Airline Unveils Beer Calibrated To Taste Good at 30,000 Feet

Crack open a bottle of Betsy Beer.

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Mar 6 2017, 2:00pm

Cathay Pacific

When I'm cruising at 36,000 feet getting tossed around by some Midwestern turbulence, my primary concern when it comes to beer is that it does in fact contain alcohol. As such, my $7 warmish can offers a temporary respite from the anxieties of being stuck in a tube lurching around the lower stratosphere. For my purposes, the contents of that can might as well taste like the underside of a tray table, but apparently other passengers have different priorities. They actually want it to taste good, like they're not even gripped by terror. Weird.

For those people, the Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific has developed its very own hand-crafted beer scientifically designed to taste better at 30,000 feet. Betsy Beer, named after the airline's very first aircraft, will be served to passengers in first and business classes on flights between Hong Kong and destinations in the UK, according to an airline press release.

It sounds pretty tasty: "The inclusion of 'Dragon Eye' fruit is a unique characteristic of the beverage. Known for its aromatic properties, the fruit adds to the round, rich, textural properties that make the beer distinctive. This flavour is enhanced further by the inclusion of a small component of New Territories'-sourced honey in the  brewing process, giving the beer agreeable floral notes, while the use of Fuggle, a revered hop and a mainstay of traditional British craft ales, lends it a pleasingly earthy and full-bodied flavour." Would consume.

It's well-known that high altitudes and the aircraft cabin environment screw with your sense of taste. A 2010 study commissioned by Lufthansa found that airline passengers lose about 30 percent of their sensitivity to sweet and salty foods in-flight. "In the air, food and drink tastes as it does when we have a cold," said aroma chemist Dr. Andrea Burdack-Freitag at the time.

The reasons are intuitive enough. For one thing, whether a passenger is afraid or not, an airline cabin is an extreme environment. It's loud and crowded and gross—you're just trapped there smelling and hearing like 300 people all at the same time. Details and nuances are going to get lost in those conditions. Noise alone can trigger "ancestral fear," experimental psychologist and airline industry consultant Charles Spence told the New York Times. The one taste that becomes enhanced at altitude, he says, is umami. Our fearful ancestors may have turned to umami-rich foods for energy in fight-or-flight situations. Thus, we drink V8 on airplanes.

We also lose some of our sense of smell and taste because air in aircraft cabins is superdry and superthin. There's just less actual stuff in that kind of atmosphere to smell. As a consequence, we experience bitterness more strongly, likely just because it's a dominant flavor. 

So, Betsy Beer features, "a wheat base to combat bitterness [and] increased carbonation for added mouthfeel," the Cathay Pacific pitch continues. The beer is also unfiltered "to retain vitamin B—well-known for restorative properties."

Of course, as a typical American schlub flying mostly domestic routes in coach, I'm not exactly the target market for this. At least it's some verification that that overpriced can of Heineken really does taste like approximately nothing and it's not just me.