Tuesday, May 15, 2012


A Different Kind of Beer Flight

Today, you may or may not realize, is the final day to vote on which locally brewed beer Frontier Airlines will be serving on its flights. The Denver-based airline put four Colorado brews into contention with each other, and the winner goes on the airline's menu for June and July.

This whole contest turned into a sort of existential exercise for the Fearless Tasting Crew, which asked: What exactly do I want out of a beer I'm drinking at 30,000 feet? But it also created an excuse for another group tasting, and the discussion and results were telling.

Beer number one in the competition was Colorado Native Lager, the locally sourced effort from Coors offshoot AC Golden Brewing. As the lightest beer of the bunch, it was generally agreed that this mildly toasty amber lager could have some mass appeal. But the general consensus of the group turned more on the argument that if you're going to put a Colorado craft-style beer on the plane to show off the state, why go half-hearted and offer something that's not a lot different from mass market beers? And at 5.5 percent ABV, it was the lightest of the offerings - a trait we believed should weigh against it.

Second up: Upslope Pale Ale, a mildly hopped, light-bodied offering that provides refreshment while leaving a minimal backtaste. This, the crew determined, is a beer that's solidly Colorado in style and values (always canned for environmental benefits) that could appeal to both those who like hops and those who aren't keen on the full-mouth flowery flavor. There were some worries that it lacked a lot of distinction, but the feeling was that virtually anyone could enjoy this one.

Then there was Dale's Pale Ale, the beer that has become almost as much of a symbol of Colorado brewing as Coors or Fat Tire. And this has a lot to recommend it for a flight. It's heavier at 6.5 percent, meaning it can help put you to sleep on post-work flights a little quicker. It also keeps its natural flavor upon warming the best of any of the competing quartet, meaning that if you do get some shut-eye on the plane, you can wake up and still enjoy it. The stronger hop character makes the most lasting impression of any of the contestants, which always helps to recommend a brew. And, as one panelist said, it's the "most distinguished" of the bunch.

Lastly was the surprise candidate: Crabtree Oatmeal Stout. Its inclusion became even more of a surprise when, try as we could, we couldn't find any liquor store in Denver that had the beer in stock. I've had the stout before, so it wasn't completely without representation at the tasting (though I had to substitute my homebrewed imperial porter for the photo). But in discussing its merits, the conclusion was reached that stout drinkers, even more so than hopheads, are their own unique animal, and big dark beers simply don't appeal to everyone. Plus, stouts go least well of the four options with pretzels, and since that's likely all you get to eat these days on flights, it plays an outsized role in our decision-making.

In the end, there was discussion about why Frontier chose these particular four canned beers for the competition. (How about Avery Joe's Pilsner? Or Crazy Mountain Amber Ale?) And there was a split in our foursome. The men concurred that Dale's Pale Ale gives the serious drinker the most bang for their buck and is closest to being a Colorado ambassador to the possibly non-craft-beer-drinking legions who will board planes to or from locations throughout the country. But the women thought that Upslope Pale Ale would offer a more accessible peek into Colorado's brewing scene and promote a smaller brewery on its way up.

And your thoughts? Just go to Frontier's Facebook page and vote yourself.

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