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Tim Bissell Tim Bissell
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Three Pint Stance - Sailing toward some better beer

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Recently, I was fortunate enough to set sail on a fantastic Caribbean cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas. The boat was amazing, the trip was wonderful and the weather could not have been more perfect.

This being said, I did have one complaint about the trip - and I am now going to rant about it in the form of a letter.

Dear Royal Caribbean,

First off, I must tell you that at the end of the day, I love you and you will always be my favorite cruise line. Nothing can ever change that.

However, I have to tell you about something that I found troubling on my last voyage with you. The beer selection on your cruises is terrible. Honestly, the only decent beers on board were Pilsner Urquell and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and the latter was so stale that it wasn't enjoyable. Even in the “English pub” bar with the supposedly expanded beer selection, I was grossly underwhelmed by my choices. In fact, the two beers that caught my eye on the pub menu - Murphy’s Irish Stout (not hard to find) and Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde (again, not a tough beer to locate in North America) - were “out of stock” for the entire 8 days of the cruise. After being shut out on those two, I gave up on the pub completely and resigned myself to drinking bourbon on the rocks for the rest of the cruise (no complaints about the bourbon selection though!).

I must admit, I know nothing about the intricacies of stocking a cruise ship that travels to multiple international ports with alcoholic beverages, but I have the feeling that something can be done to improve the craft beer-lover’s cruising experience. After making small-talk with a few fellow passengers over the week, I surmised that the demand for a better beer selection is indeed there, but I am afraid that little is being done to meet that demand.

I have a few constructive bits of feedback that I hope you will consider in your efforts to bring better beer to your passengers.

Utilize your draft towers! I saw so many empty draft towers on board - and each time I saw one a single tear rolled down my cheek. Clean, well-maintained draft lines are the best way to both get value out of your beer purchases (on both sides of the bar) and to ensure that fresh product is being served to each customer. I know kegs can be bulky and heavy, but with a little extra work, sixties of readily-available craft offerings could be made available at an attractive price point for both you and the cruisers.

Keep the pub fully stocked! Getting shut out on the few beers that did strike my fancy left a bad (beerless) taste in my mouth. If you are going to have a beer menu printed out, make sure those beers are actually available. If freshness is an issue, stick to beers that age more gracefully than others. There has never been a better time for offering high-end cellared beers, and you are definitely missing out on a great opportunity to make a passengers dining/drinking experience on board even more special with a bottle of Lambic, Barrel Aged Stout or a Belgian strong ale.

Consider hiring a Cicerone or other qualified beer professional to curate each boat’s beer list! There is a growing number of well-traveled and respected beer aficionados (we call them Cicerones in our world, but consider them akin to the Sommeliers of the wine world) out there and I’m sure they would jump at the chance to bring their expertise onboard your ships to make craft beer a bigger part of your offerings.

Make it universal across the line! I know you have made efforts to create beer-themed bars on some of your boats (not the one I was on, unfortunately), and that effort is definitely applauded. I think that you should make it a goal to offer more craft selections on all of your boats, because beer lovers are literally everywhere! Craft beer is now 21 percent of the overall market, a number that continues to grow year over year. The sooner you embrace this, the more craft beer-lovers will flock to your cruise line. I have to be honest, after doing some research, it seems that Carnival Cruises is kicking your aft in this department. You don’t want that now, do you?

So, at the end of the day I’m not mad, I’m just a little disappointed. My overall cruising experience was a 9.99 out of 10, so you only lost a hundredth of a point for the lack of pints. I love beer, I love Royal Caribbean cruises, and I just want to be able to love both at the same time! If you want to talk more about this, feel free to reach out. I’ll gladly work for Crown & Anchor points…

(Apologies for the ‘First World problems’ nature of this week's column. I’ll be back to writing about Maine’s amazing crafter scene next week. Thanks for indulging my petty problems.)

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