Small juice glasses hardly seem appropriate for good beers.
But those little glasses, holding colors varied as straw, gold, amber, copper, and coffee, are not attempts at moderation or self-control.
As small as they are, those little glasses are a bridge to craft brews.
While many bars carrying micro-brewed beers will proffer a free sample sip from their draft taps, some folks want to try several of the complex and sometimes unpredictable offerings in a brewpub or a craft-beer bar.
They want to try several flavors without having to commit to an entire pint, or even a half-pint, of something they might not like any more than fried-insect cuisine from a faraway land.
That’s where the beer flight comes in.
Usually priced less than $7, a customer can buy four-to-six samples, depending on the restaurant or bar. Beer flights of various sizes and styles are available all along the Grand Strand, sometimes arriving at tables on a wooden paddle, sometimes lined up across a printed paper placemat, sometimes appearing glass by tiny glass.
The flights often arrive in 4-ounce glasses, some of which look like they should be holding apple juice in a pancake house instead of presenting glorious craft beers at a watering hole. The craft-beer newbie risks less with smaller portions.
Occasionally, the experience inside one of those little glasses leads a customer to order the same experience again, but this time, in a pint-sized glass.
In those cases, a craft beer might gain a new fan.
In other cases, a new craft-beer fan is born.
The beer flights might count as training, too. When the time comes for a beer festival, which can feature dozens if not hundreds of beers, sampling is the mode of the day.
One such occasion arrives this Saturday (Sept. 1): Brews, Blues & BBQ on The Deck at House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach. Organizers said the event will include 50-plus craft beers. For those who attended Brews-a-Palooza at the House of Blues in July, the beer list at Brews, Blues & BBQ will be the same, although this time, servers will pour full beers instead of samples.
So a beer flight today or Friday might not be a bad way to limber up.
Whether limbering up for a festival or discussing the merits of brewing styles with friends, local beer flights round up the best brews available in the area and promote the art of craft beer.
Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery
The beer flight can have its own singular attraction.
“It’s extremely popular,” said Mike Silvernale, the brewer at Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery at Broadway at the Beach.
Silvernale said some customers will come in, order just a sampler paddle, drink through it, and leave.
Silvernale also has seen each customer, at a table of four, order a sampler paddle, and he’s watched them sit and discuss each beer.
Customers choose five samples from the rotating stock of available signature beers and seasonals brewed on site. Recently, a sampler paddle included a Belgian saisson, a lager, a pale ale, a red ale, and a brown ale. Liberty’s paddle has four holes large enough for the sample glasses, so the server carries a paddle plus a fifth glass.
That’s a benefit for beer lovers visiting Myrtle Beach. Silvernale said if someone comes to Myrtle Beach for vacation and only has time for one or two beers, he or she instead can opt for a sampler paddle and have the chance to try five available beers.
“Most beer guys know what they’re going to have, but they might see a seasonal and be able to say they tried it,” Silvernale said.
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant
Derame Nelson has waited on tables at TBonz Gill & Grill at Seaboard Commons for the past 12 years while also working at Gordon Biersch at The Market Common for the past four-and-a-half. Both restaurants sell sampler flights.
“A lot of people don’t know what a real beer tastes like,” Nelson said while standing at a table in the bar section of Gordon Biersch. That’s the advantage of the beer flight, Nelson suggested: it introduces people to good craft beer.
“On a busy night, I’ll probably sell 10 to 15,” Nelson said of beer flights at Gordon Biersch, where the beer is brewed on-site according to a German purity law from the 1500s. A Gordon Biersch bartender told Nelson the Myrtle Beach location of the brewpub franchise will sell 70 beer flights on evenings when the restaurant is hopping.
Often, Gordon Biersch’s flight samplers are a matter of “monkey see, monkey do,” Nelson said. A customer will see one person with a sampler flight, and then order one. Another customer will see a sampler flight, and pretty soon, several people in the restaurant have made the purchases.
“This sheet alone is the eye candy, with all the awards,” Nelson said, referring to Gordon Biersch’s full-color, information-packed sampler placemat. The mat has a circle dedicated to each beer, with information about the beer, and awards won, listed underneath.
The Gordon Biersch samplers include a fixed selection of the brewpub’s Golden Export, Hefeweizen, Czech Pilsner, Marzen, Schwarzbier, and the current seasonal beer.
Sometimes, Nelson said, customers will rate each beer as they drink through the flight, jotting down the rankings on the placemat.
Quigley’s Pint & Plate
Josh Quigley, the godfather of Grand Strand brewing, has worked with both Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery and New South Brewing Co., the latter a microbrewery in an industrial area of Myrtle Beach, before opening his own microbrewery/restaurant at the Mingo development in Litchfield/Pawleys Island.
Quigley recalled having beer flights during the early days of Liberty, perhaps from the beginning. But these days, at Quigley’s Pint & Plate, the sampler flight plays a minor role in his business.
“We don’t have quite so many people come in here and order all that we have to sample,” Quigley said.
His restaurant and brewpub attracts regular customers who already are committed to a favorite beer, he said.
For those who want individual samples, the price is only $1 each for a 4-ounce pour, and servers will bring several to the table at the same time, in beer flight fashion.
