Betsy isn’t like the others. Although she shares many of the attributes of a typical English ale, like classic aromatic Fuggle hops and wild honey from the New Territories, it’s the Dragon Eye fruit that truly sets it apart. In fact, Cathay Pacific’s Betsy Beer is the world’s first hand-crafted bottled beer that has been specifically brewed to taste as great at cruising altitude as it does on the ground.
Named after the airline’s first commercial aircraft, a 1940s McDonnell Douglas DC-3, Betsy has already made quite the name for herself with Cathay’s well-heeled passengers. The beer is currently available in First and Business Class on the airline’s Hong Kong to London (Heathrow & Gatwick) and Manchester routes until the end of April, and is also being served in a number of Hong Kong restaurants and Cathay airport lounges in both London and Hong Kong.
So, what exactly makes it work?
“We know that when you fly, your sense of taste changes. Airlines address this for food in certain ways but nobody has ever tried to improve the taste of beer at altitude. That seemed like a great opportunity for us to help our beer-loving passengers travel well.” – Julian Lyden, Cathay Pacific General Manager
Well, the science around how our taste buds react to certain flavours in a low-pressure and dry environment is fascinating. At 35,000 feet, our sensitivity to salty and sweet diminishes by up to 30%. Add the white noise of a cabin, plastic cutlery and drinking cups and it’s surprising we consume anything at all with how little we’re actually able to taste. The ultra-dry air in a plane’s cabin severely hampers our sense of smell too, one of the major components of taste.
What does bode well at high altitudes however is what Japanese chefs call the savoury fifth taste – or ‘umami’. It is this umami, aroma and carbonation that Cathay and the Hong Kong Beer Co tried to capture in their first on-board offering.