Today’s Beer Atrocity: Heineken Fakes Draft Beer for KLM Airlines

heineken on tap
KLM announced it would serve Heineken on draft in its airplanes. Bloomburg / Getty

The stress of air travel often calls for a glass of alcoholic relief. Commonly, your respite comes in the form of a pungent G&T, Scotch, or, increasingly, a tasty craft beer. But as U.S.-based airlines gradually bolster their beer offerings, European airline KLM (typically a more comfortable way to cross the Atlantic) is investing in gimmicks instead of better brews.

The Holland-based carrier just announced that in August it will begin serving fellow Dutch brand Heineken on tap. The problem is, the beer won't really be "on tap," or a better option than a fresh can.

Heineken appears to not understand the logistics of serving beer on a plane. In an interview with Fox News, Heineken’s Edwin Griffioen, who designed the product, said it was no easy feat to overcome the challenges of dispensing beer under the conditions of a cabin. “Because the air pressure is so much lower in an airplane than at sea level, a traditional beer tap will not work, as it will only dispense a huge amount of foam,” he says.

Wrong. Any normal keg and tap system from a typical bar would work in an airplane, says Ray Daniels, founder and director of the Cicerone Certification Program. Draft beer merely needs to be dispensed at a slightly higher PSI to make up for the typical cabin pressure of about 8,000 feet. "Altitude isn't really the problem.” More likely, Heineken couldn't get away with the size and weight required for your average draft system. The compressed CO2 that pushes beer from a keg might also raise red flags with aviation officials.

Instead, the world's third largest brewer designed an insulated service cart (essentially a Thermos on wheels) that keeps the beer cold without a cooling element or CO2 canister to coax the beer out. Our best guess is that Heineken has fitted the cart with a battery-operated air compressor to push beer out of the keg. It’s not truly draft beer, but if they're using key kegs, they'd at least prevent the compressed air from oxidizing the beer and making it taste stale. The key keg holds the liquid within a layer of plastic that air then pushes against to dispense beer.

The only advantage of what’s going on here could be environmental, but even that’s a stretch. “Typically a keg is the most ecologically friendly package a brewer has,” says Neil Witte, field quality and training manager at Duvel USA. “There is virtually no waste, as the keg itself is returned to the brewer for cleaning and refilling over and over again." Unfortunately, this is not the case if they are using a key keg, which can't be reused.

What Heineken and KLM are doing here may be a nice gimmick, but it seems like a waste of energy and beer — what happens to the extra lager when the keg warms? We'd much rather see KLM pick up one of the Netherlands' stellar craft beers like the incredible monk-brewed La Trappe or the ever-inventive De Molen. In the meantime, we'll stick to that Scotch, or just order Heineken by the can.