Pat's Backcountry Beverages Carbonator Bottle

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7

This is a product for those for whom a little extra…

Rating: rated 3.5 of 5 stars
Source: received for testing via the Trailspace Review Corps (Samples provided by Pat's Backcountry Beverages for testing and review)

Summary

This is a product for those for whom a little extra expense and a little extra weight is money well spent and weight well carried if it can produce the comfort of a soda or beer in the backcountry. Not for beer snobs or ultralighters, but cheers to the rest!

Pros

  • Soda and beer in the backcountry without the weight!
  • Well-made system
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Activator flavor detectable in some beverages
  • System-specific bottle required
  • Convenience comes at a price: more expensive than store-bought beverages


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This winter holiday season I tested Pat’s Backcountry Beverages Carbonator Bottle, a 12-pack box of Activator Packets, and a generous supply of Pat’s All-Natural Cola, Pat’s All-Natural Root Beer, and the Pale Rail (5.2% ABV) and Black Hops (6.1% ABV) beers. While I used my own experience to test the beers, I enlisted the palates of my children to test the sodas—kids are always honest about foods and drinks they like or dislike, and their takes on Pat's sodas were no exception.

I am fortunate to live in the central Piedmont area of North Carolina, a region with more than 80 miles of greenways and watershed trails and one that sits in close proximity to the 50,000 plus acres of the Uhwharrie National Forest. It was to these haunts I turned for testing, for they offered me the opportunity to go on kid-friendly treks with my boys (and to be a super dad capable of producing sodas mid-hike) as well as allowing me to experience solo wilderness travel.

For purposes of familiarity for comparison, I also tested Pat's sodas and beers at home in the environment where I experience their store-bought counterparts in mugs or glasses. I also toted a plastic glass into the wilderness, too, just to be fair.


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The Pat’s Backcountry System

Three purchased components are required to make backcountry beverage magic with this system:

  1. the Pat’s Backcountry Beverages Carbonator Bottle,
  2. a beverage concentrate, and
  3. an activator packet.

You will need your own preferred choice of potable water, too.

The Carbonator Bottle is a 20 oz./ 592 ml BPA-free bottle that weighs in at 8.92 oz/ 253 g.


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A clear plastic exterior is marked with the pertinent measurements for using the bottle as a carbonating device—16 oz.—and more: 6, 8, 10, 12, and 14 oz., too, measurements that could be handy for backcountry cooking (though metric measurements are not provided).

Naturally, the bottle can be used as a water bottle if one wishes, too, by simply unscrewing the lid, which has a loop of plastic that would allow one to fasten it to a pack with a carabiner. One unique and essential aspect of this bottle is this lid, though, which contains a pump that draws a sufficient amount of water into the lid to later cause a reaction with the Activator Packet’s contents. It also has attached to the lid a blue carbonation chamber.

Into this clear bottle go water and Beverage Concentrate, a base mixture (at right, belowthat will eventually produce a carbonated beverage. The average beverage concentrate weighs 2.12 oz./ 60g. Mixing concentrate and water is as simple as filling the bottle with water and one concentrate packet to the 16 oz. line and shaking the closed bottle.


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A blue plastic interior container attaches to the lid, and it is this carbonation chamber wherein the Activator Packets (above, at left) are emptied when one wishes to carbonate a beverage. Each Activator Packet contains separate compartments of Potassium Bicarbonate (7.9 g) and Citric Acid (5.1 g) which—when mixed together—react with water to provide carbonation for the bottle’s contents, whether that is a soda or beer concentrate. Activator packets weigh .5 oz./ 14 g.

The Procedure

The procedure is simple after a few times through it. First, potable water is drawn by way of the lid’s pump lever into the lid. Then the activator mix is added to the dry carbonation chamber, which is reattached to the lid and set aside.

Next, one empties a packet of concentrate into the bottle and fills the remaining space with potable water, reattaching the lid to the bottle (see image, below).


