Matt “Flash” Gordon is a bartender at Mellow Fellow, one of many local bars that serve beer flights.
Matt “Flash” Gordon is a bartender at Mellow Fellow, one of many local bars that serve beer flights.

I love beer flights, and if you don’t know what those are, I’m not talking about some sort of American Airlines gimmick. Beer flights are assortments of beer styles, served in smaller portions, usually on a slotted, wooden serving board. While the visual of a flight screams, “Beer nerd at work,” they’re also practical—for several reasons.

“If you go to most breweries, they’re going to offer a flight because they want you to be able to try a variety of their beers without having to drink a pint of everything,” said Ryan Eller, owner of Mellow Fellow.

Mellow Fellow’s 40 taps feature beer from most of Reno’s breweries, as well as rarer offerings from around the West Coast. In an effort to stock the widest collection possible, Eller has built flight pricing into his business model.

“Any of the beers we have on the board, we’ll sell all of them at five-ounce pours for half the price of 10s,” said Eller. “Basically you can build your own flight at any point, any time, with however many beers you want.

Taprooms began to offer flights as a way to educate an eager customer base on new styles. Mellow Fellow bartender Matt “Flash” Gordon said that he often sells flights to curious out-of-towners—and also those he calls “conscious drinkers.”

“It’s not necessarily drinking for the purpose of getting drunk,” Gordon said. “You’re really thinking about what you’re drinking. You’ve tried three or four beers, but you haven’t ’had’ four beers—you’ve only had a little bit.”

Sometimes, asking for a taster of a specific beer can feel like an imposition when the bartender is busy and can amplify the pressure to decide right there at the bar. I’ve been stuck with disappointing pints more than once through this scenario. Flights are a good way around this problem—and also a related one that comes with a sip-sized sample.

“You know, beer is not like whiskey or even wine tasting—you actually need a good amount of beer to get a full taste,” said Gordon. “Yeah, you can take a tiny sip, and, yeah, you’ll get a sense of it, but really, it’s when you can coat your whole mouth that you really do get a taste of it.”

Gordon mentioned that most people like to sample darker beers when they pick their flights, as those are often the pricier options, but I’ve personally found some of my favorite beers by taking a flight of summer seasonals outside on one of Reno’s many patio bars on a Saturday afternoon. Two of them are Rodeo Queen Raspberry Sour Wheat from The Depot and Grapefruit Habanero Apparition IPA from Brewer’s Cabinet.

David Reyes and Troy Dament, patrons at Mellow Fellow, agreed that flights give them a sense of direction when confronted with multiple choices. Reyes even found one of his favorites—Citra Solo IPA from Lead Dog—from a flight he bought in Virginia City.

“A flight, for me, kind of points me in a direction for the day,” said Reyes. “I’ll try some different ones, and if I find one I really like, I’m going to go with that for the rest of the day.” 

I hope my screed has empirically convinced you to buy four tiny beers instead of one big one next time you go out, but ultimately flights do have one glaring drawback: they’re not ideal for people who want to drink a lot. Hopefully a flight will help you find a new favorite, but if you’re looking to celebrate summer a little more enthusiastically, go for the pitcher.

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