Beer and Soda for the Bush!
By Tim Stetzer
If you’re like me and you like to toss back a cold one now and again, then you probably find it even more enjoyable while sitting around the campfire out in the woods or when celebrating long trek up the mountain. The problem generally is that unless you’re car camping most of us don’t want to cart a six pack with us when we’re humping a pack through the brush. Generally speaking if I’m packing my gear in I make do with water. Quite hydrating and it does double duty for cooking and cleanup as well but it’s rather boring. Thankfully the folks at Pat’s Backcountry Beverages have been working on this problem and have a pretty neat solution available for the backwoods beer lover.
The Carbonator Bottle Starter Kit
The good people at Pat’s have made the scientific breakthrough that we’ve been waiting for: dehydrated beer! Just add water! Well, not exactly dehydrated as they point out on their website, but pretty close. What it actually is, is a concentrate made with a process that Pat’s calls Hybrid Brewing Technology. Beer typically contains about 95% water but the HBT process allows for their beer to be made with almost no water at all. What that means to us is that it’s easy to pack and light to carry. Under 2 ounces for a brew concentrate packet in fact.
The brew concentrate by itself comes in a 50ml packet and you’ll note that 58% Alcohol by Volume on it! Lest you think that maybe it’s a good idea to skip the mixing process and just chug the packets straight I did sample the concentrate, purely for research purposes. It’s a little rough in concentrate and I’m pretty sure I’d get sick pretty fast if I swilled a whole package of it. Besides, it’ll last longer around the fire if you mix it correctly and sip on it like you’re supposed to.
The Bottle Starter Kit comes with a simple instruction sheet but it also directs you to a video online showing you the mixing steps. It’s pretty simple and straightforward but I found watching the 3 minute video made things super simple. I’d recommend doing so before you hit the woods. In fact I decided to try the whole process at home before testing it out in the woods. I enlisted the help of my youngest for the process so I can say with certainty that it’s a process so simple that even a 10 year old can do it. I didn’t have him mix up my beer though, but more on that a little later.
Basically you need four things to make your beer: the bottle, clean water, the beer concentrate, and an activator packet. You can use whatever water you have on hand but the main idea of the system is to use water that you find on the trail after filtering it so that you aren’t lugging all that liquid with you as you hike. Once you have your water just fill your bottle with a little water and prime the pump in the cap by turning the bottle upside down and lifting the lever on the cap about 6 times up to the 45 degree position until you see water squirting inside the bottle. Then take the cap off and add your concentrate. Once you do that you tear open the activator package and add it to the reaction cup and then screw the reaction cup to the inside of the bottle lid. With the bottle in the upright position cycle the lever on the lid another 6 times or so and then shake the bottle back and forth for 2 minutes. You have to make sure to keep the bottle upright while you do this and just shake it side to side. Once your 2 minutes is up let the bottle rest for a minute then lift the lever on the cap slowly all the way to the 90 degree position to release any excess carbonation. After that all you have to do is remove the lid and drink!
Now, what you’re doing when you go through that process is ensuring that the concentrate mixes thoroughly with your water and carbonating it by allowing the Activator to do it things and produce CO2 and letting it permeate the beer that you’re brewing up. It’s fast and simple, especially after you do it a time or two.
Right now Pat’s has two varieties of beer available. A Black Hops and a 1919 Pale Rail Brew. The Black Hops is described by Pat’s as “Generous additions of Cascade hops combined with a bold blend of dark roasted malts creates a smooth yet robust craft brew.” I generally gravitate towards darker beers so I started with this one. I’ll admit that with hops being tossed right into the name I was a little bit hesitant because as much as I like porters and stouts I’m not a fan of overly hopped beers like the India Pale Ales (IPA) that are so popular today. Still, any beer is better than no beer so I was ready to give the Black Hops the benefit of the doubt. Since we were testing at home I mixed my batch with cold, filtered water figuring this will give me the best experience with the beer. Once everything was mixed up and settled I cracked open the cap and gave it a try. The Black Hops reminded me of some other black IPA’s that I’ve had and while it was hoppy I didn’t find it overly so for me. I liked the roasted undertones present too and that balanced things out for me. Not too shabby. I could definitely see drinking this one around a nice camp fire on a cool fall evening.