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The pump lever in the lid is then used to squirt water into the carbonation chamber. As things start to fizz, one shakes the whole contraption side to side for a minute or two, then opens the pump lever one more time to release excess carbonation before unscrewing the lid an enjoying. Pour in your favorite glass or just drink from the bottle itself as one would from a Nalgene. Voilà!


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Below is the Black Hops, carbonated and ready to have the pressure released . . .
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. . . with the lifting of a lever.
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A handy plastic glass adds a touch of on-the-trail luxury!

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In practice, this procedure becomes like any camp routine such as pitching a tarp or building a fire—virtually automatic. But if my explanation is unclear, take a look at this video wherein I demonstrate the bottle at the core of the system.

Reviewing the Sodas

My team of experts—my boys—and I found the sodas to be palatable. “Not as fizzy, dad, as my regular root beer,” said my sixth grade expert, and this critique is one that holds true for all the Pat’s Backcountry beverages I made using this system.

The carbonation the system produces is finer than carbon dioxide-injected, store-bought beverages or most naturally fermented beverages. I would call it subtle but apparent, like a beverage in a two-liter bottle that has been open for a day or two.

Soda flavors are rich and recognizable given their labels—All-Natural Root Beer tasted like what I think of as being root beer, All-Natural Cola tasted like cola (maybe more like Pepsi than Coke). We’ll call them more or less true to taste, but with less effervescent carbonation. The low carbonation did cause hesitance from my kids: while they loved the wow factor of being able to make these drinks in the wilderness, they said they were “different” due to the lower carbonation.

Fair enough. But testing the root beer again on an unseasonably warm day in the Uhwharrie Mountains (64˚ F), I found the root beer to be perfect: carbonated enough to tickle the tongue, rich in flavor, and satisfying after a brisk hike to camp. Context influences perception.


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Reviewing the Beers

Like the sodas, the beers had a smoother, subtler carbonation than most store-bought brews. The beers both had a distinctive flavor (not unpleasant) that I attributed to the activator ingredients, something that the soda concentrates seemed to mask more effectively with their thicker, more syrupy concentrates. Initially, this flavor got my attention, but after a few sips, the effect was less obvious. Pinning down the exact flavor of this activator is elusive—it is a vaguely citrusy-soda-watery.

The Black Hops (6.1% ABV/ pint) is described by Pat’s as “hand crafted using the world's most environmentally friendly brewing process. Generous additions of Cascade hops combined with a bold blend of dark roasted malts creates a smooth yet robust craft brew.” This was the richer, heavier, and maltier of the two brews. That also translated into less susceptible to having the activator flavors intrude.

For me that was a bonus, but I also like  dark beer, and this has a dark chocolate hue. I enjoyed relaxing in my hammock with a Black Hops on a clear 33˚ F day!

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The Pail Rail (5.2% ABV/ pint) is the lighter brew, reddish in color and described by Pat’s as being “hand crafted using the world’s most environmentally friendly brewing process. A delicate blend of aromatic malts and Cascade hops delivers a complex, yet well-balanced, craft brew.”

This was to my palate the milder of the two brews. Review Corps member KiwiKlimber noted that it sounded like the Pail Rail was a summer brew, and I think that is a fair description. I'd love to try one of these mid-July after a brutal uphill climb.


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Because Pail Rail is the milder one, it was also a bit more subject to the flavor infusion I attributed to the activator ingredients. I found myself wanting to have the second and third sip to lessen this curious flavor, but never did this keep me from finishing a brew: I liked Pail Rail, but I would have liked to have the activator ingredients assume a less prominent role in the flavor synthesis. I can only imagine what a dice roll it is to brew beer, knowing that the final product will be carbonated with an infusion—part-science, part-art. I imagine Pat’s will keep toying with recipes.

