Real Ale on a Cruise

As soon as I typed recently the suggestion that P&O Cruises were offering real ale on one of their ships, it was confirmed in the latest copy of Moments, the loyalty club magazine for their frequent customers.

Real ale undergoes a secondary fermentation in the vessel from which it is served and this results in a sludge of yeasty sediment falling to the bottom of the cask.  The best cellar practice keeps the absolutely cask still while the sediment settles and then during the 2-3 days that the beer is served fresh to prevent the beer becoming cloudy again – impossible on a cruise ship due to the movement of the seas meaning that it has been never been possible for cruise lines to offer real ale.  Until now !

In the drinks section of the magazine, Raising the Bar, it states “Using an innovative cask system, we’ve worked with British brewers Dark Star and Batemans to bring two different real ales to sea for guests on Oriana.”

Dig a bit deeper and you learn that this is not quite new news.  The original press release that gives more details was dated January 2017 and still sits on the P&O website here.

The press release offers my curiosity more questions than answers and I am now pretty keen to sail on Oriana again to test the waters.  I am sending spies in the coming weeks who will report back.  Watch this space.

Some questions :

Does it taste any good ?  The real question for any beer enthusiast whether lager, bitter, craft, keg, bottled, can or real.  (How does it taste 10 days after the cask is tapped – more to the point)

Is it consistently served at cellar temperature, 11-13 degrees, even in and around warmer climes ?

If Oriana is the second ship to have this technology installed what was the first and why are folk not shouting about its innovation ?

Finally, for some reason the “real ale” press release also states that the spa on Oriana has a new pedicure station following her latest re-fit.  That will be great news for some people as much as real ale on board is for me !

Moments magazine is mailed twice a year in Spring and Autumn to members of P&O Cruises Peninsular Club

Craft beer on P&O Cruises

Although I’m a fairly recent cruiser, it could easily be said that I’m now a student of the P&O Cruises beer menu and this is something I’ll return to regularly as there is plenty that I have to share.

Having dipped my toe into cruising in about 2010 with a couple of Thomson fly cruises around the Med and the Canaries, the most underwhelming aspect of those cruises was the on-board beer list – an industrial lager such as San Miguel, a draught John Smith Smooth (or similar) and a short list of other “International” lagers, mostly UK brewed, and which to my palate taste pretty much the same (call me a beer snob if you must).  It is fair to say that most of my beer hunting was done ashore on those trips.

It was little things on the P&O list that attracted me on my first cruise with them in the Summer of 2013, not exactly the most trendy of modern craft beers but bottles of Fullers London Pride and Ringwood Old Thumper were tasty welcome additions to the lazier of menus.

However, the game changer for P&O was the launch of their biggest ship in the Spring of 2015.  At that time P&O, having patriotically named their new ship Britannia, took the marketing decision to rebrand completely celebrating its British heritage – a paint job with a large Union Flag on the bow of each ship and easily identifiable blue funnels. (A no brainer really given that the majority of P&O cruise customers are British; the ship’s currency is GBP; prawn cocktail, tomato soup, sirloin steak and baked Alaska are the mainstays of the dining menu and afternoon tea is a favourite).

Each P&O ship has a British pub as one of its bars and at this time a bright spark in the beverage department in the Southampton HQ suggested that the pub on board Britannia, Brodie’s Bar, should have a beer from each county of the United Kingdom.  Miraculously, over 70 choices of beer (and cider) appeared on-board, the largest selection of bottled British beers at sea.

I assume this was met with approval and approbation from the cruising beer drinkers as the idea was quickly rolled out across the fleet.  A smaller range of about 20 British bottled beers was quickly championed on all of the ships together with tasting flights of 3 * third pints of various ones.

One of those beer was Thornbridge Jaipur, an award winning, American IPA style beer, rammed with hops with delicious citrus flavours and extremely more-ish.  It is an absolute favourite, go-to beer for me and my delight in being able to drink that beer on a cruise was palpable.

