A few years ago South African Airlines invited me to a swanky do in Claridge’s to celebrate the launch of their new catering contract with DO & CO, and the launch of their new home in Heathrow T2.
Amidst sampling DO & CO’s food from the SAA onboard menu, we were also given wines, paired with each course. “Wines on the flight are chosen for boldness of taste because at altitude our sense of taste is diluted by up to 30%,” explained Melanie Melvill, of SA Wines Online, at the time.
It seemed after several wines, my brain and body were also affected, and I was only on the 7th floor of Claridge’s, never mind 35,000ft in the air.
Fast-forward three years, and I was invited to a bar in London by Cathay Pacific to celebrate the launch of their new beer, called Betsy.
If some airlines had cracked food and wine at 35,000ft, why has it taken so long to develop a beer designed to be drunk high in the sky?
Cathay Pacific General Manager Marketing, Julian Lyden said: “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.”
“It’s a unique idea“, says Devin Kimble, Director of the Hong Kong Beer Co, who I managed to have quite a long chat with. “We also wanted to make the beer locally, so whilst the hops are British, every other ingredient comes from Hong Kong“.
“It’s also about the experience“, he continued. “Who wants a Heineken to quench their thirst?“. Some people might, but not craft beer enthusiasts.
BRITISH HOPS. Now we’re talking. The hop used in Betsy is called Fuggle, which is also one of the brewer’s at BrewDog favourite hops. It’s an ideal hop for creating wonderfully mild, middle of the road, 3.5% craft ales.
I tried the beer on the ground. Well, at 6ft. It is a actually a very good craft beer. Slightly sweet, full-bodied, with a lovely fruit flavour.
I just had two questions:
HOW DO THEY AMEND BETSY BEER TO TASTE GOOD AT 35,000FT?
It’s no secret that cabin pressure and altitude affects passengers’ taste buds, as I found out at the boozy event at Claridge’s.
For Betsy, it is a combination of science and traditional brewing methods. The hops and flavour need to be full-bodied. The aroma needs to be strong, and the beer needs a necessary carbonation to counteract the type of air found in the plane cabin.
The Fuggle hops provide the full bodied flavour, “Dragon Eye” fruit (or Loganberries to you and I) adds the aromatic and distinct fruity properties, and honey adds sweetness and floral notes.
WHY IS IT CALLED BETSY?
Betsy was the name of the first Cathay Pacific aircraft. It was a Douglas DC-3 which flew passengers around the Hong Kong region in the 1940s and 1950s.
Nicky was the name of Cathay Pacific’s second aircraft…should you ever need that information for a pub quiz.
Disclosure – Whilst I was invited to the event in London by Cathay Pacific and given free Betsy beer, the opinions provided above are solely mine. All images above (apart from the blurry one in the bar) provided by Cathay Pacific.