This sounded promising but turned out to be a hoax, but in the meantime Pat's Backcountry Beverages has developed the real thing - a beer concentrate and a convenient technology for rehydrating it and adding the fizzy back. Note that they also have concentrates for various soft drinks including colas, lemon-lime drinks, ginger ale, and others (and you can actually probably use it to carbonate nearly anything). In the interest of Science we decided to use empirical methods to test the manufacturer's claims.
It's a 3-part system, consisting of a very lightweight easy-to-pack plastic carbonator:
the "activator" (a mix of citric acid and sodium bicarbonate, which comes in convenient small packets):
and the drink concentrate:
(a fun fact about the concentrate - yup, that's 58% alcohol):
Also, your basic low bar:
Anyway, the lid of the concentrator has a lever that's used to pump air in and pressurize the container, and making the brew is a quite straightforward process of pressurizing the device, releasing the pressure, and repeating that cycle for about two minutes. When you're done you've got something that looks like this:
which is a not-bad head on the beer. Poured into pint glasses we have:
There are two beers available, a "Pale Rail" and a "Black Hops." This is the Black Hops. It smells very malty and a little sweet, but the sweetness doesn't come through in the flavor. I'm pleased with the flavor (a little bitter) and find it very drinkable. Chris is German and therefore has profound beer expertise, and she thought it would be better much cooler (we used plain tap water) but was otherwise quite good.
Here's the bad news: while the purchase cost was high but not unreasonable, the shipping costs to Alaska were nuts. As in, about $30 for the carbonator, activator, and brew just for shipping. It's only available from one online vendor and there doesn't seem to be anybody selling it locally. (The good news: market opportunity!). The carbonator itself is about $40 (but it's reusable and seems durable), the activator is about .50/packet, the beer is about $2.50 for a packet to make a pint, and the soda is a bit under $1.50 for a packet to make a pint.
My one reservation is that because it's a liquid concentrate it's likely to freeze at low temperatures, but otherwise I'm very pleased. I'll be ordering the Pale Rail and some of their sodas, I think - I do think this is a pretty nifty gizmo, and very highly packable.
Hey, does anybody know if alcohol kills giardia?