Up in the air: The brands designing drinks for flights
Traditionally, cocktails on planes have been slow to take off. Now, though, brands are making drinks designed specifically to be consumed at altitude.
*This feature was originally published in the September 2019 issue of The Spirits Business
As the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign blinks and turns off, an attendant makes their way through the cabin pushing a drinks trolley. Excitedly, you begin to consider your options, but your hopes are dashed as you remember we are no longer in the golden age of air travel, when Martinis, Old Fashioneds and Aviations would be shaken and stirred while cruising the clouds.
Although airlines may boast planes equipped with bars and at‐seat services that offer a range of beverage options, when it comes down to it, the closest most of us will get to a cocktail mid‐flight is a miniature bottle of vodka and a glass of tomato juice.
At Swiss Air, an extensive drinks list offers rum, vodka, gin and Campari, as well as Champagne and wines from Switzerland, France, Germany and Italy. But, as spokesman Stefan Vasic says: “Classic cocktails, such as Cosmos, Bellinis and Mojitos are currently not offered – we haven’t had a demand for them. However, we are planning to test easy mixable cocktails on board.”
It’s a different story for imbibers looking for a no‐ and low‐ABV option, because the offering is improving. Virgin Atlantic recently added Seedlip Spice 94 and Seedlip Grove 42 to its beverage portfolio and now lists low‐ ABV serves made with Regal Rogue vermouth in its economy, premium and upper‐class cabins. Passengers with Air New Zealand will see a similarly bountiful supply of non‐alcoholic options, as the airline sought to boost its selection with the inclusion of Kiwi distillery Ecology and Co’s booze‐free spirits on its drinks list.
While it’s great to hear that airlines are increasing alcohol‐free options, if you find yourself with a craving for a Dirty Martini while on board a vermouth and tonic might not cut it. However, Hawaiian Airlines may have found a solution. “Hawaiian Airlines picked up the ball and ran with it, and we now have three cocktails on board,” says Rocco Milano, mixologist and co‐founder of bottled cocktail producer On the Rocks.
The Texas‐based company produces ready‐ to‐serve cocktails in 100ml bottles that fit into airline trolleys. The drinks it produces can be easily served over ice at altitude – removing the need for shakers, stirrers and extra ingredients. “A lot of the in‐flight crews really appreciate the simplicity of it,” says Milano. “It’s about the ability to give the guests something special and something that goes beyond your traditional offering – it’s a new way to wow them.”
DESIGNED FOR AIRLINES
On the Rocks was co‐founded in 2015 by Milano and entrepreneur and restaurateur Patrick Halbert. The firm launched its range with Hawaiian Airlines in 2016, and has since been snapped up by carriers including Japan Airlines, United Airlines and American Airlines, as well as US hotel chains. “We have catered our design and our concepts towards airlines,” says Milano. “We approach these products as a real cocktail, and the fact that we have this bar and restaurant experience means we know what these cocktails should look and taste like. Everything about these drinks is authentic and real, and that helped more than anything else in delivering a bar‐quality experience at 30,000 feet.”
While the ready‐to‐serve cocktail brand may have created three tropical‐tinged tipples for Hawaiian Airlines, the company’s range also includes classic cocktails such as the Aviation, Margarita and Cosmopolitan, which took a lot of trial and error. Halbert says: “When we developed our products we would make the cocktail fresh and do a comparison to see if the flavour profiles matched.”
Meanwhile, private aviation has its own answers to the cocktail conundrum. “We serve clients of a very high calibre who have a discerning taste,” says Chris Toft, CEO of private air charter service 365 Aviation. “We have not offered cocktails on board our jets before; we try and offer a bespoke service for each traveller.”
However, the air‐charter service recently collaborated with London bar Mr Fogg’s Society of Exploration to create a signature cocktail that would be offered to its customers. Toft says: “It seemed like we had a natural synergy with Mr Fogg’s, because the bar has a very good feel to it and Mr Fogg’s background and influence of travel made it seem like a natural collaboration. As soon as you walk into one of their establishments you feel special.”
The cocktail created for 365 Aviation by Mr Fogg’s head bartender Matteo Carretta is a blend of Grey Goose Vodka, St‐Germain Elderflower liqueur and Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato vermouth. “We were looking to create something elegant and refined,” says Carretta. “We took the classic Aviation cocktail that is dedicated to the aviators of the Second World War and adapted the recipe and the taste to ensure it suited today’s more contemporary palates.”
SPACE IS THE PLACE
While differences in flavours could affect the popularity of cocktails on aeroplanes, Toft says there is a much simpler reason few airlines are renowned for their mixology. “Space is the biggest limitation when offering cocktails on your flights,” he explains. “You also need to have a flight attendant that knows how to mix drinks.”
Carretta, meanwhile, says he had to consider the way ingredients would react and taste at altitude. He says: “It is different than at sea level. For instance, sweet and bitter tastes are more enhanced, and the effect of alcohol is lessened by altitude. We then needed to consider the way pressure alters the ingredients and affects the taste and perception of a drink – so a drink that was balanced was imperative.”
Variation in flavour on the ground and in the air is a challenge Milano also faces. He says: “Under pressure and at altitude you can lose 40% of your ability to taste. Our cocktails are designed to be drunk at altitude, so on the ground they are solid and enjoyable; they open up when over ice and diluted. But in the air they are ready to go straight away.”