Friday, December 8, 2017

☸️ The Tasting Flight

Following up on my last article, let’s dig into the best way to sample a craft brewery’s products, perhaps all in one sitting, with a tasting flight.

Walk up to the bar at a craft brewery and one of the first items you’ll see is their tap list, or beer menu. Some breweries use the Untappd for Business electronic display, others use a chalkboard or paper menu. Bosco’s, a craft brewery in Memphis, uses a leather-bound book similar to a wine menu. Right away you’re faced with the question of what to order. If this is your first visit to a brewery, your initial instinct may lead you astray!

A pint of an unknown beer is an investment you may not want to make. It’s likely only one of several beers on the menu, and if you’re new to craft brewing the assorted styles are probably still a foreign language. Worse, each brewer gives his or her beers distinctive names, which may or may not have a connection to the style or the flavor. Sampling the menu pint-by-pint is probably not a good idea – unless you enjoy being carried out – so what to do? Ask for a tasting flight.

Two flights of four beers eachFlights are usually served in four- or five-ounce glassware, often set in a wooden serving tray or plank. These planks may have beer names or initials written in chalk or marker. Some breweries set the beer out on a sheet of paper with the beer names printed or written on.

Flights are often made up of as many as six beers, usually of your choosing. Smaller breweries with a limited menu will simply put up everything they have on tap. I’ve been to one brewery that had ten beers on tap, and they were served in a flight of one through five, and another of six through ten. No mix-and-match. Most breweries are much more flexible.

The economy of a flight of samplers comes from how widely you can taste without drinking too much. Consider an eight-beer flight, perhaps ordered in two flights of four each. Even at five ounces apiece, the total beer consumed – if you drink every last drop, which is up to you – is forty ounces, or three standard bottles plus four ounces. If you take your time, tasting at a leisurely pace and enjoying conversation with your pals and the bar staff, you could easily spend a couple of hours at it. Three beers over a couple of hours isn’t a lot, and you’ve sampled eight different products.

You may wish to designate a driver who imbibes a lesser amount, or none at all, but an eight-beer flight won’t put you in the bag.

If you’re not going for a “flight of everything,” consider an array of beers covering your palate’s preferred styles. Whether you’re a fan of lighter beer or the dark stuff, building a flight is as easy as asking, “do you serve flights?” followed by, “I’d like one with ….”

As with wine, the rule of thumb is to drink light-to-dark. Begin with the mildest, lightest-colored beer in the flight and work your way toward the darkest or most pungently flavored. Working in reverse order will wreck your palate for the finer flavors in the lighter beers. Save beers rested in wine or whiskey barrels for last. These beers, having completed fermentation and clarifying, are poured into a used barrel and let to “rest” for a few weeks, or even a few months. They pick up subtle flavoring from the wood, and are best enjoyed after the milder and more delicate styles.

Two flights of seven beers eachAt this point having the beer’s name or initials, or even a ticket in serving order comes in handy. Beer menus are often arranged light-to-dark, but not always, and you probably won’t place your order that way, anyway. What arrives before you may have been arranged properly, but a busy bartender may not have the time or imagination to do so. There are plenty of pale, citrus-hoppy IPAs out there that can be mistaken for a pilsner or a witbier. You don’t want to start off with one of them unless you’re having a flight of IPAs!

Whether you finish each sampler before moving on, or take a taste of each before going back to the ones you liked best is a matter of personal choice. My strategy is one at a time. It takes two or three mouthfuls for me to fully appreciate a beer, and that about empties a four-ounce taster.

If you’ve done this a few times, or you’re returning to a brewery for another visit, mix it up. If they’re pouring, say, three IPAs that day, ask for a flight of all three. If they feature a stout, an imperial stout, and a porter finished in a whiskey cask, that makes for an interesting flight of darker beers.

I routinely visit a local craft brewer, Wort Hog Brewing in Warrenton, Virginia, and order a pint or two of my favorites. Every now and then, though, I’ll ask for a flight of the beers I haven’t had in a while. Sometimes the head brewer has tweaked his recipes. I’ve been rewarded with a fresh, new taste from a long-standing offering this way. You won’t know what’s changed unless you revisit the entire menu occasionally.

The obvious advantage in flight tasting is that you’ve only invested four- or five-ounces in each beer. If you don’t like one after a sip or two, put it down and move on. I’ve seen plenty of flights with as much as half the beer left behind. If it doesn’t please your palate there’s no reason to keep drinking it.

One minor downside to flights is that the beer’s temperature tends to rise as it sits. The last sampler will always be warmer than the first, unless you taste only a mouthful of each first. Warmer beer (not warm beer) is more aromatic and flavorful, since there’s no chill to numb your taste buds. I prefer beer at a warmer, cellar temperature, but it’s not for everyone.

The ambient room temperature can also alter the beer flavor in unexpected ways. My pal Neal and I visited Solace Brewing in Sterling, Virginia a few months ago. They have a pair of big-ass fans from the Big Ass Fan company operating high up on the ceiling. The constant breeze was very pleasant, but it had the effect of warming the samplers more quickly. We enjoyed the visit and most of the beers, but our last sampler was an IPA, if I recall correctly, and at first sip we both thought the beer tasted like the smell of stinky feet. It was bizarre.

Just then our friend Alex walked in with his family and ordered a pint of the same beer. He loved it, but after we told him our opinion he offered us a taste from his fresh pint. It was a different beer at tap temperature. Drinking beer from small glassware, which increases the surface area of beer touching air or glass, can have odd effects.

A flight of six beers

Finally, brewers will occasionally bring two, or even three new beers to tap in a short span of time. You might find that your regular lineup has grown since your last visit. A flight of just those three new beers will satisfy your curiosity, and if one tickles your taste buds a pint might be in order.

Breweries often have an eight-ounce glass available, so half-pint sampling might be an option. This is a good way to get more than a few mouthfuls of each beer, particularly if you’re only looking to sample four or five. It’s not a flight, because you’ll order one at a time, but sampling by eight-ouncers provides the same diversity.

Flight tasting is an easy entry method for enjoying a craft brewery visit. Keeping track of the beers you’ve sampled can quickly become a chore, though. My next article will discuss a popular way of tracking where you’ve visited, what you’ve sampled, and who you were with: the Untappd app for smartphones.

Until then, cheers!

#craftBrewery #beerSampling #beerFlights #tasters #eightOunceGlass