Recently we were on CARNIVAL VISTA, Carnival Cruise Lines’ first ship with an onboard brewery. As a Belgian and a beer lover I wanted to know everything about it. I registered for one of the brewery tours, and did enjoy the sampling of the different onboard handcrafted beers.

Our host was Colin Presby, CARNIVAL VISTA’s brewmaster, and the place to be was the RedFrog Pub & Brewery.

Colin Presby is one of the few seafarers in the world to be responsible for an onboard brewery. He began homebrewing in 2006 with the guidance of one of his chemistry professors. In January 2010, he and his brewing partner founded the Berks County Homebrew Club to bring together like-minded local brewers.

In 2012, he was named the Most Eligible Bachelor in Craft Beer by the popular beer blogger, the Beer Wench. And then Carnival was looking for a master brewer for their newest ship.

The nice thing about the Red Frog Pub is that the brewery is integrated in the decor. The first thing you see when entering the Pub from the corridor is the set of beautifully authentic brew kettles which have something remarkable: not everything is made of copper. A large part of the cylinders are in glass! “This is really to enhance the visual experience for the guests,” says Colin. “The whole installation has been manufactured in Germany, by a Bavarian company called Joh. Albrecht Brautechnik.

In fact it was Carnival’s sister company Aida Cruises which started with breweries on their recent ships. The big difference is that Aida only produces German beer, following the rules of the ‘reinheitsgebot’.

Fermentation takes place in a series of large cylindroconical vessels which are visible from within the Pub.

A brewery tour takes typically one hour, and it includes a tasting session of four beers, from which three are brewed on the ship: ThirstyFrog Port Hoppin’ IPA (India PaleAle), ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat and FriskyFrog Java Stout.

As the groups are kept very small it is a really enriching experience, ideal during a day at sea. 

Colin Presby will tell you everything you wanted to know about the brewing process (…but were afraid to ask).

Ready for the tasting, let’s fill these glasses.

Colin Presby explains why Carnival wanted a brewery on board.

I ask why the company wanted to have a brewery on the CARNIVAL VISTA.

“In the US craft brewing is growing like crazy,” says Colin Presby. “It is at a point where it is a segment of the market that really can not be ignored. Cruising for a long time has ignored beer. It is logistically challenging to get the appropriate kind and quantity of beer on a ship, far from the source. Spirits and wine ‘travel’ much easier. When ordering you need also to anticipate exactly what your guests are going to drink, and hit that number.”

“Carnival wanted to sell fresh quality beer to their guests, and the best way to do it is to make it on board,” concludes Colin. 

Now we are talking.

The brew master says he will keep making the three basic beers.

“Beyond that I have the intention to play around. I am preparing an American Pale Ale, which will be ready when we arrive in New York after our Mediterranean season.”

“I would also like to start using ingredients from ports where we berth. Like in Barcelona I would go to the market and buy fruit and spices to experiment.”

When the ship is in the Caribbean it is also logic that more refreshing beer is needed, and that less people will want to drink stout.

A visit to the cellar, with eight 5-hectoliter fermentation tanks on the right.

The brewery tour –including the sampling– costs $12,95 and each group can have a maximum of twelve guests. It is a good idea to book at the beginning of your cruise.

Even when the bar is closed you can pour yourself from two self-serve draft stations in the RedFrog pub.

Now you may want to know how authentic this idea of having a brewery on a ship is. In all honesty I must confess that I didn’t expect a lot. For me it was nothing more than a gimmick (as so often on the big ships).  How wrong have I been.

Much to my surprise I am really impressed. Impressed by the knowledge of Colin Presby; surprised by the authenticity of the tasting; and stunned by the quality of the beer (especially the IPA).

This year –when at home in Belgium– I have been following a beer connoisseur education, given by David Le Roy, in cooperation with his wife Sofie Vanrafelghem, who is one of world’s most reputed zythologists. Unfortunately my travelling did not allow to be present in the classroom each week. At least I discovered how rich the Belgian beer culture is, and when I see what’s happening even on a ship I can only tell my fellow Belgians that we have to watch out. Some countries in the world make damn good beers.

Are you interested? CARNIVAL VISTA stays in the Med until October 21. After a Transatlantic crossing to New York she will offer cruises to the Caribbean, with Miami as homeport.

A selection of (Belgian) websites where cruises with this ship can be booked:

ATC Cruises

Thomas Cook Cruises


Text and photos: Mike Louagie