Patrick Tatera, Pat's Backcountry Beverages, CEO
October 5, 2012
Patrick Tatera, Pat's Backcountry Beverages, CEO
While living in the small climbing community of Talkeetna, Alaska and working as a public educator, Patrick Tatera began Pat's Backcountry Beverages where he worked to research and develop a process of brewing beer as a concentrate. But, it was four years ago when the lightbulb turned on for Pat and he realized he was coming at the process from the wrong angle. He made the proper adjustments and now after over ten years of work, moving operations from Alaska to Colorado, and countless blind taste tests, Pat's BCB is proud to launch a portable beer concentrate in 2013.
“We’ve developed pale ales, and we have IPA’s, and we have stouts, and we have pilsners..."
Pat has a tremendous love for the outdoors, has been a home-brewer since before he could legally drink, and went to school for chemical engineering. He's somehow managed to find a way to pave the path to a career that blends all of his interests and surrounds him with the things he loves.
“I’ve been a home brewer since before I was legally able to drink and I have a tremendous love for the outdoors. So, this has been one of those endeavors that truly brought three of my life’s passions together for me.”
Read on to see how Pat was able to research and develop his concept over years resulting in a product he's proud to share with the outdoor industry and beyond. There is a reason he says, “People not even having tasted the beer are already beginning the process of starting to file for liquor licenses for their retail store to be able to carry our beer concentrates.”
Can we start off with some background info on the company? How long have you been operating Pat’s Back Country Beverages?
From a business perspective, we’ve been operating the business for four years. And really, up until this summer, it’s been a research and development company – we’ve got a number of technologies that we’ve been working on to perfect and it was really only as of midsummer that we turned the corner from all that R&D and have started ramping up with production.
And, that’s also simultaneously why we moved from Alaska to Colorado. We still reference Alaska as home from time to time and it’s a perfectly good place for research and development. But, it doesn’t do any sense to manufacture in Alaska – the logistics are a nightmare up there. So that was the big reason we transferred down here.
Where did the initial idea for transportable and ‘dehydrated’ beer come from?
The idea or the concept that everything is built around actually started much earlier, about 15 years ago. I was in my early 20s and was on a backpacking trip with a buddy and we ended up leaving our campsite in the backcountry to go hiking late into the evening to get back to the car where we had some cold beer on ice. It was that cold beer that derailed us from our plans to stay in the backcountry. And, from that point on, I thought there’s gotta be a way to conveniently take what is cherished as the most beloved of beverages, beer, into the wilderness with us. And, not have it be clumsy or inconvenient. So, it really started as a hobby for me.
There have been a lot of wrong turns along the way. A lot of failed attempts at developing our process to yield a product that tastes like real beer, good beer, and is real beer. So, it was only about four years ago or so when the light bulb came on and I realized I had been coming at this the wrong way, and this is something that the brewing industry has also been trying to do for decades. So, it’s not just where I’ve been going wrong but where the industry has been going wrong in trying to develop this product. At this point we became very serious about the business. It was no longer a hobby. And we set up shop and really dug into our research and development at that point.
You mentioned this whole thing started as a hobby for you and it’s interesting that you’ve found a way to mesh all of your interests into a successful career, can you detail for us your personal background, how have your past experiences lead you to this point?
I went to school for chemical engineering and have worked as a chemist and also as a public educator, as a physics and chemistry teacher; so I’m kinda rooted in the sciences. But, I’ve also been a home brewer, since before I was legally able to drink. And I have a tremendous love for the outdoors. So, this has been one of those endeavors that truly brought three of my life’s passions together for me.
And with passion must come a lot of hard work and long hours, where are you guys now in terms of development vs. production?
Well, for me, there’s just so much going on day-to-day. Literally, where we’re at with this technology is just scratching the surface of the different applications and the potential. And even though like I mentioned, we’ve sort of swung around the corner and are switching from development into production at the moment, there’s still tons of development going on. Development is an aspect of our company that is going to be strong for long into the future, there’s just so much explore and continue to develop and as we grow outside of the market we’re in now – which is the outdoor industry and outdoor specialty – we’re starting to look at other applications, particularly in our brewing technology. There’s just so much in the mainstream industry, as far as logistics in being able to transport beer from point A to point B and to not have all the bulk and weight and so on that’s associated with water, so there’s a ton of stuff going on there.
Who is your target consumer – individual customers at retail locations or online, or do you plan to sell to bars for resale?
All of the above, yeah. Our company, obviously the branding that we’ve launched with, which is Pat’s Back Country Beverages, targets a core market share, which is the back country enthusiast, somebody who the utility of travel necessitates that carrying beer or carbonated beverages is an inconvenience. Our product answers a problem for them. But, there are some many other benefits to our product besides just utility of travel.
