airplane beer
Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewery has been available on Frontier Airlines for more than 10 years.

In the fall of 2002, the five-year-old Oskar Blues Brewery out of tiny Lyons, CO, decided to can rather than bottle its beers for retail sale. It became, then, America’s first independently owned, smaller-scale brewery to can its beers in-house. (Others had done it under contract at other breweries, starting as far back as the early 1990s.)

Shortly before Christmas that same year, Denver-based Frontier Airlines, itself dating from the mid-1990s (1994, to be exact), announced that it would be selling Oskar Blues on its flights, particularly the brewery’s beloved Dale’s Pale Ale, which founder Dale Katechis had devised in part through homebrewed batches in his bathtub.

This partnership opened up an ongoing trend of choice for consumers, something to be grateful for this vacation season.

Dale’s Pale Ale can still be found on Frontier Airlines as can Fat Tire Amber Ale from New Belgium Brewing Co., another Colorado-based concern and one of myriad smaller brands to follow the moves of Oskar Blues and others into the friendly skies.

Fat Tire Frontier Airlines
Beer from New Belgium Brewing Co. is available on Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airlines.

Continental Airlines once carried Pete’s Summer Ale from the old Pete’s Brewing Co. in the late 1990s, and Northwest Airlines, now a part of Delta, carried beers from the James Page Brewing Co., the defunct contract operation, around the same time. Currently, Virgin America carries beers from 21st Amendment Brewery; Hawaiian Airlines serves beers from Maui Brewing Co.; and Alaska Airlines offers beers from Alaskan Brewing Co.. New Belgium is also on Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airlines; and Delta Air Lines carries SweetWater Brewing Co., a move announced only this spring. (If I’m missing any, let me know.)

Napa Valley
Delta started carrying beers from SweetWater Brewing Co. on select flights this spring. Photo courtesy Iain Bagwell Photography.

Also, while the canning of beers from smaller breweries certainly helped this aeronautical trend along (cans are lighter than glass bottles and easier to store), it was not essential.

Take the Boston Beer Co. In mid-2008, the Delta Shuttle between New York and—where else?—Boston started offering Samuel Adams Boston Lager in good, old-fashioned bottles. In the summer of 2013, Boston Beer and JetBlue announced a partnership to bring the newly canned Sam Adams on board.

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Tom Acitelli is the author of The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution. Reach him on Twitter @tomacitelli.