What makes a real airline?

06 April, 2017

It was rock guitarist Frank Zappa who famously said: “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline.

It helps if you have some kind of a football team or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.” For Hong Kong flag-carrier Cathay Pacific, it would appear you can’t be a real airline unless you have a beer as it’s just launched an exclusive brew onboard all its UK-bound flights in March and April.

The airline teamed up with the Hong Kong Beer Co to create Betsy Beer, named after the old propeller-powered Douglas DC-3 aircraft the airline used in the 1940s and 50s. Now altitude affects passengers’ taste buds so the company developed the bottled beer to taste at its best at 35,000ft, incorporating local ingredients such as honey from the New Territories region between Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as Dragon Eye longan berries.

Yet Cathay Pacific certainly isn’t the first airline to offer passengers an exclusive brew. In 2015 Scandinavian Airlines partnered with Copenhagen craft brewery Mikeller to create four exclusive beers, including a sour Belgian beer fermented in mango juice. Cruise lines are getting in on the act too. For instance, Princess Cruises has partnered with San José’s Strike Brewing Company to create the exclusive Seawitch Coast IPA, which it serves to its onboard guests.

Carnival Cruise Lines has gone one step further, installing a fully working brewery onboard its new Carnival Vista ship, which launched in 2015. The Red Frog Pub & Brewery can produce 1,000 litres of beer a week and makes three different types – a Thirsty Frog Port Hoppin’ IPA, Thirsty Frog Caribbean Wheat, a Belgian-style wheat beer, and Frisky Frog Java Stout, a twist on a traditional stout, brewed with whole bean Java coffee. The brewery has proved such a success that Carnival plans to install some on future vessels.

Meanwhile, British Airways has gone down the decidedly English route of launching its own gin. It is made by the Cambridge Distillery, which also makes a gin for the House of Lords. British Airways gin has a distinctly herbal flavour, featuring basil, rosemary and thyme among its botanicals. The new gin is being served to the airline’s first class customers from the bar of the Concorde Room at London Heathrow Terminal 5.

BA has also been dipping its toe into the world of mixology by teaming up with Shoreditch’s New Orleans-inspired Nola cocktail bar to create an onboard food and cocktail list to celebrate the airline’s new route to the Big Easy. From March 27-April 27 passengers will be able to order the Hurricane cocktail, a blend of rum, passion fruit and citrus, as well as the Sazerac, a cocktail synonymous with New Orleans.

What next for BA and its forays into the world of spirits, I hear you ask? Well, an exclusive scotch might be the logical next step. But I would initially suggest the airline takes another look at the whiskies it offers through its High Life in-flight shopping service. I know space is at a premium for the in-flight retail business, but offering a solitary single malt (The Singleton of Glendullan 12 Years Old) is surely a huge missed opportunity.

Come on BA, as the UK flag-carrier, you can do better.

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