A Beer Geek’s Guide to Beer Flights

Ever since my first introduction into the wonderful world of beer flights I’ve been hooked. In my opinion there is no better and easier way to cover a lot of tasting ground then through a beer flight or two.

At its core a beer flight is simply a sampling of several beers. This form of “taste presentation” is better known in winemaking, but is also used in the culinary industry, and is becoming prominent in craft brewing as well.

History

Reimagining an Origin

The history of beer flighting is obscured in the past and understandably vague. Wanting to sample a brewer’s fare probably became prominent along with the increased availability of different beer styles.

It’s easy to picture a discerning customer stepping into a brewpub, looking over what was available, and saying something like:   “My good man I have yet to taste of any of this finery you have listed. Be a good fellow and pour me a short draught of each that I might know which may be to my liking.”

Beer Flight Tasting

The proprietor, slightly dismayed, but savvy enough to see a new potential money maker, carefully pours four samples. “Today, my friend these are on the house. Tomorrow, it will cost… oh, as much as one ‘a me pints.”

He smiles broadly turns to the slate displaying prices and carefully chalks in a new service.

Though fictional, this account shows how easily beer flights could have come on scene, and likely did, again and again, in different places and different times. However, we can assume, safely I think, that the practice became commonplace sometime after the noun “flight” started to be used to describe it.

It’s all in a Word

It could have been called a bevy of beer, an army of ales, a leap of lagers, or a raft of brews (which would have been clever seeing as the tray a beer flight is commonly served on is called a paddle), but no, it became known as a beer “flight.” Why? A closer look at the word flight might give us some clues.

Flight, meaning a sampling of a certain food or drink, doesn’t seem to be in use before the late 1970’s. There are two distinct and separate “flight” nouns. The older of the two means “the act of flying through the air.” The newer noun which has a different origin than the first is defined as “the act of running away.” The likeliest source of the word’s use, in the context of “a sample of something,” stems from a definition of the first usage, stated in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “a group of similar beings or objects flying through the air together.”

It’s interesting to note that a connection could also be made, especially in the case of beer, to another definition of the same flight noun, that of, “a series, resembling a flight of stairs.” A beer flight is usually drank from lightest to darkest (we will explore this more in a moment). As you work your way “up” the color spectrum in a beer flight it isn’t hard to imagine each sample as a step, and the whole as a flight of stairs.

Beer Flights

Beer Flight Basics

The Glassware

The glasses used in beer flights can range in size from 2 ounces to 6 ounces. Personally I prefer the lower end of this range because it allows me to try more samples without worrying about getting “three sheets to the wind,” just because I wanted to try a couple beers.

The glasses themselves can be several different shapes. In my own experience beer flights are often served in an economical, single shape, such a mini-sized pint or stange. But, as beer flighting has become a more common practice the variation of glass shape has also increased. I’ve seen mini mugs, snifters, and pilsners out there. And though I’ve never seen a brewpub do it, it would truly make my day to see a beer flight served with each beer style matched to a mini version of its appropriate glass. That would be pretty cool.

The Paddle

How the samples get from the taps to you is also wide open to creativity. I’ve seen flights simply delivered on a tray and lined up on the table. I’ve seen several variations of the classic wooden paddle. At one place I was served my flight on a two inch tall round cut from a stump, with shallow holes drilled to accommodate the glasses. I’ve also seen metal wire stands where the glasses are held in wire circles either in a horizontal display or a vertical display (in this case the steps become real).

The Price

The price of a beer flight is going range a bit. It will depend on the number of samples and the price of the beer you decide to sample. In most cases though, a four beer flight of 6 oz. pours and a six beer flight of 3 oz. pours will both cost around 5 dollars. Thus, the beauty of the beer flight, taste 4 to 6 beers for close to the price of a single pint.

One Rule to Rule Them All (Almost)

The one rule usually adhered to when enjoying a beer flight is sampling the beers lightest to darkest. Generally the lightest beers have a gentler character, lower ABV, and lower hop bitterness, then the darker beers. If a dark beer is sampled before a light “quieter” beer, it is likely that much of its character will be lost behind the forward charisma of the dark one.

The only place this rule doesn’t really apply is when tasting multiples of the same style. If they happen to have a wide enough variance in ABV arrange them from lowest to highest, if not… well, use your best judgment. If there is little difference between color, ABV, or IBU’s, don’t worry…just diving in is allowed.

