Tag Archives: beer flights

Beer Flights: The Smart Way to Drink

5300-plus breweries in the United States and counting. Another 775 in Canada as of 2016 (and counting). A veritable explosion of new and innovative breweries in Europe’s strongholds of brewing tradition: Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and Belgium.

Judges at the 2016 edition of the Great American Beer Festival evaluated 96 general categories of beer covering 161 beer styles.

Never before has such a prodigious diversity of beers been available to those of us who like to drink them.

With all this variety, beer flights are more important now than ever before. I’m sure many would agree –– fortunately, flights are ubiquitous at North American craft-influenced establishments, and are on the rise in Europe. But occasionally I’m left scratching my head when hostility to flights bubbles to the surface.

Vinepair recently posted an article asking brewers to name a beer trend “that needs to die.” One response had to do with flights. Patrick Barnes of Islamorada Beer Company in Florida offered this response to the question of which beer trend he’d like to see go the way of the dodo bird:

“Beer flights. Beer is meant to be drunk by the pint, not by the shot. There are a lot of flavors and aromas that are lost in small tasting glasses, as well as switching back and forth between tasters wrecks your palate.”

Since the Vinepair article started making the rounds, more than a few friends, acquaintances, and members of Facebook beer groups have voiced support for doing away with beer flights. (Incidentally, this isn’t the first time that someone has expressed an antipathy toward flights. Back in early 2015, a barkeep in New York’s capitol region wrote an incredibly subtle think-piece entitled “Flights are dumb, and you’re dumb if you like them.”) Why this hostility to flights, perhaps one of the better ideas to come out of this phenomenon we call craft?

Before going any further, though I do have something against the typical shaker-type pint glass for reasons I’ve touched upon in my “Five Ways to Become a Better Drinker,” I have nothing against pint measures and have drunk my fair share. They have their time and place. Like in a beer garden, for example.

But to return to Barnes’s response: the assertion that beer is meant to be drunk by the pint is absurd. Why by the pint? Does every style of beer lend itself to being drunk by the pint? And why don’t we drink wine by the pint? After all, German late-harvest Rieslings have often have a lower alcohol percentage than many imperial stouts.

It’s similarly misguided to suggest that flavours and aromas are lost in small tasting glasses. A 4-ounce snifter that tapers toward the rim concentrates far more aromas than any 16-ounce pint glass of the shaker variety ever will. (I’ll go out on a limb here and assume that the vessel to which Barnes refers when he speaks of pints is the common shaker glass.)

Granted, switching back and forth between tasters can wreck your palate, especially if you have a high-IBU double IPA, an intensely hopped NEIPA, or a wild/sour in the flight. But let’s step back from the bar for a moment. Before the flight even gets off the ground, as it were, it’s the brewer’s or taproom manager’s responsibility to make sure his or her staff are familiar with the best ways to construct a flight so as to avoid palate fatigue. This could take the form of in-house training or subsidized Cicerone courses, or what have you. (Yes, I know that many breweries and taprooms already engage in this best of practices, but since some folks keep trashing flights … .)

Even the oldest brewery in the world is getting into the game

Now, one could adduce more potent arguments against flights along the following lines: Assembling a flight ties up a member of the bar staff who has to pull a number of 3- or 4-oz pours instead of one nice, hefty 16-oz pint. The bar staff then has to make sure that the drinker knows what each beer is. Though I do empathize with harried taproom staff, flights eminently address that wonderful issue of variety I mentioned at the outset. After all, the way I see it, a significant part of being a “craft” brewery or taproom involves education about beer and its myriad styles. Flights are the way to go.

An enlightening side-by-side tasting of gueuze and kriek: Boon, Tilquin, Cantillon, Girardin, etc.

  • Flights allow you to taste beers side by side. Depending on the flight that you or the bartender put together, you can taste a number of similar beers to see what makes a style tick, you can taste stouts next to porters to see what makes these styles subtly or not so subtly different, or you can run the gamut from a lager to a lambic. Say a brewery offers a range of IPAs –– something not entirely uncommon these days. Try them all next to each other in a flight. If you’re at a taproom, put together a flight of IPAs from different regions and taste them next to one another. Not only is this fun, it’s educational. Tasting beers side by side is much more of a revelation than drinking beers in succession.
  • For people just getting into craft beer –– or even for seasoned veterans –– flights provide an easy and enjoyable way for brewers or taproom staff to introduce drinkers to new styles, innovations, or experiments without the visitor needing to go “all-in” on a pint. (That smoked meat and maple syrup porter aged on juniper branches and blueberries sounded interesting in theory … )
  • Knocking back a few pints in a beer garden or in the pub on the way home from work is great if the beer clocks in at 4.8%-5% ABV. But when you’re talking American-style IPAs and numerous latter-day stouts, many of which clock in well north of 6.5% ABV, you’ll be feeling the hit sooner than later. Flights can make the next day that much more bearable.
  • Sure, anyone living in the vicinity of a particular brewery can head over from time to time to taste his or her way through the brewery’s offerings, pint by pint. But if I’m traveling through town and have only one shot at experiencing what a brewery has to offer, a flight means that I don’t have to get hammered in the process. I might eventually settle on a pint; offering a flight of beers gives me a chance to find that beer or beers.

