“What would you like to drink?” An often posed question that, if you’re like me, is often a difficult choice. Do you go for the same beer that you had last time and know is good, or do you try something new on the menu? Perhaps there is more than one beer you want to try but you not fully committed to a pint, or even a half. How do you know that the experimental IPA sour on the menu is something you can stomach? So try asking for a sample. “Sorry, we don’t do samples.” is a response that we come to expect as the norm rather than the exception.
And this is where tasting sets, sometimes known as beer flights, come in. Pay x amount of yen for y number of beers that means you can try more kinds of beer in smaller than normal amounts so you can experience more tastes. Normally the beers are much smaller than usual, anywhere between 100ml to 200ml, and the choices usually vary from as low as three, to as high as six in some places. Popeye’s in Tokyo offers a massive ten choices – perhaps a lot of beer there, and potent if you pick some of the stronger ones. Sometimes beer flights are chosen by the customer, sometimes the customer can pick from a set menu, while other times, the beer flights are chosen by the manager – usually to ship some beer that isn’t moving or as popular as the beer orderer thought would be.
Personally, I love and hate beer flights. That much is obvious otherwise there wouldn’t be a soapbox article coming out about them. What is not to love about them? You can try a variety of styles of beer in much smaller portions than possible, and not end up getting drunk after three beers. Then you can rinse and repeat for the rest of the beers that are on the menu, or you can pick from the beers you tried and go for a larger beer and stick with it. Some bars refuse to do samples, even for 20ml or so, which is not the best way to win customers over but understandably so, some customers may try to abuse the sample scheme. Beer Flights keep everyone happy.
But why do I hate about them? The cost. And The service. Now this is not to say that all beer flights are necessarily bad nor the selections are bad; however, there are some times where the beer flight is an afterthought – something tacked on to get people drinking beers in more managed portions. And the wait – crikey, sometimes it’s easier just to drink three pints quickly than it it is to get three small glasses without OTT amounts of head, that then have to be repoured, which means more waiting for the beer to finally come to your table. Eventually.
Costs vary. I get that – bars have to buy the kegs in to make a profit to pay for rent, wages, bills etc and those costs get paid onto the consumer. However, on our travels in Japan, we’ve come across some well priced beer flights (Watering Hole, Baird Beer, Popeye’s, Vector Beer) where the beers work out to be the same price, or thereabouts, of ordering one pint of beer, instead of 3 or 4 100ml to 150ml beers. These are the places that understand the point of beer flights and what they’re for. The stand out place for us was Vector Beer, with three 200ml portions of beer for 1000yen.
Other places though, such as Craftsman Yokohama cost the same but then the comparative price compare to a pint is much more. A pint (470ml) will set you back 830yen + tax, while three 150ml beers will set you back 1050yen + tax. Living in Yokohama was also another place had a strange issue with pricing, with three 120ml beers setting you back 1000yen + tax with medium beers of 360ml at 900yen.
Service varies widely as well. If you’ve read our soapbox article on craft beer servings, then you know we’re not fans of exorbitant amounts of head on our beers. Of course, some beers NEED an inch of frothy white stuff, such as weizens, but when we’re drinking beer flights, it’s simply not needed.
Beer Flights are a great way for people to try new beers and also great for people who can’t drink a lot but want to at least branch out a bit. Which bars do you recommend for beer flights?