Airlines Are Bringing a Whole New Meaning to Tasting Flights

Here’s the ticket to trying airline exclusive beers.

<p>Food & Wine / Cathay Pacific / Ingrid Barrentine / Alaska Airlines</p>

Food & Wine / Cathay Pacific / Ingrid Barrentine / Alaska Airlines

Once you get past security frustration, baggage fees and other nonsense, airports can be quite fun. They’re one of the few places on earth where it’s socially acceptable to have a beer or shot at 9 a.m. or a third glass of wine in the middle of the afternoon. Drinking hits differently in an airport and can be a pleasant way to take the edge off the flight to come.

That’s helpful because drinking on planes can be a totally different story. There was a time when, as in-flight options dwindled, discerning travelers would bring their own cocktail kits onboard flights to mix a proper drink, until airline restrictions began to prohibit self-mixology from happening.

So, when the drink cart comes haltingly down the aisle, there are usually precious few options for liquid refreshment. You can pick from an assortment of mini liquor bottles, house red or white wine, or a few beers, usually of the generic lager variety.

However, some airlines have recently begun to try to bring a little zing to the in-flight beverage experience. This is easiest done with beer. While the world’s largest breweries like Anheuser-Busch InBev, MolsonCoors, and Heineken still have the market cornered, they’ve expanded their offerings beyond light lagers and into their craft brands, like Goose Island, Elysian, and others.

Related: How to Pair Airline Snacks and In-Flight Cocktails, According to Bar Pros

This has meant the introduction of hop-forward beers to the friendly skies. The more assertive a beer’s taste, the more likely it is to make an impression on the palate. Altitude and cabin pressurization have shown to stunt olfactory senses and the tastebuds, making salty or sweet foods taste blander than they otherwise would on the ground. Hoppy beers, especially assertive ones, perk up the flavor receptors a bit more.

Some airlines have gone beyond offering traditional or readily available beers and have worked with breweries to create special offerings brewed just for them.

Beer producers go airline exclusive

Cathay Pacific Airlines has partnered with Hong Kong’s Gweilo Beer to create Betsy Beer. The 4.2% ABV pale ale is named after the airline’s first aircraft and “embodies the dedication, spirit and ingenuity” of the airline, according to the beer’s description.

“Flavors of mandarin orange have been lovingly tuned for altitude, with the finest barley and hops, carefully balanced for depth and aroma,” says the airline, describing the beer. “The result is a craft pale ale that tastes great anywhere, but really takes off at 35,000 feet.”

<p>Gweilo Beer / Cathay Pacific</p>

Gweilo Beer / Cathay Pacific

More recently Alaska Airlines announced that Seattle’s Fremont Brewing would begin serving a custom IPA on its West Coast flights and in lounges.

“The collaboration between Alaska and Fremont is not just about the artwork on the can, it is the story of two Seattle-based brands that share common values, coming together to create a remarkable product we hope brings a smile to our guests who drink it,” said Jonny Mack, Alaska’s studio creative manager, in a news release.

Related: 10 Top Airports for Food and Drinks, According to the Experts

The beer came together, says Fremont founder Matt Lincecum, during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic. When supply chain issues began to spring up, Alaska Airlines contacted Fremont about helping to make sure the planes that were flying were still stocked with beer.

The brewery had previously had its beers offered on Alaska flights, but as the world began to open up again and more flights resumed, the two companies began discussing a collaboration and creating a unique beer for the airline.

Conversations began in earnest last year and the Cloud Cruiser IPA debuted earlier this year. The ale offers aromas and flavors of citrus and melon and clocks in at 6.2% ABV.

<p>Ingrid Barrentine / Alaska Airlines</p>

Ingrid Barrentine / Alaska Airlines

Lincecum says that when running trials, they wanted to create a beer that could stand up to the rigors of air travel and remain fresh for long periods of time.

“We want those hops to pop when you open the can during the flight,” he says. The beer is also available in the brewery’s tasting room for those curious drinkers who aren’t taking to the skies anytime soon.

The two companies also collaborated on the can design, which has a golden age of travel vibe, with a 737-8 MAX depicted cruising through the clouds along an evergreen tree mountain range.

“We felt that a national park-inspired design with one of our aircraft, in Alaska colors, speaks to our roots in the Pacific Northwest,” says Mack. “The creativity and thoughtfulness that went into the design of this can is just another example of bringing to life our value of ‘Being Remarkable.’”

Air travel might feel like a hassle, but hopefully the trend of new specialty beers offered in flight can help to create a little extra leg room for the soul.

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