Is there an end to craft beer scareways?

It is a sad thing that air travel it not-so-glamorous as it once was. Yes, I love travel and all the more so when the destination includes fantastic beers. However, craft beer during travel remains all too infrequent (not counting smuggled beers onto trains etc).

Dublin Airport does not have much variation in beer. You’d expect that with the city home to Guinness. There was criticism in the Twitter-sphere over a craft beer tasting being held in Dublin Airport some time back because of the lack of its availability at the airport. At least, duty free offers O’Hara selection boxes. But the potential in duty free remains to be exploited when you see the sheer range of whiskeys on offer, including those from independent distilleries. The Slaney bar in T2 is on a brighter more “international” feel than those in the old terminal. The taps demonstrate the determination of Molson-Coors to get a foothold through pushing Blue Moon. There are a few Belgian and German “usuals” in the fridges behind the bar.

The Slaney in T2 – there was more Irish craft beer available in Philadephia Airport

I don’t usually drink on the flight over to the States because the choices are never brilliant. On US Airways, it was either or Heineken. The airlines themselves could do more in this space. On most carriers now you have to pay for alcohol so why not carry better beer? Think about all the tech company employees travelling across the Atlantic. Some are serious craft beer heads. There’s a market to be cultivated there. With Aer Lingus re-opening their San Francisco route what better way to gain some added promotion than stocking West Coast beers in addition to Guinness. I have only been surprised by the on-board selection a couple of times, once I was offered a Leinenkugel Sunset What (yes, I’m aware it’s in the hands of SAB Miller) and from time to time I’ve been offered a Fuller’s London Pride. The trick will be to introduce airlines to the craft beer available in cans because glass bottles (and plastic bottles have some way to go) are out of the question. If only airlines carried decent beers because it would make watching the edited movies more palatable. There’s only so much “dirt plucker, what da freak?, spit jerk and air head” one can take!

Arriving in Philadelphia, I had two things on my mind. The first being to find a pint and a prior google search had alerted me to the fact that the Jet Rock Bar & Grill in Terminal B has a good craft beer selection. The second being to, find somewhere for a decent cheesesteak, well as decent as one can get in an airport. However, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a tribute to local Philadelphia brewing history on the way to the bar. It was particularly interesting to see the evolution of D.G. Yuengling & sons over the years but the final display case (also the largest) gave a great demonstration of the sheer number of breweries that have been set up during the craft beer revolution.

Jet has a decent selection but at typically inflated prices that you find in US airports. The beer list came without prices and when asked at the bar for an indication of what they might be, I was told it was complicated to explain. I decided to opt for a local brew to start off with and had Dirtwolf from Victory Brewing, a double IPA weighing in at 8.7% on the basis that any beer was going to be expensive so why not enjoy it. Dirtwolf features plenty of citrus and pine, thanks to copius amounts of Citra, Chinook, Simcoe and Mosaic. It also comes complete with an immediate and apparent dryness that remains throughout. With time to kill before my next flight, I decided to have one more and opted this time for Great Lakes Nosferatu from Ohio. On draft, it had little-to-no aroma with a classic ruby-red colour. Initially sweet, it gave away to a pleasantly dry bitterness. It gave way to a ponderous bitter sweet finish, all the more so when the bill arrived and it worked out to be $8.50 for a 12 ounce (350ml approximately) pour of both beers and not including the tip. Oh and by the way, O’Hara’s stout was on sale in Philadelphia airport.

As I was on my way to Nashville, I was looking forward to trying out the new Yazoo presence at the airport but my wife’s flight was early so there wasn’t time to partake of some local brews. I wasn’t too disappointed as there would be plenty of time to try them over the holiday. The bars in Nashville airport sum up one of the challenges facing craft breweries. They tend to be operated by large concession companies that only the likes of the biggest independent breweries, which of course means Sam Adams features prominently. There may be some regional differences between airports such as Brooklyn beers being available in the New York area but there is also the opportunity for the “non-craft” beers such as Blue Moon and Goose Island to be the backbone of choice at airport bars. Did I mention that Nashville airport also has its very own Tootsies, the famous Broadway bar? It’s a sanitised version (which has its good and bad points) as well as live music.

Recognisable figure in Tennessee

According to Draft Magazine, these are the top 5 US airports for craft beer:

  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Portland International Airport (PDX)
  • Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)

Returning home, I had the opportunity to stop over in Charlotte, North Carolina. This may be my first and only visit to the airport due to the fact that the airport might lose its hub status resulting from US Air merging with American. North Carolina famous for its tobacco industry is now finding itself becoming a major player in brewing terms. Taking advantage of its location, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium have established major new East Coast breweries Asheville, NC. It provides major access to the North and South of the easter seaboard (hopefully it means that we might also see New Belgium making its way onto ships bound for Europe).

The stopover in Charlotte gave me the opportunity for another first – I was able to order a sampler of different local brews in an airport bar.

  • Carolina Blonde (Foothills Brewing, Winston-Salem) was golden in colour with slight sweetness and light hop bite. It was smooth but slightly lacking in the body. Balance wasn’t quite right as it became almost watery at times.
  • Natty Greene’s Wildflower Witbier (Natty Greene’s Pub & Brewing Co., Greensboro) was supposedly a “classic Belgian style white ale spiced with corinader, curacao, orange zest and home grown elder flowers from Ft. Collins, CO” but it wasn’t. It was golden yellow in colour, malt forward with a slight spice edge. Didn’t have the body of a witbier and drank like a lager.
  • Olde Mecklenberg Copper was described by the brewery as an “authentic Dusseldorf Altbier”. The name wasn’t misleading as a vibrant copper colour was visible from the off. There was little discernible aroma on the nose but the beer drank smoothly with a dry, crisp finish.
  • Hop, Drop and Roll™ (NoDa Brewing Company, Charlotte). A trade mark beer, literally. It presented a hazy orange body. There was citrus and sweet toffee on the nose. Starts with a citrus bitterness due to lashings of Citra and Amarillio that continues long into the finish. Seriously bitter (when compared to the others) and was at 80 IBUs.
Rare to be given the option of a beer sampler in an airport bar

On my last stop over in Philadelphia before heading back to Dublin, I had the opportunity to stop for a quick pint at the obligatory Irish pub that is conveniently located to the Irish gates. I had time for one last IPA and thankfully this pub was slightly more reasonable both in terms of its pricing and size. It called for another local brew because afterall I always seem to do an awful lot of airport terminal tourism, without ever going out and seeing the town in which it’s located.  I ordered a Yards IPA from right there in Philly, which had a rich amber colour with a fluffy white head. Fresh pine was instantly recognisable on the nose. It tasted initially sweet but citrus bitterness takes over. After watching the end of an American football game (the last 5 minutes amounted to time it takes to drink a pint), it was time to board and head home.

Yards IPA – one for the road or in this case air

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