There’s a real problem with airline food. No, not just that the meals themselves can be lackluster. It's that our palates get a little out of whack when the cabin pressure sets in and we reach our cruising altitude. In short, it’s the crappy airplane coffee conundrum, which applies to everything on the menu. But if you’re flying Cathay Pacific, your beer could be the best thing you’ve ever tasted at 35,000 feet.
The Hong Kong-based airline, partnering with Hong Kong Brewing Co., has developed Betsy Beer, a brew named for the company’s first airplane and designed with mile-high drinking in mind. “We know that when you fly, your sense of taste changes. Airlines address this for food in certain ways. But nobody has ever tried to improve the taste of beer at altitude. That seemed like a great opportunity for us to help our beer-loving passengers travel well,” says Julian Lynden, the airline’s General Manager of Marketing and Loyalty.
As far as the process, the press release only states that the beer was developed with “a combination of science and traditional brewing methods.” The beer is a combination of Hong Kong and United Kingdom-sourced ingredients, featuring New Territories honey, Chinese longan fruit, and the aromatic British hop, Fuggle. The fruity, floral and sweet notes would seem to be this beer’s way of combating the near 30% loss of taste sense we experience while in flight.
But Betsy Beer isn’t the only beverage customized for cabin consumption. In 2013, British Airways and Twinings released a higher potency blend of tea just for service while in transit.
While grabbing a pale ale on a plane seems like a rather insignificant part of travelling, Cathay Pacific isn’t the first airline to invest in better tasting beer. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, in partnership with Heineken, went to the trouble of rolling out draft beer on their planes last year. That also required research, as high altitudes result in glasses full of foam. Making things more difficult, CO2 canisters (the accelerant for some pressurized beer taps) aren’t allowed on commercial flights, and adding kegerators to already cramped galleys would be expensive and impractical. The compromise was to cool the kegs beforehand and keep them in insulated trolleys throughout the flight. The taps were redesigned from the ground up to accommodate the change in air pressure.
So, even if you’re not paying too much attention to what you're drinking while thumbing through the inflight magazine, to airlines, getting your beer right is a big deal.