Conclusions

The product quality of this system is good. The bottle feels as solid as any Nalgene, although after some use, the threads on the lid got a little quirky—be careful not to over tighten the carbonation chamber. Activator packets and beverage concentrates come in easy-tear, air-tight packaging with adequate directions included. Nothing feels cheap about this system. 

Let’s talk weight and let’s get the obvious out of the way: no ultralight purist would sanction carrying the extra weight required to make your own carbonated sodas or beer in the backcountry. But for those who may want a little refreshment beyond potable water, the weight is this: for 11.5 oz./ 327 grams, you can tote the bottle, an activator packet, and a beverage concentrate along on your quest.

This weight does not include water weight—you’ll be toting or finding that anyway—but in comparison, a single bottled beer (I am out of canned beverages as I write) weighs about 19.7 oz./ 558 g. Given a ready supply of water, a second beverage of choice—just the activator and concentrate packets—would cost you only an additional 2.6 oz./ 74 g.

Gram weenies earn the admiration and envy of this lightweight camper on many a climb, but if I were to hoist a pint of Pat's Backcountry beer in camp, the tables might be turned.

Flavor-wise, this system offers some intriguing backcountry options. I will confess that I am probably too much on the lightweight side of the scales to bring this system with me to carbonate soda (sans kids, anyway). It isn’t that these aren’t passable backcountry options: if one wanted a soda at the end of a long day, and if one recognized that these are somewhat different than store-bought, pre-carbonated sodas, I say go for it! It is the kid-friendly option, too.

But the more spirited aspects of Pat’s beers would and did induce me to tote them along on my own treks after testing them once or twice. Pail Rail and Black Hops are unmistakably beer. Backcountry beer, yes, but the differences I noted between backcountry carbonation and other brews are ameliorated by one key ingredient in these beverages, especially if one pint becomes two (or if, as I did, you only use about 14 oz. of water).

If you like beer for all of the usual reasons, you will understand my own satisfaction at pulling out this system, making a brew, and settling into my hammock to watch Mother Nature do her thing. A pint made from cold water after a long hike—that is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Additional Reflections

  • KiwiKlimber asked me about temperature. I tested these beverages in weather ranging from the low 30s to the mid-60s degrees Fahrenheit. I saw no discernible difference in the effectiveness of the carbonation process based on any particular temperature range.
  • Another Trailspace Review Corps member, Bill Heiser, inquired about altitude, relaying an anecdote about one of his own JMT experiences wherein he ingested quite a lot of carbonated beverages and subsequently rued his decision. I have little altitude around me, sitting as I write this at 920 feet above sea level. If anyone has tried these at noticeable altitude, please add a comment below.
G00SE MODERATOR

Very nice review, Bentbrook. My problem with a product like this is increasingly we (mankind) bring the conveniences of home to the outdoors, rather than taking nature as it is. I don't want to hike a trail with headphones on (or worse, the guy who brought external speakers for his iPod). I don't want to check FaceBook or make phone calls. And I'd rather hike into a bar to get a burger & a beer that I've been craving for a week than finish every day with a drink in hand. I know some will disagree with me, and I respect that, but I enter the outdoors to get away from my daily life--the soda, the processed food, the constant noise. Again, though, this was a very good review!