When you break the brewing process that we use down into its smaller components, what you find is that we actually end up investing less energy to manufacture our beer as a concentrate than a traditional brewer invests in making that same beer through traditional brewing practices. So, we have a reduction of energy there. We also have a reduced carbon footprint even after the production of the product because with the shipping and transportation that’s involved, we’re burning far less fossil fuels to actually move our product from point A to point B. We have less packaging waste because we’re not putting our stuff into cans and bottles. You mentioned what about selling to bars and restaurants and so on, absolutely. We’re working on a whole host of restaurants and bars on that exact topic so that when we move forward with the debut of the concentrated beer we’ll be able to also channel it into those markets.
So, for customers that have environmental integrity, all of these factors become a part of their buying decisions. For them, having access to a beer with a dramatically reduced carbon footprint opens up whole new market opportunities for us.
Can you describe the products you currently have on offer? Do you have anything in production and available for sale?
Yeah, so where we’re at right now is we’ve got our portable carbonator, which is your standard water bottle, in terms of size, weight, and portability. But, it’s got all the technology housed in it to carbonate a beverage, and that’s whatever you put in it – it doesn’t have to beer, it doesn’t have to be soda, it can be fruit juice, it can be whatever you’re interested in carbonating. So those carbonators are available right now. And, the number of retail stores that those are going to be sold at is growing day by day – we’re picking up a bunch of retailers right now.
We also have a whole host of beverage concentrates, which are available right now. We have five flavors of soda concentrates – which are our Terra Cola, Pomegranate Cola, Lemon Climb, Ginger Trail, and Bear Foot Root Beer. Those are all available currently. Again, the carbonator is designed to carbonate anything, so it doesn’t necessarily have to go with one of our beer concentrates that we’re going to be launching in 2013.
Now, with the outdoor specialty that we’re initially debuting with, those stores aren’t going to be able to carry our beer concentrates anyway, because beer is regulated much differently, you obviously need a liquor license to sell it. So, to go into a store like REI and pick up a case of our beer concentrate, it’s just not really something that’s in the works in the moment. So, the other concentrates we have available are a big part of our way of making sure the outdoor specialty stores not only have access to the core technology, the carbonator, but also an assortment of flavors to go with it. And as far as integrating that into the alcohol industry, what a lot of people have already gravitated towards is having a cola presents a lot of mixology opportunities, from a Burbon & Cola to a Captain & Ginger. Soda presents a whole range of other beverage options for the outdoor traveler.
You mentioned the issue of retail stores having to acquire liquor licenses. Can you ever see your beer concentrates in outdoor specialty stores?
Well, the bigger stores, like REI, the likelihood of them proceeding in getting a liquor license has been joked around about, but its not likely to happen anytime. But, what’s neat is working with some of the smaller mom & pop retailers - who are very agile, they don’t need to go through a lot of red tape to make major corporate decisions and policy. We’ve got a whole bunch of the small mom & pop stores who are saying I can easily get a liquor license, that’s no problem. And, so what gets us jazzed is picturing that there will be some outdoor specialty stores that will actually be able to carry the full range of beverage options that we’ll have to offer, which of course includes the beer concentrates that we’ll have as well.
So basically, the core shops will have the advantage of being able to acquire a liquor license and going forward with being able to offer your whole range of product?
Yeah, well for the other stores that are not going to able to carry the beer concentrates in house, the model that we’re working with there is supporting the outdoor store by literally working with them and asking them where is there neighborhood liquor store or where do people go to buy alcohol in and around your retail facility, so we would then work through distributors to make sure that local, or whatever is the closet store to that outdoor retailer is going to be able to carry the beer concentrates as well.
Well, that sounds like a perfect solution. Let’s move onto to the actual brewing process to get a better sense of the product. It makes sense that people are going to want a frosty cold beer, is the carbonator able to produce cold beverages after going through the carbonation/brewing process?
Absolutely, so the reaction itself is endothermic – it’s cold to the touch. So, the reaction itself has a cooling property, but it’s relatively small. It’s not going to a room temperature beverage and suddenly chill it down to ice cold. But, what it does is, whatever temperature water you put in to make the beverage is the temperature that the finish product is going to be. Obviously, most of us, when it comes to carbonated beverages, we’d rather drink it cooler than warmer. In the back country, depending on where you are – and we’re here now in Colorado, so there’s no shortage of cold Rocky Mountain water for us to be able to harvest and filter. But, say I was backpacking in the Ozarks on the other hand, where the water is likely 60 degrees, then that’s going to be the temperature of the beverage.
What has been the most popular flavor so far?
Our Bear Foot Root Beer. If you like root beer it's awesome. And on this particular project, when we were developing the flavor, it was like there was a certain thread on a sweater that we kept tugging at. And those would be the anis and black licorice flavors. We really kept pulling at those until we got them right to the point where it’s like, ok if we pull anymore we’re going to overdo it. So, there’s a lot of strong black licorice and other tones that come through in our root beer and that one’s proven to be super popular.
