Leave it to an Alaskan to invent a new way to drink alcohol outdoors: Pat Tatera, founder of Pat’s Backcountry Beverages, devised and developed a system for carrying concentrated forms of both alcohol and soda into the wild that makes carbonated beverages in minutes with the help of stream water and small carbonation packages. Tatera touts the system as “the most environmentally, socially and sustainably responsible carbonated beverage system on earth”, which makes it an easy choice for hikers and campers who don’t want nature to get in the way of their drinking, but don’t want their drinking to get in nature’s way, either.
The beverage system ($50 for the starter kit) is shockingly simple. It’s a hard plastic water bottle ($40) with only minor adaptations, meant to be used during the day to rehydrate hikers before they imbibe at night, saving them from carrying separate containers. In its most basic form, making a beverage requires the drinker to combine purified water (iodine purification system not included) and a pouch of brew concentrate ($10 for a 4-pack) in the 16-ounce bottle, add a packet of potassium bicarbonate and citric acid for carbonation, and shake it side to side. Voila: you now have either Pale Rail “beer”, Black Hops “beer” or one of five different sugary sodas (“brew concentrate”).
The problem is that after diluting the pouch in water…after pumping water into the cap to pre-mix with the carbonation powder in the carbonation chamber…after shaking from side to side for two minutes…after allowing it to rest for another minute…and after pouring the resulting beverage into your camp mug…the “beer” just isn’t good. The end product tastes no doubt like beer, but includes a sour, unintended funkiness and bitter aftertaste from the carbonate mix — and you have to drink it quickly, before it loses its carbonation after a few minutes.
Still, this is a fair trade-off for being able to whip up a beer anywhere, in about three minutes. So if you go into making Pat’s Black Hops or Pale Rail (I suggest the Pale Rail for its more mild flavors), don’t expect anything like a microbrew; expect a camp beer. Consumed alongside your rehydrated dinner and astronaut ice cream, it’ll fit right in.
These tasting notes aren’t exactly shocking. The taste stems from the concentrate, which is made through “Hybrid Brewing Technology”: a way for Tatera’s company to produce concentrate without first creating beer and then dehydrating it, saving the huge amounts of energy and water that go into the latter process. Instead, their “Nested Fermentation” process creates a 98-116-proof 50ml pouch of a distilled spirit specifically designed to be diluted into “beer”.
It’s difficult to tell who Pat’s target customers are. Each beverage pouch is around the size of a standard liquor shot in the US, so hikers who want to imbibe could just as easily bring their favorite whiskey and take up no more space or weight in their packs than the brew concentrate packets. This leaves customers who purchase it because they prefer beer to hard liquor, which is unfortunate, because craft beer fans will be disappointed by the “from concentrate” version of their favorite drink. But damn if Tatera didn’t create an ingenious and environmentally conscious way to forego tossing cans of beer in the backseat of the car; and camp beer falls in with camp coffee as being, well, campy. There’s inherent value in suds around a campfire, no matter how mediocre their taste.
The beer aside, Pat’s sodas ($9 for a six-pack of the concentrate) are incredible. Find a cold mountain stream and any of their lineup (we tried the ginger ale) will taste just as good or better than anything in a can — especially considering you just made it yourself. The soda comes as a thick syrup in pouches identical to the brew concentrate, and are squeezed into the bottle to create a fizzy beverage that’s an amazing treat, sugars and natural flavors masking anything added by the citric acid and potassium bicarbonate. The ginger flavor in our sample was distinct and refreshing. If you bring along some whiskey, the resulting whiskey ginger is your best bet for a getting a tasty buzz around a campfire or maybe even while swinging in a cozy hammock.