In Defense of Beer Flights

There is a small but very vocal group of beer drinkers and craft brewers that are strongly against beer flights, the series of taster-sized glasses many breweries offer as a way to sample a variety of styles without ordering full pints. These anti-flighters routinely bash the idea of flights on social media and often brag that they will only order full pours when they visit a brewery. They are joined by a solid number of brewers who dislike, or even refuse to serve flights at their breweries. A recent twitter poll by the Mass Brew Brothers shows that the vast majority of beer drinkers order flights on at least some of their brewery visits:

This poll gives a good indication of the popularity of beer flights among local beer geeks who frequent breweries. Despite these results there are still a strong minority who are anti-flight, and many of them are routinely argue that beer can only be properly enjoyed and evaluated when served as a full pour. In pursuit of full fairness Alex Weaver, whose tweet led to the poll above, is not anti-flight, he just claims to never order them personally. Alex also went to the best college in the world, so you know he is a pretty smart guy. Here are some of the common arguments made by the vocal anti-flighters, accompanied by my counter-points to each:

“You can’t properly evaluate a beer on a 3 oz. pour.” This is probably true, but it assumes that the goal of drinking a flight is to make a definitive assessment of each beer. I use the flight to get a taste of the beers and decide which I want to try more of, either in the form of a pint or beer to go. A 3 oz. taster is enough beer to know if I dislike something, otherwise I will probably try more to make a complete judgement.

“Flights reinforce the part of craft beer culture that is too focused on trying as many different beers as possible.” If the reason you buy a flight is to check in 4 new beers on Untappd instead of just one from a full pour than you are doing the whole craft beer thing wrong. This isn’t a competition, the goal should be to identify beers that you like and then enjoy them, not try to sample as many beers as you possibly can. This attitude really has nothing to do with flights though, the people who do this would do the same exact thing if flights weren’t available. While work needs to be done to move the industry away from this how-many-beers-can-you-try culture, I don’t think eliminating flights is the answer.

“Ordering a flight at a packed bar slows down service for everyone.” It definitely takes a server longer to pour a flight vs. a full pour of a single beer. If a brewery is slammed on a weekend or during a special event and there are dozens of people waiting it is probably a good time to pass on the flight, and I am fine with breweries switching to full pours only when they are super busy. It my experience this isn’t the norm for most places. That perception might just be because I am old and most of my brewery visits are lazy afternoons when someone is watching the kids, but I am rarely at a taproom where the servers are too slammed to pour a flight.

slumbrew flight

Reasons why beer flights are great:

  1. They allow you to taste a variety of beers in one sitting. Breweries are making new beers at a crazy pace these days, and it is almost impossible to try them all. On a recent visit to Night Shift they had at least 10 beers available that I had never tried. A flight was perfect, I tried 4 new-to-me beers and then purchased a variety pack of cans to take home.
  2. If I am visiting a brewery I usually need to drive home. I live in the suburbs, nowhere close to public transportation. The majority of breweries in Massachusetts are also nowhere close to mass transit. When I visit a brewery I am drinking 1-2 beers and then grabbing stuff to go. Even if someone else is driving I probably need to go home an be a functional parent, so my upper limit isn’t going up by much. Flights mean I can sample an array of offerings while staying safe and responsible.
  3. You can try styles that are typically outside of your comfort zone. I am still getting the hang of sour beers, I like some beers with subtle tartness in combination with other flavors, but the aggressively sour beers are still not my thing. There is zero chance I will order a full pour of a sour beer at a brewery, but I will often include one in a flight, it’s a great opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new. If we want a craft beer culture that features styles other than hop-bombs flights are a good way to get the haze bros to try other beer styles.
  4. Easier to compare similar beers head-to-head. Since so many breweries are devoting an increasing percentage of their taps to IPAs and other hop-forward beers a flight is the perfect way to sample them against one another. While I am generally opposed to this trend (a little more variety would be nice), if I am going to a new place with 6 different IPAs on draft it is nice to have tasters of a few to help decide which best adhere to my personal preferences.

Bog Iron Flight

With that I will pass it back to my readers. Are you pro flight or an anti-flighter? When you visit a brewery for the first time are you more likely to order a flight of just try a full pour of your favorite style? Does your answer change when it’s a brewery you’ve been to before? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram!

3 Comments

  1. Love beer flights. Don’t enjoy getting stuck with a $6 pint that I don’t like at all. Meanwhile, odds are I may have liked another beer that I could have tried on a flight, and then either purchased a pint after the flight of my favorite, or grab a 4 pack of cans to go. As far as ordering a full pour from a brewery I’m familiar with already, I would definitely not hesitate to grab a full pint if I know I already enjoy the beer from past experience.

  2. First time to a new brewery definitely ordering a flight depending on the variety, once I know why I like full pours are the norm.

  3. I have ordered flights to try a variety, even (especially) outside my comfort zone. I have ordered flights from bars that are not breweries.

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