It sounds like the process of creating these flavors has been a lot of fun for you guys, have you had a similar experience creating the individual beer flavors?
Absolutely, in fact I had pretty much gotten to a point in development with the beer concentrates where we said case closed, we had achieved our objective with those from a flavor profile. And it wasn’t until we had finalized those beer flavors and had done blind taste tests and were really reassured that what were on to was totally going to shatter the industry and blow people’s minds. It wasn’t until we had that whole phase of development wrapped up did we even start working on the portable carbonator and these other things we’ve discussed. So, when you talk about enthusiasm and being really excited about developing flavors, that’s where all the energy of this business started – that was the epicenter, it was with the beer.
We’ve developed pale ales, and we have IPA’s, and we have stouts, and we have pilsners. And what we’re able to do with our technology is not specific to our recipes and our formulas. We can literally, and we have had dialogues with major craft brewers in the United States, where we can bring in beer recipes to our labs and we can take whatever their flagship beer is and we can use our technology to brew that exact same beer but out the backend of the process comes that same product that is a concentrate.
So, the sky is the limit – we’re not limited to our recipes only and in fact, when you talk about the other markets and where this technology is growing and moving in to, one of the most exciting frontiers that we’re beginning to have dialogues with, as I said major craft brewers here domestically, but also right now in Europe there’s a huge appetite for American craft beer. There’s this mushroom cloud that’s going on here in the United States where brewers are experimenting with so many fun things. Every time you turn around there’s this new twist on what you thought would have already stopped evolving. And, over in Europe the brewing industry, when compared with the United States, is very static. It’s very steeped in tradition and people there tend not to operate outside of the parameters of where that tradition has led them. As a result of that, Europeans are looking at what’s going on over here in America and want to have access to it but it’s so expensive to ship craft beer across the ocean – and it’s in glass bottles and they are breaking, so there’s all these issues in terms of logistics. Of course, we do ship it over there but by the time it gets there it comes with a very high price tag. What’s exciting for us, is this technology not only is cool for the back country traveler and for the environmentally conscious consumer. But, it also opens up whole new market opportunities for the American craft brewer where we can use a model that’s already been proven by Coca-Cola and Pepsi, where you can have a concentrate manufactured at point A and then you can have it bottled and distributed at point B, and save a ton of energy, a ton of shipping costs, a ton of all the above. And, that’s really one of the more exciting frontiers that we’re starting to tip toe into now.
It’s clear you’re just scratching the surface on all levels of the business which must be very exciting times. By now, we’re all itching to get our hand on the carbonator and try out the brewing process ourselves. Where can interested peoples buy your products if they wanted them, say for a Columbus Day trip to the back country?
As far as the products we have available now, certainly on our website through the shopping cart at patsbcb.com. And as we get into the fourth quarter here, we’ve got a whole bunch of retailers coming on line, and we have some now. We’ll be updating our store locator page shortly so people will have a sense of where the physical locations will be, so check back soon. Those will all be published shortly, as soon as we ship product out to them.
As far as the beer concentrates, however, right now we are in a holding pattern and are waiting for our final permits. We’ve received our federal permits, which are typically touted as being the more difficult permits to get access to. But, right now we’re waiting for our state permits, so we are in a bit of a holding pattern. As soon as we get our state permits, then we can actually start firing up the brew kettle, so to speak. The process of manufacturing the beer as a concentrate takes a little longer than the traditional brewing process - it saves energy, but it’s longer. So, with that, there’s going to be a gradual rollout. Certainly, the folks here in Colorado are going to have first access. But, we’ve got some real strong points – the east coast, the west coast, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin - some really supportive retail areas throughout the country that are early adopters with getting on board with the carbonators, and outdoor retail stores are seeing the advantages of being able to suddenly bring a whole spectrum of beverages that have been out of reach to the back country traveler and through the carbonator it suddenly bridges that gap. These are going to be the regions that we knew outside of our circle here in Colorado that through our distributors we’ll be able to tap into. So those are going to be the first regions outside of Colorado that we serve.
That’s wonderful, so if you’re in any of those areas, look out for Pat’s BCB beer concentrates in a liquor store near you. One last quick question, what is your favorite beer – you mentioned discussions with some of the big name brewers, do you fancy the silver bullet or something a bit more refined?
I don’t have one specific favorite beer. I definitely find myself drinking plenty of craft/micro brews, however you wanna define it. I reference myself as a beer snob so I typically lean towards that sign of the fence. I guess more than anything, I’m big into variety. I can understand the European appetite for American beers because we’ve got so much variety that when I go to the liquor store if I’m buying some beer, I rarely buy the same beer twice. I’m typically most excited about trying different beers. If I had to pick a certain genre or category, I reach for IPA’s pretty regularly.