Cathay Pacific Launches High-Flying Craft Beer

On February 21, Cathay Pacific released Betsy Beer, a 5.1% ABV, 20 IBU craft brew specially created by Hong Kong Beer Co. for the airline cabin environment at 35,000′. With the launch targeted at Cathay’s Hong Kong to United Kingdom routes, the beer was designed to include elements of both locales. Longan (dragon eye) fruit and honey from the Wing Wo Bee Honey Farm in Shatin were added to represent Hong Kong. Fuggle hops grown in Kent, England, were chosen to characterize the destination. Rounding out the recipe is 60% wheat malt, 40% Pilsener malt, and a lager yeast.

Cathay Pacific’s ad agency, McCann Worldgroup Hong Kong, first approached the airline last year with the concept of creating a beer designed to enhance the in-flight experience. Once McCann’s Cathay Pacific Central Team finalized the concept, Cathay & McCann then approached Hong Kong Beer Co. to develop the brew. They were chosen based on their reputation and pioneering role in Hong Kong’s craft beer industry. McCann’s Julian Egli had previously worked for Liquid Assets, Hong Kong Beer Co’s former distributor, so was also familiar with their products.

According to Devin Otto Kimble, Director of Hong Kong Beer Co., their Cloud Cover lager “served as the inspiration for the base beer for Betsy”. However, Betsy is not simply a Cloud Cover clone. “Fermentation with honey and longan, as well as using different amounts of Fuggle versus Falconer’s Flight, make it a fundamentally different beer.”

Carbonation in Betsy is boosted by 10% over normal terrestrial brews, which doesn’t make a significant difference in the physical properties of the beer. But according to its brewer, Simon Pesch, it adds a nice bitterness to the beer inflight, which is something that isn’t apparent at all on the ground.

After developing a base brew, Cathay Pacific and the Hong Kong Beer Co. invited an expert tasting panel to help finalize the taste and flavour selection. This included Toby Cooper, Founder of the Hong Kong Craft Beer Association; Thomas Lau, the HKCBA Chairman; May Chow, recently voted Asia’s Best Female Chef for 2017; Willem van Emden, Swire Restaurants’ General Manager; Real Ting, co-founder of the Collaboration Group; and the airline’s management, cabin crew, and Marco Polo Club members.

McCann’s Egli said, “We extensively tested Betsy inflight. This involved taking samples of different flavour balances and carbonation ratios and grading them until we found the right formula. The final test was then done on a return trip to Seoul with the Brewmaster of HK Beer Co and the inflight catering team of Cathay Pacific.”

“Betsy” is named for Cathay Pacific’s first aircraft, a Douglas DC-3 which flew passengers around the region in the 1940s and 1950s. For a colourful history of Betsy and the formation of Cathay Pacific Airways, see Charles ‘Chic’ Eather’s blog post, ‘The Beginning’.

While Betsy is not the first airline-brewery collaboration (e.g. Mikkeller and SAS), McCann and HK Beer Co. believe it is the first beer purposefully optimized for the airline cabin environment.

Betsy Beer is available in both First and Business Class on Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong – United Kingdom routes while stocks last. It’s also available on the ground at CX lounges in Hong Kong and Heathrow, as well as:

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For departures until April 30, Cathay Pacific is offering special fares on its direct service from Hong Kong to London and Manchester.

Until March 31, if you upload a photo to Instagram enjoying Betsy Beer at participating venues, the six most creative entries stand a chance to win the Ultimate Betsy Beer experience — Business Class tickets to the UK, a free night’s stay at Hong Kong’s iconic The Upper House, and more. Use the hashtags #betsybeer and #lifewelltravelled and the relevant venue tag: #cafegraydeluxe / #sugarhongkong / #mrmrsfoxhk / #thecontinentalhk / #platdujourhk / #publichongkong.

Due to overwhelming response, Betsy’s distribution will be expanded beyond its current offering. Follow Cathay Pacific on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for future announcements.

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