If you’ve ever wanted to get your head around Japanese whisky, Provence rosé or blanco tequila there’s no better way than with a tasting flight – even if you’ve never taken a single sip of the spirit or wine beforehand.
Starting out with the easiest, milder flavours and building up to a crescendo of taste and individuality, flights showcase the range of possibility, styles, ages and prices of any booze you care to assemble. Flights also allow you to explore what entices your personal taste buds or leaves you feeling flat – it’s essentially the perfect way to single out favourites and form opinions. But not many London bars have dedicated flights, thought out and listed on their menus. The question is, why not?
Putting a flight together isn’t a matter of throwing three white wines or gins at each other and saying voilà, taste that. Even if its purpose is to demonstrate the differences within a category you have to think about what unique flavours and styles you’re trying to highlight.
Mayfair’s Sexy Fish is one bar in London that has created some incredible flights. Stocking a staggering 310 Japanese whiskies, this is the largest collection in Europe and the second largest in the world, to say their top shelf is inundating is to put it mildly. But if you’ve barely tasted Japanese whisky and haven’t a clue where to start then for a mere £21 you can have their First Sip flight.
“People should do more flights, so long as they have a purpose” says Xavier Landais, Director of Bars for Caprice. We are sitting in the bar area of Sexy Fish with the First Sip flight in front of us, the four 20ml pours resting on a beautifully designed wooden Lazy Susan that turns to reveal the next amber liquid. There’s Yamazaki with its floral lightless, a gentle smoked Hakushu, Nikka’s unusual Coffey Grain and a sherry-finished Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt. It’s ridiculously good value and an excellent showcase of the different styles coming out of Japan. And crucially the bar is still making the same money had we ordered four seperate whiskies.
“We sell around five of these a day,” says Xavier, “which is more than I thought we’d ever do. There’s a lot of interest for them.”
Sexy Fish’s other flights will set you back a little more but the prices are equivalent to ordering the drams off the menu. 4 Woods charts you through the effect of different barrels on a Yamazaki from 2013, including the sherry cask finish which was voted best whisky in the world. While It Lasts is a collection of three rare whiskies all from closed distilleries and the Vertical Hibiki showcases four different ages of the same spirit.
“They’re all essentially a crash course in tastings, but the last three flights are really for those who come here to drink Japanese whisky, the first one is meant for everyone else who comes in the door and may not know what an amazing spirit it is, or the selection we have,” says Xavier.
Of course it’s not just whisky that works well in flights, un-aged spirits such as gin really shine through as well. Over at the City of London Distillery the tours encompass a historical flight that actually demonstrates the effect alcohol percentage has on flavour as well, starting with Old Tom at 43.3% before moving on to two London drys; Christopher Wren at 45.3% and Square Mile 47.3% and finally finishing with a sloe gin that is sweeter, jammier and bottled at a much lower 28%. Emma Stokes, better known by her moniker GinMonkey, takes the tours and did a lot of research into gin flights when she originally put together tasting kits for Master of Malt.
Emma’s three flights for that project include another historical flight, charting gin from its beginnings as Dutch Genever all the way through to the expanding world of exotic botanicals; a base spirits kit which features five gins made from neutral spirit, grapes, apples, single malt spirit and even un-aged bourbon; and an aged gin tasting kit.
Back in the world of wine, the original home of the flight, and this coming London Wine Week (June 5th-11th) will see bars across the city serving wine flights for just £5 to showcase entire regions, the subtle differences within grape varieties, the complexity of terroir or even serving styles such as big bottles or wine-on-tap.
“Flights of wine really give drinkers a chance to get to grips with a particular style or region and it’s a brilliant way for sommeliers to showcase their favourite wines to new consumers,” says Emma Murphy, London Wine Week director.
From craft beer to spirits, wines and even cocktails – a flight serving allows imagination, creativity and a real chance for drinkers to enjoy more expressions, flavour and style. When they can be priced to give value and yet still make a profit, more London bars should get on board.