Swill: Drinking Beer from Concentrate, For Science
Swill is our bi-monthly column dedicated to liquor, wine, beer, and every other delicious dram that falls under the broader umbrella of booze. But it’s more than just tasting notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin — Swill is about getting outside of your comfort zone, trying new things, and exploring the big, wide world of libations. One week you might catch us halfway through a bottle of single-malt scotch, and the week after that we might be buzzing on some Ugandan moonshine made from bananas. This column is just one big boozy adventure, so grab yourself a glass and join us for another round.
Beer and backpacking are two of my favorite things — but unfortunately they don’t really agree with one another, which leaves often leaves me conflicted. On the one hand, beer is a pain in the ass to pack in — but then again, what could be more refreshing than cracking open a cold pint after scaling a goddamn mountain?
For years I grappled with this dilemma, and apparently I wasn’t the only one. Turns out there’s this guy named Pat Tatera that had the same problem, but unlike my lazy ass, he decided to come up with a solution.
Long story short, the dude developed a way to make beer from concentrate. If you care about the process, Popular Science explains it pretty well:
“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. The final concentrate is 10 times the strength of beer, and with the addition of water, it’s ready to drink. Just add bubbles.”
I first heard about Pat’s Backcountry Beverages about a year ago, but it wasn’t until the other day that I actually got a chance to try ’em out. Here’s how it went:
First of all, please don’t make the same mistake I did — don’t drink the concentrate straight. Or do. Whatever. Just be warned: the Black Hops concentrate tastes like soy sauce flavored moonshine, and the Pale Rail concentrate tastes like how hot compost smells.
But believe it or not, once you add some carbonated water, the flavor profile really fills out and both flavors actually start to look and taste like beer. Not great beer by any means — but not horrible either.
In comparison to a real pale ale, the from-concentrate version was lacking in flavor, but it easily trumps your run-of-the-mill light beer. I’d take it over a Rolling Rock any day of the week.
The Black Hops was my personal favorite. It’s not quite the same as a real dark ale, and I can’t quite put my finger on what’s missing, but it’s got a lot of the same roasted malt flavors going on, and would definitely serve as a worthy stand-in for the real deal after a long day of tromping through the woods.
I wouldn’t order one at a bar (not that you could anyway), but if you have some extra room in your pack, Pat’s Backcountry Brews are definitely worth the weight.