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Cathay Pacific's Custom-Crafted Beer

Hong Kong's flagship carrier has developed the first craft beer designed for high altitude. By MERRITT GURLEY.

Published on Apr 26, 2017


IT ISN'T YOUR IMAGINATION: beer does taste weird on airplanes. The brews weren't developed to withstand the hurdles of high-altitude consumption, but Cathay Pacific is swooping in to the rescue. Riding the wave of Hong Kong's craft-beer craze, the airline launched Betsy Beer, named after their first aircraft, a Douglas DC -3 that flew in the 1940s and 1950s.

Besty Beer
Cathay Pacific cabin crew with Betsy Beer. Courtesy of Cathay Pacific.

"We know that when you fly, your sense of taste changes," says Julian Lyden of Cathay Pacific. "Airlines address this for food but nobody has ever tried to improve the taste of beer at altitude."

According to the airline, the combination of dryness and low pressure dulls your sense of taste by up to 30 percent when you fly, so it was important to create a brew with a bold flavor profile. In the quest for a recipe that would cut through the sensory din, Cathay enlisted the help of a tasting panel of experts that included Toby Cooper, founder and chairman of the Hong Kong Craft Beer Association, and May Chow, owner of Little Bao in Hong Kong and Bangkok.

The resulting beer, brewed in collaboration with Hong Kong Beer Co., was designed around the parameters of a cabin. It has a wheat base to combat bitterness, 10-percent higher carbonation than sea-level beers for better mouthfeel, and it is unfiltered to retain vitamin B, which is supposed keep you feeling plucky. The ingredients selected—honey from Wing Wo Bee Farm in Sha Tin, longan fruit from local Hong Kong markets, and UK-sourced fuggle hops—deliver booming layers of flavor. "We went for a hand-crafted ale because of the quality of ingredients and production process," says Priscilla Chok, Cathay Pacific digital marketing manager. "There's a lot of attention from the brew master due to its smaller production."

Besty Beer
Betsy Beer. Courtesy of Cathay Pacific.

The ale is available on a trial basis to first- and business-class passengers traveling between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom until April 30, 2017.

Beer-drinkers looking to get their hands on a bottle without boarding a plane can find Betsy in several Swire-owned restaurants and bars in Hong Kong including Sugar, Mr and Mrs Fox, and Café Gray Deluxe, or purchase it online at Deli-delight for HK$38. If Betsy Beer does take off, Chok says other craft ales that capture local specialties along different routes could follow. The future of Betsy Beer depends on its reception—it could become a global phenomenon or this could be its final flight.



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Besty Beer. Courtesy of Cathay Pacific.
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