By Roger Mittag
In a world of curious, experimental beer consumers, the concept of offering an option to try a variety of different beers in smaller samples seems to be on every restaurateur’s mind. While the concept of beer flights seems to be an easy one, it requires a tremendous amount of thought to be able to drive interest at the consumer level.
The beer sampler should be draught beer only. It really doesn’t make any sense to open cans and bottles for sampling unless you can easily sell the remainder in the same sitting. So… where should you start?
The first question in offering a quality flight of beers should be why. Understanding the purchase decisions of your consumers is vital in deciding how to approach this. Are you trying to establish an opportunity to sample a variety of beers that might be foreign or new to your guests? Are you interested in moving slow moving draught beers to maintain freshness and quality? Are you trying to create new beer occasions centered around beer styles, countries or flavours? Are you simply trying to increase sales by offering a new product? One of the most important of all decisions should be whether this flight will convince the guest to buy a full-sized version of one of the beers. All of these are important in the greater scheme of things but it’s critical to your success to make sure the guest see the benefit of buying a sampling flight.
Step 1: Glassware
Find a set of glasses that will help you sell this product. It’s easy to default to one standard glass but that glass will not always showcase the characteristics of each beer properly. It is recommended that you settle on a glass that is five to six ounces in volume. Ideally, this glass would provide a visual impact as well as the opportunity to smell and taste a beer in the right environment. This stemless wine glass is my choice for sampling in the Prud’homme classroom.
Once you have chosen the glass, you should find something (for example, a custom wooden tray) that will allow you to serve the entire flight to the guest. These are widely available through the glassware supplier.
Next – how many samples is the right amount? I would strongly recommend either four or five, depending on how many draught brands you have on tap. This gives the guest a nice range of beers to try and may be able to guide them to the one they enjoy the best.
Pouring sample beers requires a gentle touch and a draught system that works well. In flights, it is still important to ensure a proper amount of foam is poured at the top of each sample glass. Aim for at least one ounce of foam at the top.
Step 2: Design
The type of flights you offer is critical. If your beer line-up is over 30 brands long, you might be able to focus on styles like an IPA flight or a Wheat beer flight, but it’s more likely that the focus should be on a variety of beers. If you want to showcase the diversity of beers, I would recommend the following to be included in the flight:
- Easy drinking – beers like Pilsners, Kölsch are great to start with
- Fruity – add a fruit beer or Radler
- Smooth – amber lagers or ales are a good bridge to fuller flavours
- Bold – this is a good chance to introduce hops into the flight – beers like American Pale Ales and IPAs
- Robust – Add darker beers like American Brown Ale, Porters and Stouts
While this is only one way to offer a sampling flight, you might also consider countries of origin (Belgian, Germany, Canadian Craft, British, etc.) as another way to pair beers to sample.
Step 3: Education
Create the right environment that will help your staff to sell this product. That means you will need to provide as much information about each brand and each style of beer in the flight as possible. Knowledge is power and if a server or bartender is equipped with the right amount of information, they will become your biggest ambassador in the beer category.
You may also want to think about food pairings with each brand. Knowing how to pair food with beer is crucial to your overall success, so consider pairing at least one menu item with each beer on the flight. This will allow your staff to suggest a pairing along with a full beer.
Step 4: Variety is the spice of life
Make sure you change the brands in the flight every month. Keep in mind that you are trying to enhance the beer experience and this means that you need to understand that your regular guests may want to try something new.
Creating a beer flight is fun and offers a new way for your guests to try a variety of beers without committing to a full glass of something they are unsure of.
If you need help designing and executing a beer flight, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author:
Roger Mittag is the President of Thirst For Knowledge Inc. (Canada’s leading beer education company) and founder of Prud’homme Beer Certification® (www.tfkbeer.com )