7 months ago
Bentbrook

Thanks, G00SE. I share your perspective in many regards. My own evolution as a backpacker has led me to shed gear, to be more purposeful in choosing that gear which I carry (thank you, Trailspace, for an excuse to reflect!), and to develop my knowledge (natural awareness, navigation, tracking, etc.). Like you, I never listen to music in the wilderness (Nature trumps anything I could bring to those environs), and while I carry a phone to calm my wife's concerns when I'm solo and to snap the occasional pic, I am much happier returning to nature's rhythm with my surroundings than fretting with technology (geeky navigational toys aside--I love to see elevation profiles and waypoints once I'm back home). Let's get back to Muir and Thoreau! But I think each person should HYOH, and thus I think this is a niche product for special circumstances. Clearly, it demands responsible use, both in terms of LNT and in terms of personal safety if one is opting for beer over soda. I would not carry this very often. I am not one to carry alcohol with me into the backcountry (save what I use in my caldera cone stove) for a variety of reasons--safety, weight, and the need to distance myself from that world, the daily life as you put it. But I am also a fan of innovation, and Pat's has definitely come up with something interesting here. I can think of the end of one truly grueling day on the trail last year when having this option would have been welcome after the day's ardor was past. It was the last night on the trail followed by a short hike out the next morning, and every muscle and bone in my body raged against me for pushing them as I had done the whole day and, indeed, for the previous week. Yet for all I've had that sort of moment, I've had many more when freshly filtered stream water tasted like ambrosia, when I drank with regret the last drop of mountain spring water in my car on my way back to the routine of everyday existence. I think you raise an excellent point: what we take with us is in some ways indicative of what we seek to take from a wilderness experience. To escape from one's escape is certainly ironic!


7 months ago
FromSagetoSnow

This sounds fun. When carrying beer becomes a weight issue you can have a celebratory brew made from mountain water. I hope this company does well.


7 months ago
FromSagetoSnow

I'd love to try this at 10,000 feet or so this summer to see what altitude does to it. I drank a Rainier beer at the summit of the same mountain (14K) and it was a little messy but otherwise fine.


7 months ago
Ashleigh MODERATOR

Thanks for the awesome review, Bentbrook! I've been very curious to hear an honest review of this product for quite some time now. I think it is a really awesome and fun concept. My only concern about this is that I am really picky about having my beer COLD. It seems that I could only use it during the late fall/winter/early spring.


7 months ago
Bentbrook

Jeff, I remain curious about the altitude aspect, too. I hope someone adds a comment based on personal experience. And thank you, Ashleigh. I understand the cold beer need. For the record, I think the Black Hops lends itself more to less-than-icy drinking than the Pail Rail for those for whom iciness is less of an issue. In my opinion, though, either would be more palatable than a less-than-cold mainstream domestic beer.


7 months ago
Alicia TRAILSPACE STAFF

Thanks for doing the arduous testing on these, Bentbrook! I've been very curious to see how they actually worked out and was eager to read your review. I admit, I probably wouldn't carry them myself, except for a special occasion, but I bet you could make a lot of friends if you did.


7 months ago
Sean Van Cleve GUIDE/OUTFITTER

Mmmmmmmm... Beer... Although I am in agreement with most everybody here about not carrying this, it might be a very different story staying at a basecamp for an extended time! Thanks for the hard work, and excellent review on something that a lot of us here have been waiting for! I have heard of people who stash a couple of cold ones in a stream for the return to the trailhead!


7 months ago
Bentbrook

Yes, Sean, there is definitely a time and place for everything, including beer, and if part of a trek is spending time with a close friend, hoisting a pint makes a lot of sense, certainly more so than if I am seeking solitude in nature. Nice to have a viable, lightweight option.


6 months ago
Lah

It seems to me to be a very interesting and innovative niche product. I can see guide companies using this to improve clients' experiences at base camps and beyond. As independent outdoors-persons, we forget that others go into the outdoors for reasons other than to simply enjoy nature. It's a sad fact but as such, I can definitely see there being a market for this product. Look-out box wine, you now have a competitor!


6 months ago
FromSagetoSnow

If there were a drinking game where you drank every time someone said, "I wish there was dehydrated beer to drink hiking" I think I'd be dead


6 months ago
Seth Levy TRAILSPACE STAFF

Amazing review Bentbrook. You are making me thirsty!


6 months ago
Bentbrook

Thank you, Seth.


