A flight of craft beer is probably one of my favorite things. Seeing the small glasses lined up is a beautiful thing and I instantly start anticipating the taste of each one.
But the order that the beer is placed in the flight is often different from brewery to brewery.
And I am not talking about the type of flight board that they use to hold the glasses. I am talking about the order in which they organize the beer.
I’ve noticed that there’s more than a few different ways to serve a flight of craft beer. Which led me to wonder, is there an ideal way?
The idea for this article came up after I had a flight served to me in a unique order – more on that later. This got me thinking about the importance of the order of a flight.
First things first, I fully recognize that the order the beer is served doesn’t control the order that you will drink it.
However, I think there is value in a brewery and/or bartender that has a purpose for how a flight of craft beer is served. So with that being said, let’s look at some of the most common practices.
It’s the picture perfect image of a flight, from left to right the beer is lined up light to dark.
Many start with a blonde ale then an IPA. Next is a brown ale and finally a stout. We’ve all gotten a flight like this.
The color of craft beer is categorized using a system called SRM.
The concept here is that lighter colored beers are lighter in body and flavor. And for the most part that is true.
Drinking lighter beers first is ideal as you’ll be able to taste the subtle nuanced flavors still. If you drink these after a strong, bold beer then your palate may not be able to pick up on the softer flavors in some beers.
This logic is flawed as some light colored beers can have huge flavors. For example, an IPA with a huge hop profile. Or a sour beer that is very acidic. Both of these can take a toll on your palate.
Related Article: SRM: What Is It And Is It Important?
It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally, I’ll be served a flight of craft beer that is organized based on Alcohol By Volume (ABV).
Much like the logic of of ordering them by color, using the ABV to determine drinking order is based on the idea that higher alcohol content means stronger flavor.
And yes, the ABV level does determine many things about a beer. But this percent is just one of many flavor elements to consider.
Many stouts will have a higher ABV than an IPA but not always. Milk stouts are often under 6% ABV while an IPA can be north of 7%. So in this situation, a milk stout would come before an IPA but when ranked by color the IPA would come first.
Increasingly, I find that taprooms are serving flights based on the order that the beer is on the taplist.
The list of beers on draft is listed in the same order as the tap handles in most breweries. So it’s easiest for the bartender to keep them in order and move down the line of tap handles.
So regardless of the color, ABV or style; the flight is served solely based on the order it is on the board.
This method doesn’t do anything for the drinking experience but it does keep the process simple and fast. Which in a busy taproom, time is valuable as customers want to be served fast.
Flights are already the slowest means of serving craft beer so I can see why breweries would prefer this method.
And in some situations, the brewery may have the beer listed in a specific order on their taplist which helps the serve flights in a predetermined order.
Another way to keep things simple is to have the customer determine the order of the flight.
You may find that a taproom hands you a card to list which beers you want in your flight. There are probably some that do not like this but I’m ok with it.
It gives me the opportunity to think about what I want in my flight while the bartender takes care of other customers. And I get total control over the order.
I know that I can drink them in any order I want but it’s nice to have the laid out to my preference. Especially if there are a few that I want to compare to each other.
The problem here is I rarely take the time to really consider the order of the flight so I just end up with listing the ones I want to try the most first and so on.
My Experience At Grainworks Brewing
So all of this leads me to the reason I wrote this article in the first place. I was at a local brewery, Grainworks Brewing, and ordered a flight.
The bartender poured the beer and then explained that they were in order of IBUs. Their recommendation was to drink the lowest IBU beer first then work up from there. So the stout was first and the Double IPA last.
While I had never heard of this method before, it made sense as the bitterness can fatigue your palate. I had to learn more about this approach so I reached out to the brewery.
The head brewer, Brian, let me know that the root of this idea came from him. At that time, they had an IPA and Double IPA on their tap list and he was recommending that those were placed last in a flight. The goal was to prevent the hoppy bitterness from impacting the other beers in the flight.
However, he noted that this logic isn’t perfect as perceived bitterness isn’t the same as IBUs – meaning we taste things differently than what is actually contained in the beer.
Furthermore, he said there are many taste profiles that are just as prohibitive as bitterness; such as sour, smoke, coffee, etc.
What I love about what they are doing there is putting actual thought behind the order of the flight. This attention to detail is what craft beer customers are looking for. People go to taprooms because of the drinking experience and having a game plan for the order of the flight enhances that experience.
Enjoying a flight of beers is one of my favorite things to do. Getting to sample a wide range of styles allows me to further understand the differences and appreciate them more.
But there’s a lot of different ways a bartender can choose to organize your flight of craft beer. So is there a right or wrong way?
No, not really. However, I do believe there should be some thought put behind it. It’s a great way to enhance the experience and help everyone learn more about craft beer.
The thought process should consider the style, ABV, IBU and the other beers in the flight. However, this would dramatically slow down the bartender. It’s hard to say if the slower service would justify the result.
In the end, you can choose how to drink it but it’s nice when the brewery helps line them up in a way that helps increase the tasting experience.