SkyTeam member KLM has been working with Dutch brewery Heineken on a way to offer draft beer inflight.
This is a technical challenge. Most planes are pressurized to 8000 feet, and new aircraft like Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s to 6000 feet.
With less air pressure in the cabin than on the ground, it isn’t just taste buds that change. A beer tap will “only dispense a huge amount of foam” according to Heineken’s Edwin Griffioen.
Alternative dispensers that are suitable for a pressurized cabin are too large. The most precious thing in any cabin is space. The trick was to take the components of a keg — beer, cooling system, and compressor — and fit it inside a galley cart. And do it without CO2 cartridges, which wouldn’t be permitted inflight.
The solution was to pressurize the cart dispenser, but not build in cooling functionality. Instead 4 pre-cooled kegs per flight will be delivered to the airport. The goal is to keep the beer under 41 degrees. And in their tests they’ve managed to keep the beer temperature from exceeding 38 after 7 hours.
After 8 years of work, Heineken concluded,
‘We managed to set the diameter of the tap and the air pressure to exactly the right combination, which delivers at 36,000 feet exactly the same beer as you would get on the ground.’
The beer from a keg service was supposed to launch July 2 but they’re behind in completing regulatory approval.
Copyright: flaperval / 123RF Stock Photo
Unlike Austrian’s famous coffee service, draught beer isn’t going to be a feature of every flight. Instead this prototype will be offered “on random intercontinental flights in [KLM’s] network.”
Despite claims of being the first, though, it’s actually Star Alliance member ANA of Japan that put the first draft beer on a plane — in 2010. They used dry ice.
The airline stores frozen CO2 in a low-pressure container, and as it sublimates — changing states from solid to gas — the hissy stuff gets sent to the container of beer, forcing it out the tap. Added bonus: using dry ice means the “epochal dispenser system” doesn’t have to be refrigerated while in the air.
This was offered on routes out of Tokyo Haneda to Fukuoka, Sapporo (natch!), Osaka, Nagoya, and Okinawa as well as out of Osaka and Nagoya, Fukuoka and Okinawa. Haneda – Sapporo and Fukuoka flights only offered beer after 5pm.
ANA charged economy passengers 1000 yen for the beer, and only had 20 cups of beer available per flight on 767, 737, and Airbus A320s and 40 cups per flight on Boeing 777s.
Despite launching with much fanfare it really didn’t work out well (taste any good) and the idea was dropped.
Personally I’d be happy with decent draft beer in a lounge. Naturally it was Tokyo where I first encountered this: