill your water-bottle-like carbonator there, and add your packet of beer concentrate for an instant, highly portable cold one.
Sounds great! But one more, very important question remains:
Disclaimer: no where on the site or the product itself does it ever even begin to imply that you should be drinking the brew concentrate straight from the packet. Of course, what kind of scientists would we be if we didn't take every possible scenario into account? The bad kind, that's what. So obviously, we had to try it straight from the packet.
And now that we have, we can fully recommend in good conscience, that you never, never do that to yourself. The concentrate was slightly less viscous than we anticipated, which would have been a pleasant surprise if not for the fact that we highly misinterpreted how fast this stuff would be coming out.
After coating your throat in a not-at-all-pleasant burning sensation (lasting for about 8 minutes after the fact), the gel bombards your taste buds with a rotting symphony of flavors not meant for consumption. The Pail Rail—the tamer of the two at 49 percent ABV in the packet and 5.2 percent with water added—tasted vaguely of potent, regurgitated beer and/or straight garbage, while the Black Hops version—50 percent ABV or 6.1 percent with water added—was more reminiscent of an atrociously strong soy sauce mixed with melted tar. In short, beer concentrate shots are bad. Do not do them.
Tasting the product in its concentrated form made us wary, to say the least, of what would happen once we actually mixed it with water, but we were pleased to find that diluting does change the flavor palate almost entirely. The Backcountry Beverages website claims that their finished product "contains all the great flavor, alcohol, and aroma of a premium quality micro brew," and while certainly better than no beer at all, it doesn't quite live up to its promise.
The Pale Rail was surprisingly weak, especially for something that's pretending to be a pale ale. That being said, it was better tasting and more flavorful than your run of the mill lite beer fare. Plus the beer was super drinkable, and while it wouldn't necessarily be a first choice, it was by no means offensive in the slightest.
Interestingly enough, as horrible as the Black Hops version was in its pure, concentrated form, it was also that much better when mixed with the carbonated water. Of the two varieties available, this is definitely the more flavorful. That pungent, brain-cell killing soy-saucey flavor mellowed into a rich, malty beer that wasn't entirely unpleasant. But even though the flavor approximated what you'd find in most dark beers, there was still something not entirely right about it—almost as if it'd been created by someone who'd only ever been told what beer was like without ever tasting it themselves. Not the worst thing we've ever had, but we'd be perfectly happy if this tasting was also our last.
Is it going to beat a bottle of your favorite microbrew? Not by a longshot. But when your options are limited to this and, well, nothing, it's definitely worth the minuscule amount of room it takes up. At $10 for a pack of four packets, it's certainly within the price range of higher-quality beers. You've got nothing to lose—just make sure to add water.
Unless you hate yourself, in which case, have a blast.