In recent years, much attention has been given to the wine selection available on airlines. In spite of service cutbacks and ancillary fees, attention to wine selection – especially on long-haul flights – has helped airlines sustain a level of quality expected by their most loyal customers.
But not everybody fancies a glass (or plastic cup) of wine. In the United States, beer – like football – is taken very seriously. As of November 2011, there were some 1,927 breweries in the United States, the highest amount since the late-1800s. Each brewery produces several varieties and styles of beer, so the total number of domestically produced beers numbers in the tens of thousands.
However, the beer choices on domestic US carriers are often few and unappealing.
As with wine sommeliers, there are certified beer experts called cicerones, who specialize in the intricacies of beer service, styles, tasting, ingredients and food pairings. These specialists could be useful to airlines in much the same way as sommeliers.
Beer presentation means a great deal to self-proclaimed “beer snobs”, and in the same way a wine lover may turn his nose from a wine poured from a bottle with a wax cork or twist-off cap, the beer snob would rarely choose a beer served from an aluminium can. Unfortunately, a great percentage of beer served on airlines is only served in cans.
One notable craft-brewed exception – Alaska Brewing Company’s “Alaskan Amber” served on Alaska Airlines – is served from a glass bottle, and happens to be the highest-ranked beer offered on a domestic US airline.
The beer-loving members of BeerAdvocate.com grade beers based on factors including the carbonation, colour, foam, smell, and of course flavour. Alaskan Amber scored 83 out of 100 by BeerAdvocate members. Frontier Airlines serves New Belgium Brewery’s “Fat Tire”, which received a score of 82.
In comparison, Michelob Ultra scored the worst with a 46. It is one of Southwest Airlines’ six beer options, but Southwest’s beers have the worst average score of 53.67.
Virgin America’s beers have the highest average score, 69.2, and include craft beers such as Gordon Biersch Marzen and Black Star Double-Hopped Golden Lager, scoring 81 and 73 respectively. Heineken and Miller Lite are the two beers you’re most likely to find on your flight; each is served on six airlines. Heineken Light is the lowest calorie beer option in the skies with only 96 calories per serving, and is served only by JetBlue Airways.
It is easy to see there are several untapped beer opportunities for airlines. Distribution channels make it possible for beer to be shipped nearly anywhere in the country, especially the large hub cities of airlines.
Airlines could choose to spotlight a local craft beer when starting service to a new destination. Seasonal offerings could include Witbiers for the spring, Blonde or Pilsner in the summer, Pale Ales in the fall, and a hearty Stout or Porter in the winter, and beer lovers would appreciate the rotation of the menu, as well as the attention finally given to their more refined palates.