Some airlines will stop at nothing to lure travelers on their planes. Theyíve managed to fit sleeping pods, private apartments, and even an in-flight bar on board. But one nut they havenít cracked? Serving draft beer high in the sky.
Safety restrictions and the laws of physics themselves make it such a difficult task (yes, even more so than the engineering feat of expanding legroom by two inches) that airlines generally donít waste their time trying.
But rejoice. Dutch airline KLM and Dutch brewer Heineken think theyíve found a way. They are planning to serve beer on flights to Rio during the Olympics next month.
The main challenge has been how to get the beer out of the keg when youíre that high up in a pressurized environment. Draft beer poured at your local bar is pushed out of a keg using carbon dioxideóCO2 from a tank is piped into the keg, displacing the beer so it travels up the line and out of the tap. ďAs you can imagine, things on board are not like when youíre working in a bar on the ground,Ē says a KLM spokesman.
Tanks of compressed CO2 are prohibited on board. A faulty valve or a fissure could turn a tank with tightly compressed gas into a rocket. So Heineken has to use air pressure to push the beer out of the keg into the tap. Therein lies another obstacle: in-cabin air pressure is lower than on the ground.
To get around the low cabin pressure, Heineken says it sets the air compressor to a higher level than it would at sea level. Without enough pressure to move the beer, you would end up with a cup full of foam.
(Foam isnít necessarily a bad thing, though. Dutch beer is often served with lots of head, which Heineken says is best achieved through the pressure of a tap instead of just turning over a bottle or can and letting gravity do its job. Also, fans of draft beer argue that a layer of foam conserves the beerís flavor.)
Unlike most steel kegs, Heineken ďair kegĒ keeps the beer separate in a plastic bag. But the system isnít perfect. There wasnít enough room for a cooling system. The beer arrives at Amsterdamís airport and is loaded onto the plane cold but once it is on board itís a race against time so travelers may want to order early and often.
ďIn the end, we had to leave out one of those pieces to make it all fit, so with pain in our hearts we had to leave the cooling behind,Ē the productís designer, Heinekenís Edwin Griffioen, told Fox News.
Even if you donít mind a cool-to-lukewarm draft beer, it may not taste exactly like the ones at your local.
Our taste buds are less sensitive in the cabin, particularly to sweet flavors, which can make beer taste even more bitter than usual. Itís the reason in-flight wine can taste more alcoholic or bitter. Beer is arguably less affected than wine, though.
In-flight beer service could be a ďtough program to execute right,Ē says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. For example, the only front of the plane will get their draft in a glass; coach passengers get theirs in a plastic cupówhich may undermine the vibe that KLM is going for and annoy glass-loving beer purists.