Industry News

America’s First Beermeister at Sea

Just eight short months ago, brewmaster Colin Presby was creating craft beer in his hometown of Reading, Penn., when he saw a cruise gig advertised online. Today, he’s a full-time fixture aboard the new Carnival Vista cruise ship, where he runs the first US brewery at sea.

America’s First Beermeister at Sea

“It’s been quite a change,” says the 32-year-old of his transition from landlubber to beermeister at sea.

Having spent the summer sailing the ports of Europe, Presby and the 3,936-passenger Vista, which made its maiden voyage in May last year, have now settled into the ship’s homeport of Miami.

The largest and newest ship in the Carnival fleet, which offers 4- to 8-day Caribbean itineraries heading out four times a month, has a host of unique amenities, like the SkyRide — a kind of sit-in bicycle that guests can pedal around a monorail suspended high above the pool — and a Multiplex featuring an IMAX cinema and a multi-sensory special effects Thrill Theater. That’s in addition to the water park, three pools and 17 dining choices.

Image by: Carnival Cruise Line

But for some, that will all pale to the Caribbean-themed RedFrog Pub & Brewery, one of the ship’s 13 bars. With its pioneering on-board brewery, it’s set to be ground zero for all beer lovers on board.

“We wanted to bring fresh craft beer to the ship and the best way to do it was to make it right here,” says Presby, waving towards the glistening German-made fermenters, kettles and coolers that are on full display over the length of the pub.

Currently there are three beers made on board. ThirstyFrog Port Hoppin’ IPA is the most popular, and has fruity, floral and hop notes. The ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat is an unfiltered lager, while the FriskyFrog Java Stout is a take on a traditional stout — dark and creamy with hints of coffee.

Eddie Allen, Carnival’s vice president of beverage operations, says that the brews were specifically designed with Carnival Vista guests in mind, while the pub itself was the result of a collaboration with Miami-based Concrete Beach Brewery, an independently operating subsidiary of The Boston Beer Company.

As for Presby, he began homebrewing in 2006 with the guidance of one of his chemistry professors at Franklin & Marshall. After that, he studied under Carol Stoudt, something of a legend in the brewing world, working with her at Weyerbacher Brewing Company and Stoudts Brewing.

While brewing beer and cruising the Caribbean might seem like a dream job, he says it’s a lot of work.

“Some 70 percent of my time is spent cleaning,” he says.

Presby currently makes a batch of beer (which consists of three barrels) every two and a half days, although he expects that to increase with the current itineraries. He’s kept busy brewing in the evening and offering tasting tours of the brewery during the course of each cruise.

“Eventually we hope to be able to add seasonal beers, plus maybe work with the restaurants to offer beer pairing tastings,” says Presby.

The ship’s water for the beer is literally taken from the sea, going through a process of desalination and reverse osmosis. The brewery is hooked up to the ship’s steam and cooling systems (this had teething problems when it was found to be too cold, and the beer had to be warmed up).

Kegs are also on board so that the beer can be offered on tap in other areas on the ship, including a pour-your-own station.

But if homemade brew is not your cup of beer, never fear — there’s also an expanded selection of craft beers. On the Vista, that includes Concrete Beach Stiltsville Miami-style pilsner, loaded in while at homeport.

“Simply, we’re aiming to provide better beer on ships,” says Presby.

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