Following a recent request for samples of the five beers available at Quigley’s, the server brought them to the table with each glass on a cocktail napkin upon which the name of the beer was written - a more organic beer flight, if you will, and accomplishing the same thing, if not with a fancy, info-graphic placemat or wooden paddle. Available that evening were an unfiltered wheat beer, a lager, a white ale, a peach beer, and a stout. (Coming Sept. 5, Quigley’s Oktoberfest should be available.)
At the Crafty Rooster in Conway, the beer flight plays a limited, but important, role.
“We don’t have a lot of people take advantage of it because we give free samples,” said Thomas Lucas, beer czar at Crafty Rooster in Conway. But those samples are smaller than what a customer would receive in the four-ounce pour for the beer flight.
Furthermore, Lucas has noticed a type of occasion when the Rooster’s four-hole sampler paddle is in high demand: the “tap takeover.” That’s when the bar puts beers from one brewery on several taps – the brewery takes over the taps.
Not too long ago, Lucas said, Crafty Rooster had a “tap takeover” with six different beers from Founders Brewing Co. of Michigan available on draft. On that kind of occasion, customers request the beer flight.
While Crafty Rooster does not brew its own beer, it maintains an extensive list of craft beers in bottle and on tap. Some of the specialty microbrews that rotate through Crafty Rooster can be relatively expensive, so sampling before buying is a smart move.
A recent beer flight included Southern Tier Jahva Imperial Coffee Stout, Cisco Brewery’s Whale’s Tale Pale Ale, Avery Brewing Co.’s Salvation, and Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner.
TBonz Gill & Grill
The TBonz Gill & Grill at Seaboard Commons in Myrtle Beach offers beer flights of four brews, but only those from New South Brewing Co., which makes signature beers for the chain.
“It is a big seller if you push it,” said Nelson, who works at both TBonz and Gordon Biersch. If a customer wants a taste of just one of the New South beers, Nelson will provide it for free, he said.
Following a customer’s recent request, the server brought the four glasses without a paddle or tray, but named each one as she set the glasses on the table, from darkest to lightest: New South’s Nut Brown Ale, Cooper River Red, India Pale Ale, and Lowcountry Light Lager.
Liberty Tap Room & Grill
The philosophy at Liberty Tap Room & Grill is similar to that of TBonz Gill & Grill.
Liberty Tap Room is owned by the TBonz Restaurant Group, so like the TBonz locations, beer flights are only available for New South Brewing Co. beers, despite the Tap Room’s extensive collection of craft-beer taps.
At the bar on a recent afternoon, following a customer’s request, the beer flight was served in single glasses, one beer at a time – not a bad approach, considering that each one was just as cold as the first.
The choices for this beer flight were New South’s Unfiltered Wheat, White Ale, Cooper River Red, and India Pale Ale.
The essential sample
Whether in flight form or not, the sample is essential to the craft-beer business and to small brewery owners such as Dieter Kuhm, who opened Heinzelmännchen Brewery in downtown Sylva, N.C., in 2004.
Heinzelmännchen Brewery is not a brewpub or a restaurant. It’s a microbrewery with a downtown storefront and a few tables where customers can sit and drink Kuhm’s beer. He sells kegs to regional bars and restaurants.
Kuhm was born in Germany. In his native country, he said, the attitude toward beer is somewhat different than it is in the United States. “Beer is a side piece to a normal day,” he said of German drinking.
Most of the Heinzelmännchen beers are 5.6 percent alcohol by volume or lower, and while their flavor profiles are distinctive, they’re not overpowering. That goes back to the German view of beer as an accompaniment to everyday meals. “I want to taste food, too,” he said.
Like Quigley’s Pint & Plate, Kuhm’s brewery sells samples – of Gopher Ale, Hoppy Gnome Pilsner, Ancient Days Honey Blonde Ale, Weise Gnome Hefeweizen, and Black Forest Stout – for $1 each.
Those samples help to sell growlers. They can also help sell pints for consumption on the premises, a reflection of changes in North Carolina law. “This past spring, they made it legal to serve pints in the brewery,” Kuhm said.
Brewery laws have changed in South Carolina, too. A law passed in 2010 allowed South Carolina breweries, including New South Brewing Co. of Myrtle Beach, to offer samples and sell up to 288 ounces of beer (in growler or six-pack form) to a single customer per day, as long as the sales and samples occur in conjunction with a brewery tour.
Flights of fancy
Sitting at the Crafty Rooster bar on a recent afternoon, Cory McNair of Conway recalled a trip he made many years ago to the Russian River Brewing Co. in California.
McNair, who works at Pawleys Island Tavern, said the Russian River beer flight he ordered had 20 different samples, although the glasses were closer to shot glasses in size.
Each slot on the sampler paddle had a bottle cap that indicated the name of the beer. The servers showed him which direction to follow along the paddle.
“I liked the way they did it,” McNair said.
That story might be the best place to end this tour through local beer flights.
If you’re curious about craft beers but don’t want to get stuck with a big glass of something you can’t stand, ask about sampling options.
And if the server or bartender doesn’t provide any direction on how to drink through the samples, keep this tip in mind: Usually, it’s best to start drinking the lightest and work your way through to the darkest.