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Bobbing for Hops: Sharing Beers in America’s First Brewery at Sea

A hand raising a dark beer and doing cheers with Randy while he holds a light beer

Colin Presby is the hardest working man in craft beer right now, and he’s just getting started.

“I want fleet brewmaster,” the 32-year-old beer professional said jokingly, during one of his several back-to-back tasting tours on board the Carnival Vista. “Brew admiral is another one; I think when we have five ships with breweries than I can become an admiral.”

Brewmaster Colin Presby holding a pitcher of IPA in front of beer tanks on Carnival Vista

A beer drinker’s brewer, Presby is North America’s first brewmaster at sea. Easy going and overflowing with beer knowledge, the Pennsylvania native sharpened his skills in some of the best breweries in the state. Paired with Carnival Cruise Lines innovative on-board brewery, Presby can offer the Vista’s guests the freshest beer of any cruise ship.

“The best way to get fresh craft beer on the ship is to make it right here,” Presby said. “Brewing on board gives us the opportunity to make good, American craft beer and give it directly to our guests.”

Built from the ground up, the Redfrog Pub and Brewery embodies the spirit of a beach town brewpub, all the way down to its laid-back tasting tours. It’s a vibrant and lively place, featuring live entertainment, table shuffleboard and foosball tables. But, for us, the coolest place in the brewpub was its lanai just off the bar, which was never short on seating or sea breezes. We’ve drank beer in a lot of brewpubs around the world, but I can honestly say chilling out on the lanai with a beer in hand and no land in sight was one of the best experiences ever.

Two images of Redfrog Pub and Brewery on Carnival Vista with red booths, wood barrel tables and large silver tanks

Speaking of beer, there are currently three made on the Vista. The ever-popular ThirstyFrog Port Hoppin’ IPA is unfiltered and hoppy with hints of tropical fruit. The FriskyFrog Java Stout is dark, rich and delicious, featuring touches of roasted coffee and chocolate, while the ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat is the perfect island beer—refreshing and smooth with orange and spice notes. Additionally, Presby rotates in seasonal and semi-regular offerings—like a Pumpkin Ale and Pale Ale, respectively—into the Redfrog Pub and Brewery’s beer lineup.

Two images of Brewmaster making beer by pouring a big white bag into a tank

However, before the ship’s beer can reach thirsty cruisers, it must first be made. And for this, Carnival installed a state-of-the-art brewing system on the Vista. Since, the pioneering ship features an on-board desalination and reverse osmosis plant, the water for the beer comes from the sea with some mineral adjustments on Presby’s end. Furthermore, the beer is brewed with heat from the Vista’s steam system.

Upon entering the Caribbean-themed brewpub, the first thing you’ll notice are the German-made fermenters and three-barrel glass brew house, a first for a United States brewery (only about 20 exist worldwide), which enables the brewing process to be viewed easily by the brewer and public. Generally, Presby makes the cruise ship’s beer in the evening, and he always encourages guest to stop by and watch him work. From start to pint glass, the brewing process takes approximately two weeks.

Several guests admiring the glass brew house at the entrance of Redfrog Pub and Brewery

“You don’t buy a glass brew house to use it at 5 a.m. when no one is watching,” Presby said chuckling. I want people to see it, I want to be able to engage with guests, plus I like having live music played for me while I brew—that’s kind of cool too.”

Brewmaster Colin Presby with chalkboard illustration explains the brewing process during the tasting tour

We met up with Presby in his home away from home, The Redfrog Pub and Brewery, on our recent Caribbean cruise. At the time, he was celebrating his one year anniversary as Carnival’s first brewmaster, a journey that started last March in Italy, where the ship was built.

“It’s been fun for me as brewer,” he explained. “It’s been a wonderful life experience: seeing a lot of the world and meeting a lot of fantastic people.”

And speaking of people, they’ve certainly showed up for the beer. On the day of our tasting tour, for example, Presby was all smiles as he explained the brewery had reached another milestone: two of its three serving tanks had been kicked in one day (it was only the second day of the cruise.)  And several days prior to that, Presby hit another one of his goals when he transferred two kegs of ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat to another Carnival ship while docked in Cozumel, Mexico.

Brewmaster Colin Presby pouring fresh IPA straight into pitcher from the serving tank

“We get a lot of people who are craft beer fans, but we also have a lot of cruise guests who don’t have any experience with craft beer, but they’re curious and want to try it,” Presby explained, adding that he brews his beers to be flavorful yet approachable.

For all intents and purposes, Presby has got brewing on board the Carnival Vista down to a science, and that’s just not because he has a BA in mathematics with a minor in chemistry. His days are a spin cycle of tasting tours (he’s the sole guide), cleaning (he estimates 70% of his day is spent cleaning) and making beer (he brews nearly every night). But his most important role, may be that of an ambassador for American craft beer. Far more than any brewer on land, Presby has the chance to bring Carnival’s fresh, small batch beer to the world, one cruise at a time.

“It’s good craft beer outreach,” he said with a smile.

Know Before You Go

Four beer tastings sitting on a wooden holder with Randy in the background wearing sunglasses and a black shirt

1. Tasting Tours cost $24.95 and last about an hour. In addition to the four tastings on the tour, you’ll also receive a glass and certificate of completion, which is good for one free pint in the Redfrog Pub and Brewery.

2. The lobby bar in the Atrium on the Carnival Vista will always have one of the breweries fresh beers on tap.

3. Stainless steel growlers are available in the Redfrog Pub and Brewery for $49 filled. And then refills are $17, cheaper than the cost of a pitcher of beer at the brewpub.

4. Carnival carries beer (cans and bottles) from the local craft breweries of its home ports on all its cruise ships.

5. Future Carnival ships will also feature breweries, including Carnival Panorama and Mardi Gras, setting sail in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind.