What is a beer flight?


Contrary to common sense, the term "beer flight" does not refer to mile-high inebriation. Nor a merging of Delta and Dogfish Head. The term does not even refer to the mythic cross-country flights during which baseball great Wade Boggs would reportedly consume upwards of 70 beers.

Beer flight defined

No, a beer flight is simply a way to taste-test four to six different beers poured into 4-ounce glasses and traditionally served on a board oddly called a "paddle." Speaking of odd word choices, how did the word "flight" originate within the context of this brew hall bliss? While shrouded in mystery, one hypothesis is that the phrase borrows from its definition of air travel, stated in Merriam-Webster dictionary as, "a group of similar beings or objects flying through the air together." An argument can also be made that its inspiration was derived from another meaning of the word: "It isn't hard to imagine each sample as a step, and the whole as a flight of stairs," writes Nicoli Carr of Kegerator.com.


The beer flight serves several purposes:

  • A way to easily sample a variety of styles and types of beer
  • A way to choose the beer you would most want a full pint of
  • Prevents the drinker from wasting his or her sobriety and money on a beer they do not enjoy
  • Satisfies a sense of adventure that the real world has all but beaten out of us

However, before racing out to the nearest craft beer bar and downing each sample like a shot of Wild Turkey, there are a few ways to enhance your beer flight experience. As TrueBeer.com observes, a flight can "help you to select a favorite type of beer," so buckle-up, return your seat to its upright position, and prepare for take-off.

The art of sampling

You may be wondering if there is there some mystical method to consuming the beers in your flight: Should you skip around, like some abstract artist trying different dabs of paint here and there, hoping to achieve a sublime harmony of taste? Or should you choose a more deliberate style using bold, monochromatic strokes and committing to one 4-ounce glass of sweet nectar at a time? Although common advice is to drink your draughts from lightest color to darkest, it is not always best to do so. For example, a bitter India Pale Ale can numb your taste buds to a more subtle-tasting porter or stout. And in today's Golden Age of Craft Beer, it is also not true that the weaker beers are weak in color – some of the strongest beers available pour pale (see Dogfish Head 120-minute IPA, or any Belgian-style Tripel). Instead, try sampling from lowest in Alcohol by Volume/International Bitterness Units to highest, giving your tongue the chance to savor each beer's well-crafted nuances.

Creating a masterpiece

Care should be taken when crafting your beer flight. Imagine the paddle as your palette, with each beer a different hue with which to create. But how to achieve this beer flight masterpiece?

Well, you can choose a different style of beer for each pour to better understand and appreciate their individuality. Or go the opposite way and order multiple samples of the same style. Jim Galligan, contributing writer to Today Food, observes that, "Tasting multiple beers of the same style back-to-back opens your eyes to the nuances of each offering."

Another way to color your canvas is to order a sampling of beers from the same brewery. Referred to as a "horizontal flight" it allows the patron "to locate a new favorite from a preferred developer. Vertical flights are also available, and they include different years of the same beer vintage," according to TrueBeer.com.

Whichever flight plan you choose to follow, do it with passion and you are sure to create a masterpiece all your own.


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