The 1919 is described as “A delicate blend of aromatic malts and Cascade hops delivers a complex, yet well-balanced, craft brew wherever your adventures take you!” I was again a little hesitant expecting a really hoppy brew. Pale Ales aren’t necessarily hoppy but the American interpretation of the style often leaves them so close to IPA’s that I can’t always tell what the difference is supposed to be. Again though Pat’s surprised me with a pretty balanced blend. Lighter than the Black Hops the Pale Ale was refreshing and would be a great treat after trekking to the top of a mountain or plunking my pack down in camp after a long day on the trail. There is some hops bitterness to it but not bad.
So are these just as good as any craft brews as Pat’s Backcountry Beverages advertise? Well, I’m not sure that I’d go that far. I don’t know that they quite compare to a conventionally brewed craft beer but keep in mind that’s just my opinion. I have to admit these aren’t my favorite styles so maybe if they had a nice porter I might be more generous in my comparisons. That’s a hint if you didn’t catch it Pat. All in all though these two beers are quite drinkable and a heck of a lot better than lugging a six pack of PBR or Natty Lite with you into the woods. I like the convenience of the system and the fact that you mix it up with water that you don’t have to carry with you. It’s fast and simple to use too and you can be enjoying a nice brew within 5 minutes of unslinging your pack.
Want an added bonus? If you’re an avid craft beer guy you probably already know about Untappd. It’s an app for Android and iPhones that lets you track and rate your beers. It’s a great way to make notes on what you like and what you don’t and it’s a fun way to share what you’re trying with your friends too. There are a number of Woods Monkey and SRI staffers on Untappd in fact. If that isn’t enough you can earn badges by trying different styles of beer. It just so happens that both of Pat’s Backwoods Brews were already in the Untappd database too so I got a couple of new check ins while doing my research and the Pale Ale earned my Pale as the Moon badge level 11 (that’s 55 different unique Pale Ale check ins). Yeah me! So if you’re a beer nut and like tracking what you drink know that you won’t have any problems checking in with Pat’s and if you get a cell signal wherever you are you might be able to check in at some awesome locations too!
But Wait There’s More!
Not a beer drinker? Not a problem! Pat’s also has a line of soda available too which works exactly the same way as the beer concentrate. My kids were unenthusiastic about beer but became quite interested whenever they found out there was soda. Pat’s makes five flavors of soda and you get all of them when you buy the starter set. They are a basic Cola, a Pomegranate Cola, Ginger Ale, Lemon Lime, and Root Beer. My boy likes 7 Up and Sierra Mist so he chose the Lemon Lime soda when he was helping me try the system out. We actually made that batch before we did the beer and learned to use the system with it. As I already noted, it didn’t take us long and we were both sharing a nice cold pop before long. My wife and daughter are both Coca Cola fans so the next one we tried was the cola. To me it tasted more like a generic cola than a name brand Coke or Pepsi. My cola snob wife and daughter were nonplussed, I thought it was fine and my boy thought it was okay. Kind of like the beer, I’m not sure the sodas are as good as their brand name counterparts but they’re pretty decent nonetheless and on a hot day out in the field I suspect they’re going to be downright delicious!
Aside from the novelty of being able to quickly whip up some home brew or soda on the trail I think there’s also a practical side to Pat’s Carbonator Bottle Set too. When you’re filtering or purifying water you may make it safe to drink but it doesn’t always taste that great. That’s generally still okay for cooking but not always so pleasant for drinking. Having the ability to turn your safe but unpalatable water into something you’ll actually want to drink would be a pretty nice option in many cases. The other thing that’s nice about the bottle is that when you aren’t mixing up tasty drinks you can use it just like a regular water bottle so it isn’t taking up any extra space in your pack.
The Carbonator Bottle Set that I tested runs for $49.95 and comes with a selection of all of the soda varieties that Pat’s produces as well as enough activator to make it. You can buy the bottles separately for $39.95 and spare packs of activator for $5.95 for 12 packets. Soda can be ordered right from Pat’s Backwoods Beverage for $8.95 for a 6 pack of soda of your choice. Beer is a little trickier. Due to liquor laws Pat’s can’t ship beer directly to you so you’ll need to check their store locator and find a place that you can pick it up locally or that can ship to in your state. Beer runs a little more at $9.99 for a 4 pack. But when you think about it that’s basically $2.50 a pint. Not too shabby for a craft beer, especially when you figure that you can drink it in some of the best outdoor venues in the world!
Pat’s Backcountry Beverages
PO Box 1437