The liquid version of a sampler platter and the answer to every indecisive drinker’s prayer, “flights” are landing on drink menus around the Midlands. Instead of pouring a full glass, bars and restaurants are serving customers several of their house-made drinks to sample.
These days, flights are most commonly associated with the national surge of craft breweries. Lining up their offerings, breweries can teach customers about their craft by showing common themes and creativity. A charming display board and a low commitment opportunity to try a number of drinks appeals to customers. As for the folks behind the bar, the small samples make their product more accessible and their customers more knowledgeable.
Other drink services are taking note of this trend and bringing the culture of their own libations to the flight board. In Columbia, businesses are offering flights of cocktails, spirits and even coffee. The culture behind this style of drinking is an educational experience, rather than a race to the buzz, whether it be caffeine- or alcoholinduced. The server must be sure that the flight balances between overarching theme and distinctive flavors. Like unique members of a family, the drinks of a flight held together by a common origin or ingredient. I’ve put together a sample, or flight if you will, of Columbia businesses that are serving nontraditional flights.
Loved by locals who are always thirsty for something new, these businesses find the balance between taking risks and providing familiar comfort in their glasses. Across the board you’ll pick up notes of innovation aged in experience, alongside a loyalty to South Carolina. Each sample has a thoughtfully unique profile and an accessibility that reflects the hospitable region from which it grew.
Distilling South Carolina crops into unique spirits is what goes on just behind Williams Brice Stadium at Crouch Distilling. Phil Crouch and his wife Jessica pour flights of rum, seasonal brandy and whiskey in their tasting room. But they don’t stay behind the bar. This couple is involved in every step of the process—from working with farmers to harvesting the cane and grain to distilling. Even after the spirits have been bottled, the Crouches recycle waste into their hog farm, or as they call it, “the whiskey-fed farm.” Spirits feature South Carolina crops including peaches and heirloom Jimmy Red Corn. Thanks to a law passed last summer, Crouch and other distilleries can now serve up to three ounces of their product on site and use nonalcoholic mixers in their tasting room. Crouch Distilling serves a rotating list of cocktails, and flights with three or six samples of spirits.
Flight Pilot: Phil Crouch originally learned about grains as a miller at Anson Mills. He and Jessica began distilling whiskey at home before opening their store. “I’m trying to provide customers with something unique every chance I can, rather than a twist on something they already know.”
1 1½-ounce flight, 3 spirits, ½ ounce each:
Carolina Sour Mash Whiskey
Jimmy Red Corn Whiskey
Carolina Rye Single Malt Whiskey
While you certainly aren’t required to stick to one type of spirit, lining up this series of whiskeys allows you to explore the nuances that different grains create.
When buying your morning cup of coffee and the barista asks whether you’d like Guatemalan or Sumatra, do you really know what you’re ordering? Indah Coffee’s flight boards explore different origins of coffee beans and different brewing processes. Indah, which means beautiful in Indonesian, uses coffee flights to uncover the depth and detail that goes into their brews. Several flight boards are available including a Single-Origin Board, which features beans from one region brewed into an espresso, a pour over and a cold brew, allowing the customer to experience the effect that a barista has on the flavor. Boards are served with a small house-made cookie or meringue to pair with the experience.
Flight Pilot: Nick Hauser learned about coffee while traveling in Asia. Hauser started with a home roaster and has turned his farmers’ market hobby into a storefront favorite. “All the parts have to work together, the farming, harvesting, storing, roasting, grinding and brewing, to make a great cup of coffee. It really is like a symphony.”
Espresso Board: 1 house espresso 1 single-origin espresso 1 cup of seltzer water
Experience the difference between Indah’s house espresso, which is a blend of three types of beans, and a single-origin espresso to understand the complexity that goes into drawing out specific flavors. The seltzer water is provided as a palate cleanser
The lively fusion restaurant in the heart of Five Points has a busy bar with a drink menu full of local beers, cider and tropically flavored cocktails. Bar manager James Bryant hand crafts cocktail and margarita recipes for their flights. Publico used to serve mostly local beer, which tends to have a slower, more atmosphere-based culture. Bryant designed these cocktails with that same laid-back, enjoy-the-moment mentality. The cocktails and margaritas are made in batches to help ensure consistency, but bartender-customer interaction ties the cocktails together on this flight. James combines his 20 years of experience with input from customers to build new drinks.
Flight Pilot: James Bryant, bar manager at Publico, comes from a background in fine dining and strong cocktails. “I like to take a classic cocktail, break it down, complicate it a bit, and bring it back around to something that is accessible.”
Pinky’s Revenge: a kick of ginger and fresh citrus
Coconut: a creamy and fresh twist on the Painkiller
Whiskey Sunrise: whiskey sour turned tropical
Publico Margarita: jalapeño margarita