Beer gadgets make little improvement on the original

But one that actually might be something is Pat's Backcountry Brew Concentrate, which is better even than some home brews.
But one that actually might be something is Pat's Backcountry Brew Concentrate, which is better even than some home brews.
Posted: July 11, 2014

OK, NEVER MIND.

Last week's column urging brewers to consider new ideas, from vending machines to malt-centric recipes, led me to a weekend of experimentation with some of the newfangled beer-improvement contraptions that are already on the market.

After several hours in the Sixpack Test Kitchen, I concluded that maybe we'd all be better off just leaving well enough alone.

Because as appealing as the Ultimate Aromatic Experience sounds, as one product promises, it's really hard to improve on the simple enjoyment of cracking open a bottle and pouring a fresh beer into a clean glass.

Still, as a team of devoted lab rats sacrificed their palates and dignity last weekend for a series of offbeat and somewhat calamitous experiments, I'm obligated to share the test results.

* Sonic Foamer, $44.95.

The aforementioned Ultimate Aromatic Experience is the alleged result of "ultrasonic foaming technology" powered by a half-dozen AA batteries.

As foam dissipates, the maker says, beer loses its aroma. To restore its character, just pop a half-empty glass onto the plastic tray, press a button and invisible sound waves produce more bubbles.

It actually worked, sending a tiny stream of bubbles to the head of a pint of Anchor Steam with each pulse. I don't know that it produced any additional aroma. I do know you could easily achieve the same effect by re-pouring the beer from one (free) glass to another.

Test Subject 1, a/k/a Tony, who described it as "a lava lamp for beer," suggested bringing the Sonic Foamer to a certain Chestnut Hill bar known for serving under-carbonated ale. "Maybe then they'll get the message," he said.

* OnTap liquid flavor enhancer, $4.99 (flavors 18 bottles).

"Add our liquid flavor enhancer to a domestic light lager and enjoy a craft brew taste at a fraction of the cost."

Oh, if it were only that easy.

OnTap comes in two flavors: American Ale and Pale Ale. Don't ask me the difference. The ingredients are water, propylene glycol, glycerine and natural and artificial flavors.

We tried it on a Budweiser. If you ever wondered whether the flavor of Bud could be improved upon, the answer is unequivocally yes - if by "yes" we mean, as Test Subject 2, a/k/a Laurie, observed: "It's like someone dumped maple syrup into my glass."

OnTap is what beer tastes like when it's been exposed to sunlight. Or gerbils.

"The Sonic Foamer is harmless," Tony said. "This one is harmful."

* Nitrobrew, $500.

"There are glasses of beer, and there are works of art. . . . When you taste these works of art, it changes you."

This is true only if you consider - as I do - the cascading bubbles of a perfectly poured Guinness to be a work of art. Those bubbles are mainly nitrogen, which are smaller and smoother than carbon dioxide.

The Nitrobrew contraption, consisting of a bar-top charging station and a pressurized kettle, turns an ordinary pale ale into a smooth-as-silk, nitrogenated draft beer. You also can add flavors, including coffee, lemon and patchouli, with separately purchased flavored oils.

I didn't have a spare tank of nitrogen, so I used plain air (which is 78 percent nitrogen). It took some practice and a bit of spilled beer, but eventually those cascading bubbles appeared in glasses of Bell's Kalamazoo Stout and even Great Lakes Eliot Ness Vienna lager.

The added flavors, though, were a disaster. Infusing a pint of Hoegaarden with lavender was a big mistake.

At $500 plus nitrogen, this ingenious device is intended mainly for commercial establishments. Its highly pressurized kettle is not something I'd trust in the hands of intoxicated lab rats.

* Pat's Backcountry Brew Concentrate, $9.99 per four-pack.

"A delicate blend of aromatic malts and Cascade hops delivers a complex, yet well-balanced, craft brew wherever your adventures take you."

Just squeeze a packet into carbonated water and, bingo, you've got a pint of beer with 5.2 percent alcohol by volume.

It's a game-changer for hikers, bikers and the one who always grumbles when she has to carry the variety case of Yards in from the car.

Needless to say, concentrated beer appealed greatly to Test Subject No. 3, a/k/a Mrs. Sixpack.

Except that when we added the Black IPA mix to a bottle of ShopRite seltzer water, she held her nose and said, "It smells like chalk."

"Well, it's better than some homebrews I've had," Tony said.

Now, a home carbonation system, like a Sodastream, might've made a better brew.

In a pinch, I tested it on a can of Coors Light. Like magic, it converted that bland, fizzy, yellow water into a full-bodied amber brew.

The taste wasn't half bad. More importantly, with its alcohol now fortified to about 10 percent by volume, I'd finally discovered a newfangled idea that actually improves a beer.


"Joe Sixpack" is written by Don Russell. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at joesixpack.net. Email: joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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