Beer Flight Set

Purpose: It’s all in the Flight Formation

Unfamiliar Territory

Beer flights are a great way to widen your beer knowledge or help a friend broaden a narrowly focused viewpoint. I am often disappointed when I go into a place that has great beer selection but doesn’t offer flights. If the only option I have is regular pints I usually stop around two, maybe three on the outside. On the other hand, if flights are an option, I can try anywhere from 3 to 6 (depending on glass size) times the number of beers I could otherwise.

How you make your beer selections, in this case, is completely your own. You may pick beers from the far flung ends of the spectrum. Here you are searching for styles you have not tried, be ready to for the strange and wonderful.

What Beer Am I?

This formation is all about a search for the siren singing your name. You walk into a bar not sure what beer you’re in the mood for. It’s time to hunt. Whatever strikes a chord in you- add it. This is palate music for your mood and there is no right or wrong.

Are you torn between the mellow smokey feeling of a good porter, the coffee and dark chocolate of a robust stout, the biting bitter of that IPA, or is it the crisp cleanness of a summer Lager that calls to you? Find out. Sip them all, listen to the whispers, and you’ll know which deserves the space of a full pint and more attention.

Shades of a Single Style

If you really want to educate yourself about the nuances of a beer style try this formation. First, pick your subject of study. Do you want to explore the differences between several breweries’ year-around IPA’s or are you looking for a real challenge… how about the oh-so-subtle variances between a group of light lagers. Whatever you choose it is guaranteed to be an astonishing education, one that will help you work through what you like and don’t like in a style.

Brewer’s Showcase: Horizontal Flight

Most breweries and brewpubs offer flights of the beers brewed on premise. This is a good way to learn what a local brewer offers, whether their brewing practices are up to your discerning standards, and which of their family of beers is worth a pint.

You can even explore a given Brewery on your own, either at home, or at a quality taproom. Pick a brewery you’d like to know better, select four to six of their beers and create a flight. This formation will give you inordinate insight into the different flavors the brewery offers, which beers you’d spring to buy a six pack of, and which are better left on the shelf.

A Rare Gem: Vertical Flight

This flight is unusual and hard to find outside of wine tasting. A vertical flight is sampling different vintages of the same beer. You need a special ship to go vertical, something dark, secretive; a beer with a higher “fuel” load and the needed complexity to age well. Porters and many Belgian beers come to mind here. It is a great way to experience how a beer ages and how it might change from on brewing year to the next.

Imagine being given the singular opportunity to try Alaska Brewing Company’s Smoked Porter (The most award-winning beer in Great American Beer Festival history) from its first brewing in 1988 up to the present. Now, that would be a flight worthy of a new name – hum, I wonder… maybe a Pride of Porters.

At any rate the very fact a brewery or brewpub is willing to do a vertical means it’s a beer of worthy note, and an experience you won’t soon forget.

Homeschooling your palate

Don’t think you need the hullabaloo of a bar or taphouse to fly a formation. A good way to entertain a few friends at home is by putting together an “in-house” flight plan. Here you can share notes and ideas about different beers, take as much time as you like enjoying the flavors, and actually talk without having to yell. Most of the above flights can easily be put together at home; horizontal flights, shades of a single style, or a set of completely random, but new beers.

The fantastic thing about doing this at home is the amount of control you have. You can do a little research, learn more about the beers you select, and broaden your selection criteria.

You could choose a set of beers with the same general base malt, but fermented with different yeasts, or a set of single hop IPA’s that each use a different hop variety. This flight is only limited by what you want to explore.

Homebrewers Best

This one is much the same as “homeschooling you palate.” The difference? It’s your beer! That’s right, if you happen to brew your own beer, flighting offers a great way to present your beer and impress your friends.

It’s also the best way to learn from brewing experimentation. Being able to taste a brew over several recipe changes can help you understand how each addition or subtraction is affecting the flavor profile in the finished product.


The Business Side of Flighting

From a business prospective, beer flights are definitely an added draw for customers. I’ve been to more brewpubs, bars, and restaurants that don’t offer this service then do, and in most cases the ones that didn’t, did not get as much of my business as they might have. Most taphouses are more than willing to pour you free samples until you find a beer you want to pay for. This is great, but the establishment is missing out on an opportunity and the customer is missing out on an experience.

From the glassware used, to the “paddle,” to tasting notes, insider information about the beers, even suggested food pairings; a creative and well-presented beer flight can produce a very unique experience. No place can justly ask a customer to pay for one or two tap samples, but present them as something singular and it becomes a service the customer is happy to buy.

So, go out and log some beer flight miles. You’ll get the chance to broaden your palate, learn the nuances of a single style, and entertain friends. As for me, well I’ll keep searching for my ultimate beer flight experience, that grail where styles are matched to their appropriate mini-glass.

Maybe one day….

