KLM is now serving Heineken draught beer on tap at 30,000 feet

By David Flynn, October 7 2016
KLM is now serving Heineken draught beer on tap at 30,000 feet

High flyers can finally enjoy real espresso coffee mid-flight, and now there's authentic draught beer too.

KLM's beer trolley trundles down the business class aisles of selected European flights serving Heineken on tap, after years of experimenting with keg designs to produce a perfect pub-style schooner at high altitude.

It's quite the challenge, you see.

Aircraft are pressurised at 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level, an altitude at which a beer tap will "only dispense a huge amount of foam" explains Heineken's Edwin Griffioen.

"We do have dispensers that work on air pressure, but these were too big to fit in a plane," while CO2 cartridges used in home tap systems are banned from aircraft.

Another challenge: getting all the necessary kit into a cabin-friendly size, specifically a standard-sized airline trolley.

"It was one big jigsaw puzzle," Griffioen recalls. "The keg of beer, the cooling system and the air pressure compressor all had to fit in an airline catering trolley."

"In the end we had to leave out one of those pieces to make it all fit, so with pain in our hearts we had to leave the cooling behind."

Hang on – does this mean that the Dutch airline is serving warm Brit-style beer?

Not quite: four ice-cold kegs of beer are loaded onto each flight  at Amsterdam Airport, with the trolley – created using a 3D printer – resembling "a giant Thermos flask" in which an insulated container keeps the suds under 5° C for a cold, crisp pour.

KLM's draught beer trolley is pressurised to compensate for the 'negative pressure' on board, so as to generate sufficient tap pressure for serving a refreshing beer rather than a glass of foamy head.

“We managed to set the diameter of the tap and the air pressure to exactly the right combination, which delivers at 36,000 feet (11,000m) exactly the same beer as you would get on the ground," Heineken's Griffioen beams.

The cost of creating this high-tech trolley means that, for now, there's only one in the entire KLM fleet, with the airline intending to roll it out "as much as possible for special flights and events."

KLM isn't the first airline to put a keg above the clouds, however.

Japan's ANA debuted a 'dry ice' tap system in 2010 on selected domestic routes out of Tokyo, with frozen CO2 stored in a low-pressure container.

As the CO2 changed state from solid into gas, it was piped into the container of beer to force the beer out the tap. But passengers felt the CO2-beer combo didn't taste nearly as good as the real deal, so ANA went back to cans of beer and sake.

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

30 Aug 2013

Total posts 436

Its a lot of effort for a Heineken beer.

American Airlines - AAdvantage

13 Jul 2015

Total posts 273

Just thank your lucky stars its not Fosters!

05 Oct 2016

Total posts 14

Excellent! It's almost worth while going on KLM just to try this!

No, it's not. I recently flew J from Singapore to Bali return and their standard of service leaves a lot to be desired.

I am not a beer drinker myself but given that Heineken is basically a Dutch icon (at least from an overseas, non-Dutch perspective) it makes sense for KLM to have developed this, and its impressive from a technical standpoint too. Good for them!

Let's hope that with these service enhancements and with the fleet renewal, AF-KLM can get themselves into better shape.


13 Sep 2013

Total posts 114

Apparently Tiger Airways are about to do the same with VB

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Jun 2014

Total posts 210

For a charge of $15 a glass

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Jul 2015

Total posts 41

Interesting concept and one I'd like to see developed further. 

As someone who doesn't drink wine/champagne, I do feel like I'm missing out when I fly in premium cabins. 

While other passengers often get to choose between two or three reds or whites, I usually get to pick from a couple of average beers. Airlines don't seem to localise beer on particular routes either, as they do with wine.

First world problems I know, but just a thought.

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