Beer of Flying

I’ve been flying a lot lately. I like travelling, and end up jetting around quite a lot both for business and pleasure. I also like beer, as some of you may have gathered by now. How, then, do these two things go together? Are there hoppy pleasures to be had thirty thousand feet off the ground? These are questions I know most of you have been tempted to consider dying to ask, so I thought I’d share my experiences with you on this absolutely fascinating topic.

As with all serious subjects, a little historical background is a great way to waste a paragraph or two. Flying’s been around since some pre-historic birds first climbed up a convenient tree to fling themselves at the ground, and missed. However, it took a long time before humans developed wings – quite a few tried emulating the birds, but usually failed to miss hitting the ground in what was undoubtedly a very painful fashion, and so it wasn’t really until the Wright brothers combined two oversized ironing boards and a lawn mower on a beach in North Carolina in December 1903 that the concept of flying for humans really, and quite literally, took off. Humanity hasn’t looked back since, though quite often down.

The inflight service on the very first flight was probably quite limited, especially since it lasted less than a minute. Apparently, the first flight attendants appeared only about 30 years later, complete with a friendly smile and an appropriate amount of hard liquor to settle the nerves of the passengers, who back in those days had a relatively high chance of hitting the ground very hard and therefore regretting not taking the train. Luckily, the situation nowadays is very different – flying is just about the safest way to travel, so there’s absolutely no reason not to sit back, relax and enjoy a little luxury such as a fine brew or two, if only such pleasures had been widely available.

Those of you who have actually bothered to drag your arses to the nearest airport to board a sardine box that, in complete breach of most of the laws of physics, lifts itself from the ground and brings you relatively quickly (unless Icelandic Volcanoes are throwing some lava into the mix) to your preferred destination (unless you’ve made the classic mistake of boarding a plane to “Torquay” instead of “Turkey”, or “Dakar” instead of “Dhaka”), will know that (unless you’ve re-mortgaged your house to pay for business class) the stuff you get for free (or, more accurately, included) is, at best, very limited. In fact, many airlines won’t give you anything at all unless you pay extra through a nostril of your choice, though they usually accept credit cards. However, despite all this, most airlines do have at least one beer on offer.

A very common sight up there.

Unfortunately, the beer revolution that has resulted in an incredible increase in the number and styles of beers on offer in the average pub or supermarket has completely failed to lift off the ground. The average inflight trolley will contain a few cans of what is simply known as “beer”, whereas the wine buffs at least get to choose between “red” and “white”. To make matters worse, the “beer” on offer is typically one of the big industrial blands (sic), so if you fancy a “beer” with “taste”, you are probably out of luck. There are some exceptions though: the main airline in Switzerland, cunningly named “Swiss”, actually serves up quite a decent local beer from Appenzeller land (a rural Canton in the north-east for the many geography buffs among you), which – at least for people who like lager – has a nice hoppy taste. For the time being, Swiss is also one of the few airlines that will let you have a can or two without charging you for it. Not sure if this justifies always flying via Zurich regardless of where you want to go, but it’s clearly worth bearing in mind.

Quite a few cans of decent lager taking off.

Another airline that takes beer a little bit more seriously than most is good old British Airways. Last time I flew with BA, I actually had the choice of no fewer than FOUR beers, though since three of them were predictable global tasteless lagers, there wasn’t really much of a choice. The last one, though, was one of the fairly safe British bitters, namely London Pride. Never a truly great drinking experience, but hardly ever a disappointing one either, Pride for sure might just probably be perhaps the best beer you’re ever likely to get served in, on or above the clouds.

Having said that, a bit of internet research reveals that, mirroring the situation on the ground, North American airlines seem to provide both the worst and best beers in the sky. Some of the biggest airlines (which I have flown with), which I shall refrain from naming and shaming, stick to the old “making love in a canoe” ones, whereas at least a handful (including Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, neither of which I have been on) have started serving craft beers – a round of applause is merited, I think. I clearly need to travel more.

So who’s the winner? Which is the world’s best beerline? I can't decide, so I'm just going to say that it’s the train. It may be slower, but this simply means more time to savour your beer – and best of all, you can buy a couple of great beers and bring them on board with you. Apparently, it’s more environmentally friendly too, although getting to Canada, Australia and Japan from Europe on the train remains a bit of a challenge.

On this lofty note I shall end this informative and highly entertaining blog post, and wish you all a lovely autumn (or spring, should you read this from the southern hemisphere). My advice to you for the coming weeks until the next post appears is to drink beerfully, fly high, train hard and don’t worry – be hoppy. As they say in Finland: Kippis!