Learn More About Beer:

A Beer Geek’s Guide to Storing & Serving Temperatures

As you may know, heat is one of beer’s big enemies. It can promote oxidation, which is what happens when natural compounds within the beer react with oxygen leading to off flavors in your beer. Heat can also result in flavor loss altogether, creating a bland product that is in no way reflective of the beer in its original state. It can even age a beer at a more rapid rate and for beer stored at various temperatures with other conditions remaining the same, at 100°F the beer will remain okay for about a week, two months when stored at 70°F and for up to a year at 40°F. Simply put, the lower the temperature the longer the beer is preserved.

Ice Cold Beer

From storage tips to serving temperatures, let’s take a closer look at the many factors that can have an affect on the overall quality of your beer.

Avoid Both Heat & Light

So, how much heat can you expose your beer to? Well, as a general guideline, if you don’t have any more room in the fridge, room temperature storage is acceptable so long as the beer is kept out of the reach of another enemy — light.

Light can have a far more detrimental impact than heat, resulting in off flavors. Though, the thing about heat, as previously mentioned, is that it ages the beer more quickly. So, if you plan on storing the beer for an extended period of time before cracking it open, it’s advisable to keep it at a lower temperature.

Storing Beer: Kegerator vs. Refrigerator

A refrigerator will certainly get the job done, but if you don’t have the space then you’ll need to find a better solution. In this case, a kegerator is the optimal solution as it provides an environment that is always cool and dark but unlike your household refrigerator, the door isn’t opened nearly as often helping to avoid frequent temperature changes.

However, those with kegerators should be far more mindful of its interior temperature than how you would be with a household refrigerator mainly because of the contents. Chances are a keg of beer will last and sit longer in the kegerator than a gallon of milk or last night’s leftovers would in the fridge.

Tips for Monitoring Your Kegerator Temperature

To ensure that your kegerator is holding the proper temperatures, you should first make sure that it is properly sealed. Over time, the insulation may move or need adjusting or replacement so make sure that the door is properly sealing all the way around at all times.

EdgeStar KC7000SSTWIN Kegerator

Also, ensure that the temperature inside the unit is actually what it should be. Sometimes the thermostats are in need of calibration and may not actually be cooling to the temperatures that you think they are. Some people place an air thermometer within the cabinet to get a read, but the best way to gauge what the temperature of your beer is, is to place a glass of water inside the fridge and then place a liquid thermometer in the water. You can even use your brewing thermometer.

Just make sure that if it’s a metal thermometer that the probe is not touching the glass itself as it could provide an inaccurate reading. This will ensure that your beer is being stored at the right temperature but what about being served at the right temperature.

To take things to the next level, there are high-end kegerators that include built-in tower coolers. These divert air from the forced air-cooling unit within the fridge through a tube and up through the draft tower. This ensures that the draft lines within the tower are properly cooled just as the rest of the main fridge compartment. Having cool draft lines greatly reduces the amount of foam that you will get on the first pour or two. While foam is undesirable because you cannot really drink it (foam is only about 25% beer), more importantly it is a premature release of the beer’s carbon dioxide. The lack of carbonation will have a negative effect on the mouthfeel, flavor, aroma and overall drinking experience of that beer—and you certainly won’t be enjoying it as the brewer intended.

Why You Shouldn’t Over-Chill Your Beer

Now, with all this talk about proper cooling, it’s important to understand that you can also over-chill your beer. When the temperature of beer is reduced below 38°F it will retain a noticeably greater amount of CO2 which will result in more bubbly beer. This bubbliness may not be right for the beer and can create a mouthfeel that is unfit for the style.

Additionally, beer at exceptionally low temperatures will numb your taste buds and prevent you from getting a full flavor experience. Though, as long as you are at or above 38°F, different styles of beer can call for different temperatures.

Different Styles, Different Temperatures

To make it even more complex, not every style of beer should be served at the same temperature. Each unique style has its own recommended serving temp, but for the most part, they all fall in the three ranges below.

Beer Styles
  • Lighter-bodied beers, such as lagers and light ales, should be served within a temperature range of 38° to 42°F. This maintains good carbonation levels which pairs well with the crispness of beers of this type.
  • Slightly heavier beers, such as dark lagers and ales, should typically be served around 42-46°F which allows for the perfect blend of a lighter mouthfeel and the slightly more substantial body of the beer.
  • Heavy beer styles, including stouts, barleywines and strong ales, among others, can even be served at temperatures of 48°F and higher. In fact, you find that a lot of the beers within these styles may even advise serving temperatures of 55°F and above. Serving these at a higher temperature allows the full complexity of the beer to open up without being too carbonated.

