You’ve probably encountered the term “beer flight” before in your drinking journey. Maybe you heard at a bar and wondered what it was, or maybe flights have been recommended to you online. Regardless of how you’ve discovered them, here’s what they are:
Essentially, beer flights are a sampling of several beers. This taste test is typical for other types of alcoholic drinking (such as with wine) and is becoming very popular in craft beer circles.
Beer flights are done by handing out small servings of different beers presented in equally as small glasses atop a wooden board, often called a beer flight paddle. Sometimes these events have a unified theme where the brewer will select a series of relevant drinks to sample. Alternatively, the beers on display during a flight could be selected completely at random. Either way, it’s a fun time!
For beer flights, you’ll want to go to a restaurant, brewery, or pub that has as many tasty beers on tap as possible. Then you and your friends choose from a wide selection of options to sample in a particular order, with the standard way being from lightest to darkest brews.
Now you’ve had a crash course, but there’s so much more to learn! Read on to find out:
Origins of Beer Flights
There’s no clearly defined history to beer flighting as a phenomenon to trace everything back to. However, there are certainly some key factors to understanding the growing popularity.
Beer flights are an excellent method of sampling what’s on tap at a particular bar, so it’s natural to assume the practice grew out of a desire to sell lots of different types of beer all at once. If you were unacquainted with the world of beer, then a thorough beer flight would be fantastic for newbies trying to discover their tastes by seeing what they do and don't like.
Beer flights likely developed organically, with a curious customer trying a “one of everything” approach to their night at the bar. If a thirsty customer wanted to sample every beer on tap, it’s only natural for establishments to develop a system for that.
Inspired by other forms of alcohol sampling, such as wine tasting, beer flighting quickly became legitimized by craft brewers embracing the experience.
Flight of Fancy: Why Are They Called Flights?
The term “flight” may seem an odd choice when discussing beer drinking, but it makes sense given the context.
Flight used as a term for food and drink sampling is a relatively new development of the English language, which spawned sometime in the late 1970s. On paper, there are two main meanings for the word “flight.” One is “the act of flying through the air,” which obviously doesn’t apply here—unless you’re doing a beer flight at 30,000 feet. The other meaning is “the act of running away,” which isn’t particularly relevant either.
Using “flight” to refer to a beer likely comes from this definition of the word: “a group of similar objects flying through the air together.” While your beer flight might not be flying, it certainly is a group of similar objects. That’s about as close as we can trace the etymology.
What You’ll Need for a Beer Flight
Here are the essential tools you’ll need to have any successful beer flight:
Beer flights typically come between 2 and 6 ounces. This allows an optimal amount of beer per glass, without too much or little in each one. You’ll end up drinking about a pint’s worth of beer during a flight, making it a great way to try a variety of beers without overindulging.
These glasses come in many different shapes and sizes, depending on the venue. It seems that, most often, they come in practical forms. Glasses that are simple and compact make the entire process go much smoother.
A key component of a beer flight is what the beer is served on. That’s where the paddle comes in.
The classic option is a wooden paddle that holds the glassware, often with divots that are perfectly sized for each glass. However, that’s not the only way to do it. Paddles can come in many forms and can allow the brewery to get creative with its serving style.
Paddles can be wood, metal, and anything in between. Some establishments make the paddle a critical part of the production value of their beer flight, using some novelty in their presentation to make the experience even more fun.
The price of a quality beer flight differs greatly depending on the number of samples purchased and the beers chosen.
Typically, a beer flight consists of four 6 oz. pours. That and a beer flight of six 3 oz. pours will both cost roughly the same, usually sitting between ten and 15 dollars.
While there isn’t a “wrong” way to drink a flight, certain key methods could enhance the tasting experience by making it easier and allowing you to get the most out of the event. An important thing to remember when partaking in a beer flight is simply this: go from light to dark.
Much like the old adage, “beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear”, the light to dark rule also is for your own good. In general, lighter beers have a lower alcohol by volume (ABV) than their darker counterparts.
If you indulge in dark beer before a light beer, it will become difficult to take in all the subtle nuances of the offered lighter beers.
This doesn’t apply as strongly if you’re tasting many beers of the same style. If the beers on a flight all have similar color, ABV, or number of IBUs, it doesn’t make too much difference in what order you drink them.
By moving from lightest to strongest (with water in between), you’ll be able to sip each new beer with a fresh palate and ensure you get your money's worth.
This is where you determine what kind of beer you want! Really, it’s the most fun part. Depending on what’s on tap, you get to choose between porters, stouts, IPAs, and many other styles.
Here are some formations to know!
A single style flight is when you order a batch of beers that are all shades of the same style, which keeps it within the family.
Whether you pick multiple IPAs from different breweries or have several selections from a class of light lagers, you’re sticking in the same genre of beer for the entire flight.
Consider this formation a crash course on whatever style you choose. By the end, you’ll know if you like it or not!
In this style of flight, you simply choose whatever kind of beer you’re interested in trying. If you’re at a bar and don’t know what beer to try, that’s when a flight of beers is a great way to discover something new that you may end up loving!
Order an IPA you’ve heard about through the grapevine, or try a pilsner you’ve always looked at. This formation allows you the freedom to experiment with everything offered. You’ll have the ability to decide what you like without consequences.
Nearly every brewery you waltz into will offer a flight of the beers they create on-site. Ordering this kind of flight will allow you to enjoy everything a local brewer offers without wasting any time.
Start by picking a brewery you’re curious about and pick a handful of their beers to create a horizontal flight all your own. A formation like this will provide a unique perspective on the beers at a local establishment that would otherwise be difficult to discover.
Flights like this give you the chance to find your newest favorite brew or realize that something isn’t for you. Both are good lessons to learn!
Vertical flights are uncommon in the beer world and usually more associated with wine tasting. A vertical flight is when you sample different vintages of the same kind of beer.
Typically, darker beers such as porters and Belgian beers are used for flights of this kind because they lend themselves to depths of nuance as the beers grow, change, and develop as they age.
If you find a bar or brewery offering any kind of vertical flight, it’s probably worth doing. Whatever beer they’re giving you for a flight like this is likely high quality and worth sampling in depth.
Who says you have to go to a bar to enjoy a beer flight? We say you can do it all yourself from home.
What better way to entertain your thirsty, impatient friends than by throwing together a homebrewed beer flight all by yourself? With a carefully considered selection of beer, you can impress all your friends by sounding like a beer expert.
If you want to go a step further, you can even brew your own beer for the event! It’s not as hard as it sounds, believe it or not.
It will be fun to compare notes with friends and family on the different flavors that you were able to create. Something like this could prove to be a unique opportunity to learn about the world of beer with loved ones!
You’ll need to gather the necessary tools and ingredients, but if you’re willing to make the investment, the reward is substantial. Brewing beer can be a deeply rewarding experience that will surely impress all your friends after their first sip of your homebrewed flight.
Beer Flights Continue To Become More Popular
Beer flights are an undeniable success from an economic perspective for any brewery since they’re so appealing to the customer.
While most establishments are happy to offer free samples of any beer (within reason), they are losing out on easy money by not suggesting beer flights as the primary way for patrons to sample their offerings. Plus, by choosing exactly what they want their patrons to try and in what order, brewers can control the way patrons experience their offerings.
Beer flights give you a chance to broaden your beer horizons, learn about a particular style, and impress all your friends if you do your own. Go out and try as many as you can! And if you’re looking for beers to include in your beer flight journey, browse through TapRm’s catalog to know what to order ahead of time.