RedFrog Pub & Brewery – Now Brewing Aboard Carnival Vista
This is what I call “The best of all possible worlds.” Combining two of my favorite things, Craft Brewing and Cruising!
That’s right! You read that correctly, a Craft Brewery on a cruise ship!
Carnival Vista began sailing in May 2016 with its inaugural season in the Mediterranean. It now sails the Caribbean out of Galveston, TX.
Vista’s RedFrog Pub & Brewery is the first brewery on board a North American cruise liner. There have previously been breweries aboard Carnival’s sister cruise line AIDA, which operates out of Germany.
First Brewery at Sea
RedFrog is a state-of-the-art showpiece. Besides being the first brewery at sea, it features the first glass brewhouse in North America. This gleaming glass and copper work of art is manufactured by German brewing equipment company Joh. Albrecht. Not only is the glass brewhouse the first in North America, it is one of only two. The second is in Guy’s Pig & Anchor BBQ Smokehouse | Brewhouse aboard Carnival Horizon. The brewery in Guy’s (Celebrity Chef Guy Fieri) is the Parched Pig.
In recent years, Carnival has been moving toward featuring more craft beer selections. They have started a home port beer program to bring on local brews from each home port. In 2011, Carnival’s private label draught ThirstyFrog Red was introduced on Carnival Magic in the pool-side, Caribbean themed, RedFrog Rum Bar and was subsequently rolled out to the entire fleet.
ThirstyFrog Red is not brewed on board but, is contract brewed in Tampa, FL by Anheuser-Busch and distributed to all Carnival ships. This malty-toasty red is the beer that started the Craft Beer Revolution on Carnival. Although, I hesitate to call it a craft brew, being brewed by giant AB, I admit it is far superior to the other on-board offerings at the time.
Brewer Ron Zeiber joined RedFrog Pub & Brewery about half-a-dozen cruises into the inaugural season under the direction of Brewmaster Colin Presby. Colin has moved on to the new brewery aboard Carnival Horizon, leaving Ron in charge of RedFrog here on the Vista. There is an on-going rivalry between the two as to who can brew and sell the most beer!
While cruising the first week of December 2018, the brews being poured were:
Caribbean Wheat – A Belgian style Wit with orange and coriander. Tasty and refreshing!
Port Hoppin’ IPA – A hoppy IPA brewed and dry-hopped with Citra and Simcoe. My favorite!
Frisky Frog Java Stout – 5% ABV with 20 liters of cold brewed coffee and 6 lbs of cacao nibs.
Pumpkin Ale – Seasonal brew with Tettnang, pumpkin puree, and all the appropriate spices.
English Brown – Special brew with all the nutty roasted flavor you would expect from this style.
And, of course, ThirstyFrog Red, which can be found at all the venues on board.
How Do They Do It?
You may suspect, in this environment, these would be extract brews but, you would be wrong. Milling of malted grains is done in the grain mill hidden down on deck 0.
After each batch is produced in the 3 bbl brewhouse, it is transferred through a plate chiller under the floor of the brewery to the 9 bbl fermenters in the beer cellar, visible behind glass just across from the brewhouse. Three batches are produced of each of the regular brews in order to fill the fermenters. Specialty and seasonal brews are done as a single batch.
Most breweries will reuse yeasts for several brews. Here, there is no facility to store yeast so, fresh yeast is used for each brew.
An interesting note; just as many land-based breweries distribute their spent grains for use as fertilizer or livestock feed; RedFrog serves theirs up as feed for the fish in the ocean! It is 100% organic, recyclable, and nutrient rich.
When fermentation is complete and the beer is cold-crashed, regular brews are transferred to serving vessels. Seasonal and specialty brews are kegged. Only the taps behind the bar are fed by the serving vessels. Any other taps at venues around the ship are pouring from kegs. Kegs are cleaned on the keg cleaning machine on deck 3, brought up to the brewery on deck 5, and filled directly from the fermenters or serving vessels.
All the brews are unfiltered, relying on the whirlpool in the brewhouse and natural flocculation to clear the beer.
Self Serve Taps
Self-serve taps are an interesting innovation at the high-top tables in the pub and in the buffet area up on deck 9. Using your Sail & Sign card, which is your cabin key and charge card for use while on-board, guests can pour their own draught, charged by the ounce. This seems to have a few kinks yet to be worked out. Trying it once, I got nothing out of the tap. I overheard another guest saying he had the same problem. Fortunately, if nothing measures out, there is no charge.
I asked Ron about any special challenges to brewing at sea. The motion of the ocean is not really a problem. He believes the slight agitation which occurs during fermentation is beneficial. They do not brew if the seas are rough as boiling liquid sloshing around in the brewhouse could be a safety issue.
The only real on-board issue is with rust and corrosion from constant exposure to salt air. Off ship, there are logistical issues with ingredients, supplies and customs. I would have thought Carnival had the logistics thing nailed down. They have figured out how to have all the supplies and food and drink at the ready, all the time, for three to four thousand passengers on each ship, every week.
Customs is an issue as all their brewing ingredients come from a supplier in Canada. Carnival Vista’s home port is Galveston TX and the ship’s registry is Panama. You can see how that becomes a customs issue. Carnival’s own supply chain management can also slow things down. Brewing supplies are a new commodity for them to deal with and each new malt, hop, or yeast must go through an approval process.
Ron must keep on top of the logistics and adjust his brew schedule to insure all the ingredients arrive at the port at the right time. He had intended to brew an Irish stout for the St. Patrick’s Day cruise earlier this year but, just could not get the correct yeast in time to meet the schedule. Oh well, maybe next year!
A New Brew
The week we were on board, Ron was brewing a New Zealand pale ale with New Zealand hops and 50 lbs of kiwi. James, the guitar soloist who played nightly in the pub, served as the assistant brewer on this one. He happened to be from New Zealand and had some brewing experience. Walking through the pub the afternoon before this was to be brewed, I proclaimed, “Smells like kiwis in here!” as I approached the booth where they were peeling and chopping the kiwis. Ron was quite happy that the hops and kiwis all arrived as scheduled!
I wish I could be back on-board when this new brew is ready. Ron says he has found that to be a problem. A new brew on the horizon but, the guests this week will not be on board to try it in the next two weeks.
An Authentic Experience
Ron and Carnival are working hard to make RedFrog a true craft brewery experience. There are shuffleboard and foosball tables in the pub. The entire feel of the pub is different from all other bars on-board. Ron has the liberty to request which crew members (out of over 1400) work in the pub to make sure they are a fit for the craft beer culture. He encourages them to taste the beers, strictly forbidden in the other venues. There is no prepared script for them to describe the beers. Each server is to develop their own perspective and convey that to the guests. The servers can actually talk beer.
RedFrog Pub & Brewery is bringing the craft beer culture to the high seas!
If your next vacation plans include a cruise, I encourage you to consider Carnival Vista or Carnival Horizon. If you do find yourself on Vista, take the tour with Ron. Tour includes samples, a RedFrog pint glass, and a certificate good for a free pint. Ron is a gracious and entertaining host and tour guide. And… Say “Cheers” for me!
Book You Own Carnival Vista Cruise to the RedFrog Pub & Brewery
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