Flights in Focus
An exciting beer list can entice customers willing to experiment with new flavors and food pairings.
At Blue Palms Brewhouse in Los Angeles, there are two dozen draft taps plus a cask engine, all of which rotate frequently. So much so that the restaurant shifted away from printed beer menus to a projector, saving on paper and ink, and allowing them to actually update the beer selection as kegs kick. It’s easy to identify the harder-to-acquire kegs, which are singled out by one or more bold green dollar signs next to the projected listing. Everything is available to try—a recurring theme when it comes to beer flights.
“Whatever’s on our tap list, you can get in a flight,” explains Blue Palms owner Brian Lenzo. I still recall one of my own highlights from a beer flight at Blue Palms about five or six years ago: a tart take on Berliner weisse from The Bruery, not so far from there. Basic flights start at $10 for a row of four 5-ounce pours, while those with any dollar signs can command an extra buck or more added to the base cost. There are no pre-curated flights, with guests each selecting four beers from the 25 rotating options. In addition to a full pour, Blue Palms also offers half-pint pours, as well as tiny taster glasses for free—or $1 apiece, if guests abuse it.
Patrons take that freedom to choose in a variety of directions. Those newer to craft beer will often order by name alone. Hopheads might request four different types of IPA to see which one they want a full pour of. Adventurous souls often head into barrel-aged sours. “The best thing about the flights is it offers people an experience,” Lenzo says.
It also helps address the current beer consumer: “Everybody’s at different stages,” he explains.
For restaurants able to deal with the glass cleaning and storage need—Blue Palms, like many, has a paddle to hold the small flight glassware, plus a paper tasting list—flights can help make an existing beer menu feel more accessible to guests. The decreased price per beer lowers the bar of commitment while catering to the growing desire of guests to sample something new.
Beer flights also figure into the longer-term game, Lenzo notes. “The flights are another way of educating the customer,” he says. “The more they taste, the more they try different things, the more educated they get on the products that craft beer offers. That’s kind of what we’re all about.”
The Brew Project in San Diego, which recently transitioned to being a full-service restaurant, as well as a bottle shop and delivery service, has the concept of a curated beer flight built in. “Everything that we serve, without exception, is brewed inside of San Diego County lines,” says founder Beau Schmitt. The concept’s tagline: “A San Diego Brewery Tour Under One Roof.”
The Brew Project was originally conceived from the fact that Schmitt and a friend were driving so much to visit all the new breweries in San Diego.
Perhaps here the beer flight most overtly serves as a surrogate to touring between breweries, and the focus is on highlighting the smallest, most tucked-away of these local producers. As with Blue Palms, there are no preset flights at The Brew Project aside from when it hosts beer dinners. “We rotate our beers so often we would never be able to have a preset flight,” Schmitt adds. Guests wanting flights are given a dry-erase marker and blank tray, where they write five choices. The Brew Project uses custom stainless-steel holders for the glassware, to avoid deterioration and rust while holding glasses more securely than most wooden paddles.
Five 4-ounce pours, with all of the beers under 9 percent ABV, run $12.50. There’s an upcharge of $2 for higher-alcohol and limited-release options. Guests are welcome to free tiny samples of anything and can also order individual samples starting at $2.50 apiece. Some guests order all IPAs, or light or dark beers. But the most common is, as Schmitt calls it, “the spectrum,” which often proceeds in color from straw Berliner weisse to orange IPA to, lastly, the pitch-black void of something stout or barrel-aged. “People really try to get the colors right.”
When asked by guests to help choose a flight, Schmitt usually heads for lesser-known names, encouraging guests to discover new San Diego County producers. “I would always start with the smallest breweries they haven’t had before,” Schmitt says, going through his current top picks, ranging from approachable Kölsch-style blond to wild-sage pale ale. His suggestions alter along with the tap list. “Every time you come in, it’s kind of a new tasting experience,” he says.
Advanced Flight School
While beer flights, left open-ended, can be an opportunity for guests to find their own paths through a beer menu, some restaurants choose to approach that experiential aspect very proactively: bringing creative food pairings to the flight experience.
For Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, with upward of two dozen locations in California, Nevada, and Arizona, its BBQ Brews Flight highlights four beers that pair particularly well with the restaurant’s hickory-smoked barbecue. At Lyon Hall in Arlington, Virginia, the flights tend to be more topical: The Belgian flight tours through classics such as Duvel and Saison Dupont, while The Director’s Set (at $15, priced the highest of the four curated flights) varies and is focused on seasonal and limited-release beers. The possibilities expand broadly from there.
LUCK, for Local Urban Craft Kitchen, takes the concept a bit further than most. When the Dallas restaurant opened in 2013, it offered three curated flights along with the option for guests to choose custom flights. “The Gateway Drug” was basically a crash course for craft beer: basic blond and amber ales, an easy-drinking stout, something similar, and a hefeweizen. The Lupulicious Flight included the biggest, boldest IPAs. The Heavy Hitters Flight offered dark, barrel-aged highlights. The curated flights started popular—but after a year, most of LUCK’s customers were customizing their own. LUCK began taking its beer-flight curation to another level after that.
One initial success was to have a Girl Scout cookies–themed beer flight, pairing four cookies to four draft beers. “It went over like wildfire,” LUCK co-owner Jeff Dietzman says. “We actually ran that for six days, and we sold out at the end of each day.” Pricing the flight at around $10 (its standard flight is $8), it went through about 250 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies over a six-day period. “If you pair something like Girl Scout cookies with beer, people will try the beer regardless,” he notes.
This was a helpful early lesson. LUCK has since found successes with numerous beer-pairing flights. The restaurant collaborates with the nearby Glazed Donut Works on doughnut-and-beer brunch flights the first Sunday of each month, pairing four new doughnut flavors with four draft beers. Nearly every brunch sells out 100 flights. It’s created bacon-and-beer flights, with four types of house-cured, house-smoked bacon presented with different glazes. Other beer-flight pairings have included Halloween candy, handmade chocolate bonbons, and cupcakes: frequently with local artisans, almost always priced between $10 and $20. The creative efforts have occasionally gone viral—resulting in some considerable local media coverage.
Of the restaurant’s creative, advanced flights, Dietzman jokes: “Sometimes you’ve got to lure them in.”