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For many, the best way to learn about a beverage is to taste different types side by side.
Flights are tastings of multiple wines, beers or distilled spirits which allow tasters to get a feel for breadth or depth. They are usually intended for those new to the experience of tasting a particular type of beverage, or those who want to increase their understanding of a specific style, region, vintage or varietal. This flexible option allows for the liberal exploration of nuances and characteristics that make each type unique.
The fact is, even if you don’t think there’s a big difference between one wine (or beer or spirit) and another, when you taste a variety at one sitting, you will almost always discover that you do like one more than another. Best of all, you’ll be better able to remember why.
Phil Bilodeau, proprietor and co-founder of Thief Wine Shop and Bar, knows a little bit about wine tastings. He is, after all, a certified sommelier and is currently Wisconsin's only candidate for the Master of Wine designation, the industry's most highly sought-after and difficult-to-achieve certification. Bilodeau successfully passed the master’s exam in 2012 and anticipates completing his dissertation and achieving the MW designation in 2014.
In Bilodeau’s opinion, comparison tasting is the best way to learn what you do and don't like and why. It’s also a great way to take note of the differences – whether it be the profile of the fruit, the tannins, the sweetness, texture or acid – between various wines, beers or spirits.
At both Thief Wine locations, Bilodeau offers pre-selected flights of three wines each, as well as two-ounce pours of all wines served by the glass so that customers are able to try several different wines without committing to full glasses.
"We've currently got a flight of three Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigios on our list at Shorewood, consisting of a Washington Pinot Gris, an Alsatian Pinot Gris, and a really cool barrel-fermented Pinot Grigio from the Veneto in Italy," he explains. "It’s a great chance to try the same grape from three different countries side by side to compare the similarities and differences."
It’s an affordable option for adventurous tasters, but it offers other advantages as well.
Mark Bergemann, beverage director at The Rumpus Room, notes that flights are perfect for guests who would like to try a broad variety of certain products and still be able to walk out of the restaurant on their own.
"They alleviate the difficult process of deciding on just one drink out of the glut of options we offer," he points out. "Instead of drinking just one beer, try four different samples of beers from around the world, and still consume the same amount of beer."
But, The Rumpus Room’s flights aren’t limited to beer. According to Bergemann, they offer fourteen different flight options, including a vertical flight showcasing 40 years of Taylor Fladgate port, scotch and rum flights, and a "Whiskey 101" that gives guests specific examples of each of the major flavor grains used in whiskey production. Bartenders can also create custom flights for guests who want something more tailored to their interests.
"Heck," he says, "With 450 different spirits to choose from, we feel like kids in a candy store."
Likewise, other restaurants and bars around town offer a wide variety of flights. Bel Air Cantina, for instance, offers flights from their collection of 100 types of tequila.
"Guests enjoy the flights because that way they can sample a few at a time," says Katie Tibbets of Bel Air. "They are able to get more familiar with our entire selection of tequilas one glass at a time."
Although guests are allowed to choose any tequilas they are excited about trying, Tibbets adds an educational component by encouraging guests to try one of each type – a blanco, reposado and anejo – in a tequila flight in order to compare the flavors from each kind of tequila.
Likewise, Bergemann says Rumpus Room staff always try to include some element of education with flights, be it elucidating the variance in style between scotches, showing guests the major contributors to the flavor profile of whiskeys, or highlighting the broad range of beer styles available on draft.
"But, we don't want to inundate our guests with too much information," he says. "Learning new things about what you're drinking definitely enhances the experience, but above all, drinking is supposed to be fun! If people want to know more about what they have in front of them, we are always happy to go into more detail."
Marc Bianchini, CEO and executive chef for the Bianchini Restaurants, agrees.
"You never want to make a customer feel uncomfortable nor insult them if they are familiar with the wines," he underscores. "At Indulge we engage the customer with that in mind, giving them a clear opening to ask as many questions as they would like."
Indulge offers themed flights for wine lovers looking to try out a series of wines in a particular cateogory. For instance, "Bubblicious" includes a selection of California, Italian and French sparkling wines, while "Pinot Please!" allows you to sample Italian Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Noir from both Oregon and New Zealand.
The "Old World" flight gives you a taste of wines from Spain, France, and Italy, while the "Bigger is Better" offers the opportunity to sample California Petite Sirah side by side with Australian Shiraz and Sonoma Syrah.
Bilodeau says that, at Thief Wine, he uses flights to highlight wines that consumers might not otherwise have an opportunity to try.
"I stand behind all of the wines I put on each list, of course," Bilodeau explains, "But there's always one or two that I personally love and want to share with everybody – especially if the wine's a bit more esoteric and might not be ordered on its own – and those always make it onto the flights."
Bilodeau points to the Lopez de Heredia 2003 "Gravonia" blanco, currently being offered at the Public Market location, which he says is "a stunning aged white that's part of the ‘Savory Old World Whites’ flight."
And flights are as popular as ever.
"Our guests are always changing, depending on if there is a Marquette game, a symphony concert, or its just 10:00 pm on a Wednesday night … we are always sending flights out from the bar," Bergemann says. "It’s pretty awesome. It means people are open to new things, and are looking to broaden their taste horizons."
Want to try out a flight or two of your own? Here are some great spots to get started.
- Every Monday between 3 and 6:00 p.m, Brocach, 1850 N. Water St., offers $6 beer flights comprised of five five-ounce mini pints. If wine is more your speed, stop by Shorewood’s Thief Wine Bar, 4512 N. Oakland Ave., for 15% off all wine flights between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m.
- On Tuesdays, head over to Balzac Wine Bar, 1716 N. Arlington Pl., and sample featured wine flights for half price.
- Wednesdays, you can take advantage of the $10 "Build A Flight" special at Stubby’s Gastropub and Beer Bar, 2060 N. Humboldt Blvd., featuring your choice of five pours from their 53-beer selection. Or head over to the Milwaukee Public Market’s Thief Wine, 400 N. Water St., between 4 and 6 p.m. for 15% off all wine flights.
- Any night of the week at Sugar Maple, 441 E. Lincoln Ave., or The Palm Tavern, 2989 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., you can pick up flights of four six-ounce pours of anything off the beer menus for just $12.
- Indulge, 708 N. Milwaukee St., offers a variety of themed wine flights priced between $19 and $27.
- At Bel Air Cantina, 1935 N. Water St., you can choose from over 100 types of tequila any day of the week and create flights of your choice. Pricing ranges from three $6 tequila shots for $15, three $7 shots for $18 or three $8 shots $21. All flights are served with a choice of Fresca or Sangrita (think tomato juice with lime and spices, similar to a Bloody Mary mix).
- Can’t decide what you’d like? Pull up a stool at the bar at The Rumpus Room, 1030 N. Water St., and choose from 14 different flights: two beer, four wine, two whiskey/bourbon, two scotch, two tequila and two rum.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.