Delta's Exclusive New Beer Elevates Your In-Flight Taste Buds

The hoppy new beer overcomes the way smell and taste are deadened by altitude

Delta SweetWater IPA

Courtesy of Delta

The real reason airline food tastes so bad? Your own taste buds. At 36,000 feet, we can lose up to 30 percent of our taste buds while flying due to altitude and pressure. So while that chicken paillard might not be Michelin-star worthy, it's probably not actually as bad as it seems. But how can we enjoy a refreshing in-flight beer if we can't actually taste it the way it was intended to be?

Now, Delta Air Lines has an idea. The airline is partnering with Atlanta-based SweetWater Brewery to create an exclusive beer that targets our dulled senses with a burst of extreme hops.

The new offering, Elevated H.A.Z.Y. IPA, is a reformulation of the brand's popular SweetWater H.A.Z.Y. IPA. Introducing a new kind of hops—in a much larger concentration—during the dry-hopping process creates a more pronounced aroma that complements the beer's creamy mouthfeel. It's the nose, after all, that is responsible for a large part of taste. At 35,000 feet, the added citrus from the hops also helps balance the bitter and sweet combination of the beer and helps to overcome the way smell and taste are deadened by altitude.

"Our team had been brainstorming a special collaboration brew for some time, but when Delta’s chefs approached us about adjusting a beer to account for taste bud sensitivity at higher altitudes, we knew we had something special,” said Brian Miesieski, the chief marketing officer at SweetWater, in a statement. The beer is now available on domestic Delta flights.

Creating an entirely new brew jam-packed with hops to make up the difference in taste buds is just one way airlines have tried to use food and beverage to win over frequent flyers recently. Delta and other carriers have been updating their in-flight options in recent years in the never-ending war over upper-class bragging rights—wine lists have grown in size and quality, famed bartenders offer up cocktail recipes with top-shelf ingredients, and celebrity chefs have curated special menus, all in the name of claiming the title of the best in-flight experience.

But with all of these special menu items, which are the best for actually enjoying on a plane the same way you’d enjoy them at your destination? A study by Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, commissioned by Lufthansa, found that only sweet and salty tastes were affected. Sour, bitter, and spicy flavors were all seemingly unaffected, so a classic bloody mary is still a solid option for you non-beer drinkers out there.

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  1. The Wall Street Journal. "Lufthansa Searches for Savor in the Sky." July 27, 2010