So there you have it. Flights are smart, and you’re smart if you like them.

And sometimes only a pint will do. Cheers, everyone!

Related Tempest articles:

Five Ways to Become a Better Drinker in 2015

Epicurean Unbound: Five Ways to Expand Your Drinking Horizons

Three Vintages of Goose Island’s Sofie

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2017 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Five Ways to Become a Better Drinker in 2015

A belated Happy New Year to all ye faithful Tempest readers! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season filled with plenty of good cheer.

It’s been a few weeks now, but I’m back at it after my Kentucky adventures tracking the shy and retiring Pappy and the increasingly elusive Weller.IMG_2231 For this, my first post of 2015, I’m going to share some tips that have helped me become a better drinker over the years. No, not the “Dude! I just slammed ten tequilas and I’m just getting started” kind of drinker, but a more informed and engaged beer enthusiast.

Tasting beer, wine, saké, and spirits is one of life’s more enjoyable rituals, but it’s also an aptitude you can hone with a bit of practice. True, some people have a keener sense of smell than others, and some people have a more refined palate. But despair not! A modicum of attention to what you’re drinking and how you’re drinking it cannot help but enhance your enjoyment and appreciation of what’s in your glass.

Glassware

Glasses are as good a place to start as any. A Hefeweizen’s towering foam cap is epic in its proper vessel, and the Chimay chalice adds a certain gravitas to your drinking session. Fortunately, though, you don’t need to go out and buy a whole cabinet-full of glassware, nice as it all looks on display.

If you buy one new glass in 2015, make it the versatile tulip glass. Its bulbous mid-section will contain the most vigourous of Belgian beers, and its tapered rim concentrates the aromas of those IPAs so many of you love to drink. You can also use it as a snifter for your barley wines and imperial stouts.IMG_2583 The tulip glass is a far better option than the standard pint glass, which, despite the fond attachment we may feel for this iconic drinking vessel, does a poor job of showcasing the aromas of a well-crafted beer.

Serving Temperature

Now that you’ve acquired shiny new glassware for your precious elixir, give some thought to the temperature at which you’ll drink your beverage of choice. In North America, it’s been hammered into our heads since birth that beer is to be drunk ice-cold. Warm beer? That’s what the Brits drink. Old cultural habits and stereotypes die hard.

I know it’s difficult with that beer sitting there calling out to you to drink it, but let’s resolve in 2015 to wait for the beer to come up to its ideal temperature. (To get a sense of the temperature ranges over which you can drink your various styles of beer, check out Ratebeer’s extremely useful “Serving Temperature Guide.”) Our patience will be rewarded with more complex hop aromas and a more intense malt character.

Try this experiment with two bottles of Fuller’s ESB. Chill one in the fridge, and store the other bottle as close to cellar temperature (13C/55F, give or take a degree or two) as you can. When you drink them side by side out of your new tulip glasses, I’m betting that you’ll get more out of the bottle that has been resting at cellar temperature. As for all those barley wines, Doppelbocks, imperial stouts, and Belgian quads? It pays to throw to the wind all those inhibitions we may feel about drinking warm beer.

Eat and drink with a catholic embrace

Or, if you prefer, drink promiscuously. Drink every beer style you can get your hands on. Drink wine. Drink rum. Eat chocolate. Order some coffee from a good roaster. Learn more about the art of the cocktail.IMG_2340 There’s a whole world to be explored beyond craft beer, and all of it will augment your understanding and appreciation of beer.

Earlier this year, I asked Cornell flavour chemist, Gavin Sacks, about what he does to get the most out of his research and tasting sessions. His advice bears repeating:

Remember that there are no unique flavor compounds or flavors to be found in wine or beer. So, try to smell and taste lots of things, not just wine or beer. Go to a perfume shop or a candle store or an auto parts store and sniff everything. Buy a bunch of obscure fruits from the local Asian market and taste them.

Compare and Contrast

Flights are the way to go. They also make for a great excuse to get your friends together for some postprandial entertainment. Here’s Sacks again:

Never, ever taste a single wine or beer at a time. Humans are lousy at doing sensory evaluation on a single product in a vacuum; we’re much better at doing comparative studies.

If you’re just getting a handle on what kinds of beer you like, flights enable you to sample a wide range of styles. If you’ve been drinking craft beer for some time, you can arrange a flight of, say, stouts to see which iterations of the style you like more than others. It goes without saying that flights also allow you to try a number of beers at a bar or brewery without getting totally hammered. Spend some time with the beers, and take a few notes.IMG_0508

Tasting Notes

Drink. Write. Repeat.

Whether you’re an Untappd junky or whether you prefer to write your notes in a notebook, take notes on at least a third of the beers you drink this year. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll develop your abilities to describe how your beer smells and tastes.