6 months ago
1

Pat's Backcountry Beverage Carbonator. I love sipping…

Rating: rated 4 of 5 stars
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $39.95 for Starter Kit

Summary

Pat's Backcountry Beverage Carbonator. I love sipping back a cold soda after a hard day's hike, climb, etc. but hate carrying the weight. With Pat's Backcountry Carbonator now you can have an ice cold soda without having to pack all the weight of a 6 pack. Beer is coming soon too!

Pros

  • Eco friendly
  • Lightweight
  • Did I mention you can make your own soda?

Cons

  • Takes a little bit of practice to learn.
  • Company response to emails is slow.

 


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It's been a long hot hike and now it's time to settle down, camp is set up, sun is setting and the moon is rising. Suddenly you wish you had a cold soda or an ice cold beer. Then you remember you've been drinking water from your CARBONATOR! You head down to the ice cold stream that is fed from the melting snow and begin to purify some water right into the Carbonator. In a few minutes you're sipping a Bear Foot Root Beer watching the sun set over the peaks, thinking "What a life!"

Pat's Backcountry Beverage Portable Carbonator rocks! Love having soda (soon beer) in the backcountry but hate the hassle of carrying a 6 pack of bottles? Convenient, eco friendly, and TASTY!

The Carbonator is a little smaller than a Nalgene bottle. Using the soda concentrate which comes in a pack about the size of GU, the eco2activator pack, and clean, purified water you can now conveniently make a 16 oz size soda in the backcountry. The process takes about 3 minutes once you get the steps down. (If my 9-year-old can figure it... you know.)

The Carbonator Kit (which is a starter kit for $39.95) comes with everything to get you started. The Carbonator bottle, 5 tasty and creative soda concentrates; the flavors are Terra Cola, Poma Granite Cola, Lemon Clime, Bear Foot Root Beer (my favorite), and Ginger trail. Plus 6 packets of Eco2 Activator powder and easy to follow instructions. They also have instructions on how to make your own soda concentrate! The soda concentrate is made with cane juice, contains vitamins and has natural flavors. There is nothing artificial.

There is a learning curve with this but as I stated above if my 9-year-old can figure it you should be able to as well. Practice before you go out. The company keeps pushing back the date on the Beer Concentrate. Disappointing, but I think it's due to the difference in laws from state to state. Pat's Backcountry is a small business based in Alaska according to its website.

Enjoy!

Peter1955

Just a question, but wouldn't the beer have to be non-alcoholic?


2 years ago
Alicia TRAILSPACE STAFF

Peter, this is from the Pat's FAQ about alcohol content:



How concentrated is it?



Very. However, not all beers have the same percent alcohol concentration. Therefore, a higher alcohol content beer will appear less concentrated because there remains a larger volume of alcohol present after most of the water has been removed. Conversely, lower alcohol beer will appear much more concentrated, because in its natural state it contains a higher percentage of water. Our process does not result in a beer that is 100% void of water. It does however, result in a beer with nearly no water content. Some of our most concentrated beers will be at a nearly a 1:15 concentrate level. Our sodas on the other hand are concentrated to approximately a 1:11 ratio (concentrate: finished beverage)


2 years ago
Seth Levy TRAILSPACE STAFF

I should say that there are some "dehydrated" alcohols in development, so, theoretically, it would be possible to reduce beer to something close to a solid. Actually, a lot of the big brewers do something similar with high gravity brewing and vacuum distillation. Whether this produces a beer that's worth drinking is an entirely different story!


2 years ago
CTL

Yes. I love my carbonator and am curiously awaiting the beer. Of course I want to test first! Their sodas are good. Hoping the beer would be too. I'll just have to make sure my son doesn't accidentally use a beer concentrate thinking it's soda.


2 years ago
Peter1955

So the concentrates aren't powdered but liquid, and in a beer the remaining fluid would be alcohol not water. Okay. That makes sense.


2 years ago
CTL

Yes peter1955 the concentrates are liquid and come in small packages that look like a package of GU. At least the soda concentrates are. Haven't seen the beer yet.


2 years ago

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