Should You Chill Your Glass?

Additionally, it’s important to understand that the temperature of the glass in which you serve the beer can have an effect on the beer. You don’t want to pour beer into a glass that has been sitting in a freezer because that can lead to a higher retention of CO2. It’s best to serve beer in a room temperature glass or one that has been slightly chilled.

Also, once you pour the beer into the glass, the temperature of the beer will rise a few degrees, so keep that in mind. The next time you’re storing, serving or enjoying a beer, be mindful of the environment in which you store it, the way in which you serve it, and that the temperature at which you enjoy it is fit for the style and you should be much happier with your beer-drinking experience.

More Beer Insight:

Why It Is Important to Clean & Sanitize Your Homebrew Equipment

You’ve heard that proper cleaning and sanitation in brewing are paramount, but you may find yourself asking, “Do I really need to spend money on a brewing-specific clean or sanitizer when I already have all of these effective cleaners around my house?” Well, the short answer to that question is “yes”.

Why You Should Clean Your Equipment

Homebrew Ingredients

Spending several hundreds of dollars on all the homebrew equipment your heart desires but deciding to skimp on cleaners and sanitizers would be like buying an expensive sports car and filling it up with regular unleaded. While you may initially save a couple of bucks at the pump, the inevitable repercussions make the frugality seem completely idiotic.

While bleach and other household cleaners are great for your bathroom and kitchen surfaces, you’re not consuming things that come in direct contact with these surfaces. These are very harsh cleaners that are great for their intended use but a less than ideal choice when making beer.

In brewing, it’s very important to create a happy and healthy environment for the yeast. Any bacteria, germs and the like will have adverse affects on your beer and it’s critical that you remove them from anything that will come in contact with the wort/beer at any point in time. This includes but is not limited to brew pots/kettles, brewing spoons and/or mash paddles, fermenters, siphons and tubing, airlocks, wort chillers, etc.
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Drying Made Easy: The FastRack and Carboy Dryer

When it comes to choosing a storage vessel for your homebrew, bottles are probably the most obvious option for homebrewers both new and old. Bottling homebrew is a great choice for those starting out because bottles are easily accessible and can be reused time and time again. They’re also great for their versatility in being able to store smaller individual servings in many settings and for ease of transportation.

Homebrew Bottles

Seasoned homebrewers also like using bottles for bottle conditioning which allows the beer to further mature and develop over time in a safe and secure package that can be easily stored for long periods of time. Regardless of why you may choose to use bottles to store your brew, one thing homebrewers can agree on is that a big disadvantage of bottles is the inconvenience they present when it comes to cleaning and drying them.

While most all-inclusive brewing kits come with a bottle brush and sanitizer to clean bottles they almost never include a tool for drying and storing them. To remedy this, many use dish racks, some even roll up paper towels and insert them into the bottle, and others may simply balance them upside down on a cloth or paper towel. However, these are all bad ideas for one reason or another, with the biggest issue being that some part of the bottle is coming in contact with another surface that is most likely unsanitary.
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Comparing Different Types of Water for Homebrewing

Water: Essential Not Only to Life, But Also to Great Beer

Water is perhaps the most overlooked ingredient when homebrewers start out and certainly should not be. After all, more than 95% of beer’s composition is, you guessed it, water. It must be viewed in the same way as any other core ingredients in beer — those being malt, hops, yeast, and of course, water.

Water for Homebrewing

In fact, water is the first ingredient that you should consider when making beer, whether you’re brewing with a prepared ingredient kit or designing your own recipe.

When a brewer chooses the malt for a particular recipe it seems like something one could spend days or even weeks contemplating. With that in mind, it’s important to understand that water merits just as much thought. It serves as the base for your brew, and will have a big impact on how the final product turns out, regardless of whether you did everything else right and used other choice ingredients.

So, what are the main types of water readily available to you for brewing? Chances are you can get your hands on distilled, purified drinking, tap and maybe even rainwater if you have a barrel for a home garden or other purposes. Let’s go through the different types and how they relate to brewing.
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How Long Does A Keg Remain Fresh?

Due to a variety of beer styles and storage options for your keg, there’s no set answer to this question. Depending on who you ask or what site you read, the answer will range between 20-120 days.

There are many variables that can play a role in how quickly your kegged beer starts to alter in taste, but a general rule to keep in mind is that as soon as that keg is filled at the brewery, the “freshness clock” starts. As time goes by, your beer will slowly start to taste less and less fresh.

How Are You Dispensing Your Beer?

To give you a better idea of how long your keg will last, let’s take a look at the two most common scenarios that one would find themselves in when they tap a keg.

