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Your welcome to business or first class can be a humdrum choice between water, orange juice or unexceptional Champagne (well, not always unexceptional) but happily, many airlines now offer innovative drink service in flight.

From the Gallic bubbly that seems to flow like water on Air France (where it’s even free in economy class) to inventive signature cocktails and samples of locavore drinking culture, airlines are now daring to be different when it comes to beverages.

In addition, there are carriers like Emirates which has added Arabic coffee to the welcome drink selection in Business and First, as have other Middle Eastern airlines. Others have come up with  imaginative alcohol-free selections. Read on for a thirst-quenching rundown on the airlines that are making air travel interesting, one glass at a time.

Note: unless otherwise indicated, drinks selections noted are separate from wine lists and are likely to vary according to aircraft type and various supply factors.

EVA Air

On the Taiwanese airline’s Royal Laurel Class, its business-class offering, you can find signature cocktails which include the Evergreen Special made with melon liqueur, vodka and Sprite, and the Aurora with gin, Cointreau, green mint liqueur and tonic water or Sprite.

British Airways

“We offer our customers Buck’s fizz and Kir Royale,” said Francesca Catling, senior global PR executive for British Airways.  (Buck’s Fizz is a drink with two parts champagne to one part orange juice, hence more grape than in a mimosa.) She added that when it comes to Champagne in the front of the plane, “In Club World, customers would receive Canard-Duchêne and in First it would be Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle.”

Philippine Airlines

Philippines’ signature drink in Business, served as a pre-meal libation, is a medley of champagne, orange juice, sugar cane and mint.

Qatar Airways 

Travelers in Qatar’s business– and first-class cabins receive a welcome drink laced with lemon juice and mint. In business-class and higher (sometimes even in economy) you can also encounter fresh fruit juices and signature mocktails like the Pineapple Margarita or Corniche Cranberry Refresher (pomegranate is involved). So Jennie, a sparkling zero-alcohol treat made with grapes from the Champagne region, may also be available.

Malaysia Airlines

In Malaysia’s business class you can find yourself sipping one of the company’s signature, nonalcoholic “Wau Emas” cocktails, made with pineapple juice, soda water, pandan syrup and touch of lime. (Malaysian, though, is not a dry airline at all, unlike some carriers from other Muslim-majority nations, which do not serve alcohol.)

Aeromexico

There’s no official cocktail on Mexico’s flag carrier but as the airline notes, “Complimentary bar service in Club Premier after 11AM is complete with beer, wine and Mexico’s most famous spirit: Tequila!”

United

United doesn’t have a signature cocktail but the airline does localize its cocktails, like a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai  between the continental US and Hawaii and Knob Creek and Old Fashioned by On The Rocks Cocktails on most mainline United flights within North America including Hawaii and the Caribbean.

“Our beer program is also a customer favorite,” said United spokesperson Jonathan Guerin. Starting May 1, United will offer five beers instead of the usual four, including Goose Island NEXT COAST IPA, Stella Artois and Shiner Bock Light Blonde.

In Polaris, “cocktail collaborations” feature the likes of Smoky Negroni, Prospector’s Smash and London Spritz.

Cathay Pacific

In Cathay Pacific’s business– and first-class cabins there is Champagne but also “the highly acclaimed Betsy beer, a brew made exclusively for Cathay Pacific from ingredients sourced from all the routes we fly.” Betsy’s ingredients include Dragon Eye fruit, honey from Hong Kong’s New Territories, and a hop called fuggle.

Cathay Pacific First Class (Photo by Samantha Rosen/TPG)
Cathay Pacific First Class (Photo by Samantha Rosen/TPG)

Royal Air Maroc

Morocco’s flag carrier offers business-class passengers Casablanca beer, a purely Moroccan blond lager.

Vietnam Airlines

On Vietnam Airlines, you’ll find “the Beloved Hue cocktail, a Phan Thiet Red Dunes cocktail with soft sweet red color” or the Gongs Dance cocktail that is perhaps best savored “when you close your eyes to enjoy,” the airline says. These are available in Business Class and principally on flights to Japan, Korea, Australia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Finnair

Finnair’s signature drink is the Blue Sky, a blend of Lapponia Blueberry Liqueur and Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut. To emphasize its Nordic origins, the airline says, “This treat is served from an Ultima Thule glass, today’s Finnish design classic, that was created by Tapio Wirkkala for Finnair’s first flight to New York in 1969.”

ANA

On ANA there’s a solid range of Japanese sake and matcha in first class but there’s also signature soft drink. It’s ANA’s Original Aromatic Kabosu (Citrus), which includes honey. There’s also a rotating juice of the season, which could include Unshu Mikan juice made from Sasebo satsuma mandarins from the orchards of Saikai, Nagasaki.

Virgin Atlantic

You might think Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class would be the perfect venue for a quirky virgin cocktail of some kind, but the airline doesn’t have one. In the libation-innovation department, however, it offers a range of no- and low-alcohol offerings in Upper Class and there are cocktails like the Aviation Mojito (using Aviation American Gin) and the Mile High, which is “elegantly scented with citrus and mint then lifted with Champagne.”

JetBlue

JetBlue’s house cocktail in Mint class is the Mint cocktail, a spritzy honey-infused limeade with vodka, lime, club soda and of course, mint.

JetBlue
JetBlue’s Mint welcome drink (Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG)

 TAP Air Portugal 

The Portuguese flag carrier has a selection of sparkling Portuguese wines on virtually every long-haul flight — and that includes in economy. And if you think all sparkling whites from one small country are the same, think again: Porta 6 exudes an “appealing citrus aroma, green apple and pear notes” whereas Cabriz Espumante Special Edition Brut, with its own citrus and green apple notes, tempts with an “engaging, creamy, dry, and fresh palate.”

Turkish Airlines

Welcome drinks in Turkish’s Business Class are reported to be “homemade lemonade with fresh mint” and a kind of fruit punch. The fruit punch bears more than a passing resemblance to a popular noncarbonated Turkish soft drink called Ottoman Sherbet, a blend of apple and cherry flavors with notes of cinnamon, grape and clove.

Besides the drinks, Turkish Airlines serves complimentary Celebration Cake for its Miles & Smiles members, but requires reservations three days in advance.

Featured image by Zach Honig/TPG

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