While you’re at it, pair the BJCP Style Guidelines with your tasting sessions to get a better sense of both what the brewer was trying to achieve and what flavour and aroma characteristics you might encounter in your bière de garde, Altbier, or American pale ale. Then write down your impressions. With a little practice, your sensory memory will grow into a well-stocked repository of aroma and flavour descriptors.

* * *

Should you find the “practice” element of beer appreciation too onerous on occasion, just grab a beer out of your fridge or cellar and kick back. Becoming a better drinker isn’t meant to be hard work, after all.

Cheers to a healthy and prosperous 2015!

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Related Tempest Articles

The Industry Series: Tasting Tips from Cornell Flavour Chemist, Gavin Sacks

How To Become a Beer Liaison: An Interview with Genesee’s Sean Coughlin

Images

Willett Distillery, Bardstown, KY

Tulip glass

Barrels at Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY

Flights of beer at Ithaca Beer Company

All images by F.D. Hofer.

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© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

A Twist of Sour: New Belgium’s 2013 La Folie and Verhaeghe’s Duchesse de Bourgogne

New Belgium BrewingPeter Bouckaert of New Belgium Brewing (Fort Collins, CO) is no stranger to sour beers. Growing up in Belgium, beer was a staple at meal time, and he had his first taste of Rodenbach at age thirteen while a member of the local scouts chapter. Relates Bouckaert in a recent interview, “We were from that area, and it’s a very accessible beer. It’s kind of sour and sweet, so for kids, it’s actually a very good beer.” Bouckaert eventually went on to work for Rodenbach in the 1980s before making the move state-side to New Belgium in the mid-1990s. By 1999, he had New Belgium’s foeder cellar up and running (now some sixty-four barrels strong), and had produced what was, at the time, quite a remarkable beer for a North American palate as-yet unaccustomed to sour beers: La Folie. A sour brown ale, La Folie is blended from different batches that spend between one and three years in French oak barrels.

Back in Belgium, the Verhaeghe family of Vichte has been brewing since the 1500s, originally in a farmhouse brewery, and in their present site since 1880. Casks from that time are, reportedly, still in use to mature the sweet-and-sour style of the West Flanders region. At 6.2% ABV, Duchesse de Bourgogne is the strongest beer in the lineup, and straddles the Oud Bruin/Flanders Red Ale style. Mary Duchess of BurgundyThough the vinous Flanders Red Ale style is sometimes referred to as the “Burgundy of Belgium,” the reference to Burgundy in this case has nothing to do with wine. Rather, the name of the beer recalls the brief reign of Duchess Mary of Burgundy, only daughter of Charles the Bold. (Modern-day Flanders was, in the late1400s, part of the Duchy of Burgundy.)

Now for the beers, both of which are nearly identical in appearance (clear ruby-brown with mahogany hues), the only difference being the longevity and colour of the head – fleeting in the case of La Folie, and a shade of brown darker. If the initial aromas of La Folie are redolent of tart cherry with a hint of hay, wood, and green apple, the Duchesse is more wine-like and caramel-malt accented, reminiscent at times of an aged balsamic vinegar. Both present a degree of “funk”: La Folie’s is grassy, and Duchesse exhibits the slightest trace of “barnyard” Brett. La Folie is the more food-friendly of the two, while Duchesse – also fine with food, but more robust and sweeter than La Folie – lends itself to after-dinner sipping. Both increase in complexity if allowed to open up. (Start around 50F and go from there.)

La Folie 2013La Folie is also the more sour of the two. The secondary aromatics of nuts, sherry, caramel, and dark bread are countered by a mouth-puckering bright lemon-lime acidity on the palate. Dry and playfully light-bodied, the sourness takes on a green apple-like quality before giving way to a long cherry finish. At 7%, the ABV of the 2013 edition is a notch higher than in other vintages.

With time in the glass, the Duchesse develops slightly more complexity than La Folie. Brown sugar sweetness tinged with maple syrup combine with subtle vanilla oak notes, and all of these meld harmoniously with the fruity acetic character of the aromas. Rich and creamy, the wood aging brings together a mellow yet pronounced sweet-and-sour ensemble evocative, by turns, of blueberry, chocolate, and plum not unlike a full-bodied red wine.

Both of these beers are superb sours. Pick La Folie if you want something that pairs with a wider variety of foods (its tang would make a nice match with goat cheese). Overall, though, I give Duchesse de Bourgogne the slightest edge.

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Related Tempest Articles:

Three Vintages of Goose Island’s Sofie

A Rodenbach Grand Cru in the Fridge, or a Six-Pack of Lesser Beer in the Fridge?

Gose: A Beer Worth Its Salt

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Sources:

Michael Jackson, Great Beer Guide (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2000).

Garrett Oliver, The Brewmaster’s Table (New York: HarperCollins, 2003).

New Belgium Brewing (Tour: October 2013).

Images:

Mary, Duchess of Burgundy: Wikipedia

©2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.