1. Using a Manual Pump:

Manual Keg Pump

Commonly found attached to the top of kegs at house parties and backyard cookouts, the manual pump — sometimes called a bronco pump or party pump — works by pumping air into the keg, pressurizing it so that it can dispense your beer. If you’ve ever poured a beer out of a keg, then you’re probably familiar with this kind of pump, as well as the problems that come along with it, such as over-pumping and excessively foamy beer.
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VIDEO: Love. Your. Beer.

From all of us here at Kegerator.com, we’d like to wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day. Forget about flowers and chocolate, here’s how we will be celebrating:

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The History of Homebrewing: How Beer-Making Has Evolved Over the Years

As famous philosopher Plato once said:  “He was a wise man who invented beer.”

Homebrewing History

The history of beer and other fermented alcoholic beverages traces back to the earliest civilizations, with some experts claiming that beer was, perhaps, the first alcoholic drink ever created. The practice of using barley, hops, and other ingredients to brew beer has been important to many cultures, and remains so to this day. As a matter of fact, beer is thought to be the third most commonly consumed beverage in the world, ranking behind water and tea.

While mega-sized breweries continue to churn out the majority of the world’s beer, there has been a dramatic rise in homebrewing over the last few years. This time-honored tradition of crafting your own brews is steadily becoming more popular as the months roll by. But it wasn’t always like this. Until Jimmy Carter became president, it was still illegal for you to brew your own beer.

From the beginning of the Dry Movement to becoming one of America’s favorite hobbies, let’s take a look at how homebrewing has evolved over the years.
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REVIEW: 400 Pound Monkey from Left Hand Brewing Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Left Hand Brewing Co.
Location: Longmont, CO
Style: English IPA
ABV: 6.80%
IBU: The Monkey Isn’t Telling.
Appearance: Light-Golden Pour with White Foam Head
Aroma: Subdued Citrus & Grain with Hoppy Freshness
Flavor: Earthy Pine, Grapefruit Hints, Malt
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Coconut Chicken with Curry, Burgers with Caramelized Onions

Colorado seems to be full of top notch craft breweries these days and Left Hand Brewing Company is no exception. They have a nice year round lineup of beers including the one siting before me now, fondly named 400 Pound Monkey. I’m not too sure what gave them the idea for the name, the beer doesn’t taste like a 400 pound monkey at all (bad joke… sorry).

Actually the name, as far as I can gather, came out of a discussion over extreme beers for an article Lew Bryson was writing for Beer Advocate Magazine. In the article Eric Wallace quotes his VP of brewing as saying “Any monkey can put 400 pounds of hops in a kettle,” and with those words I can only speculate that both an idea and a name were born.

India Pale Ale’s are gaining more and more of a foot hold within the craft brewing community and there are more consumers out there than ever willing to take the plunge into bitter beers. So, why another IPA? Well, judging from the article just quoted, I think maybe the brewers up at Left Hand got it in their heads that they might be able to pull off something a little different than the usual “mostly” American IPA offerings out there. They decided to try to make an English style IPA.
[Read more...]

6 Mistakes Beginner Homebrewers Make (and how to avoid them)

Even a mild interest in homebrewing has a habit of growing into a full on passion for the hobby. Beer and ale enthusiasts turn to homebrewing to save money, craft their own unique drinks, and in general be a part of a practice that dates back to the earliest human civilizations. The excitement and enthusiasm associated with this hobby can cause newcomers to get a bit ahead of themselves.

Homebrew Beer

Throughout the journey of learning to brew, everybody will make mistakes. It’s inevitable, and it happens to the best of us. That’s why learning as much as possible about homebrewing is essential for every beginner. Not just to ensure that you’re making the best tasting product, but so you don’t waste too much of your time and money along the way.

The following are some of the common mistakes that beginner homebrewers make. If you’ve done any of these, don’t worry… we all have. But, here’s what you need to know, so you know how to avoid them.

1. Too Much, Too Soon

Immediately trying to craft a difficult brew or aiming for a too large of a batch is a sure fire recipe for disaster for any homebrewing newcomers. Excited beginners, including myself, have a habit of setting their sights high. This is fine, but homebrewing is about fermentation after all — you have to let your skills age and develop too. That’s part of the fun. That’s where you learn the most about the craft.

Beginners should start with a simple recipe and plan for a small quantity. Try to plan ahead and know what brewing equipment you will need, before you discover mid-batch that you’re missing something. Don’t get in over your head too fast. You’ll have plenty of time to brew beer. Start slow, perfect the technique and then scale out accordingly. Patience is essential in this stage.
[Read more...]