These special beers are only in the pubs onboard so a trip there before going on to one of the other entertainment bars was an effort (sic) so I was delighted when, on a subsequent cruise, I noticed that Jaipur had been added to the beer menu in all of the on-board bars and lounges.  (I had suggested on my end of cruise questionnaire that they should roll out Jaipur to all of the bars so I’m taking a little credit for this.  I guess others felt the same.)

Jaipur in all of P&O bars – imagine that in 2013 !

So there you have it.  I wouldn’t necessarily say “I’m only here for the beer”, P&O has more to offer than that.  However, they are currently my chosen cruise line and it’s mainly because a simple soul like me loves the Jaipur ! (oh, and the Jarl, the Punk and the Yorkshire Pride)

A few notes :

Beer prices on P&O cruises are in £ and similar to UK pub prices – no service charge is added.
The P&O beer list sample can be found here.
The beer list on their smallest ship Adonia does not match up – I guess they have no room nor demand for a more extensive range of beers.   
The pubs on board P&O Cruise ships are usually called Brodie’s or Andersen’s Bars – more later.
I now understand that there might even be real ale served on board Oriana – more about this another time.
Don’t get me started on the Thornbridge decision to move from 50cl bottles to 33cl to prove their “craft” credentials nor the pricing issues that surround that.  It remains my go-to beer on the ship(s).
I have not yet been lucky enough to travel on Britannia but hope to rectify that in 2018.

See also my future posts as I work my way through the P&O Cruises beer list :

Cruising the P&O Cruises Beer List – Batemans Mocha Beer

 

 

Craft beer in Akureyri – R5 Bar

Akureyri sits at the foot of Eyjafjordur Fjord in Northern Iceland.  From the ship or the excellent local tourist office (the big round building on the left 400m after you leave the ship) it is perfectly located to visit Godafoss Waterfall or Lake Myvatn.  It is also a great spot for a whale watching trip and I can recommend Elding Whale Watching for their expertise and knowledge.

If you are not for taking an excursion or a boat trip, the town itself has a few notable spots that are worth the effort.  Be sure to climb the steps to the cathedral.  It is a fairly modern church completed in 1940 but for a Brit it is notable for its Coventry Window – a pretty far fetched story about how a stained glass window from the bombed out Coventry Cathedral ended up in the far north of Iceland.  Myth or fact ?

From the cathedral climb higher still to the botanic gardens which are a perfect place to contemplate your well being in the freshest of air and think about that beer that you have so richly deserved.

You will probably have passed R5 bar as you walked into town as it is on Ráðhústorg 5, the main, “Town Hall” (they forgot to build the town hall. I think) square as you march off the ship and head straight on into town.  You will not have stopped here earlier in the day as it doesn’t open until 2pm – opening hours being one of the curses of the cruising beer geek.

You will find 6 taps and hopefully some special beers from Borg brewery.  It is a special privilege to be able to hunt down local beers in their natural habitat and the special imperial stouts from Borg are pretty impressive – bloody expensive, but strong, tasty and memorable beers.  With beer at this price (>£10 a glass) you can’t afford to linger so be sure to choose the good stuff.  Look for Borg Garún Icelandic Stout number 19 or Borg Surtur Imperial Stout number 30.

You may be lucky enough to find these beers in the Vínbúðin off-licence which is much more affordable – more about this in the next post.

The staff in R5 are keen and knowledgeable about the Icelandic beer scene.  They will be sure to help you choose beer and will talk you through their tap and excellently curated bottled and canned selection.

It’s certainly a memorable stop-off for the cruising beer geek.

Skál

 

Craft beer in Bergen

Take a walk from the cruise ship past the mediaeval Bryggen district to the Bergen Floibanen funicular railway which takes you up the Floyen mountain for panoramic views and hiking trails for about a fiver each.  Take a walk down the path back into the town where you can mooch around the lake and the fish market until it is time for a beer.

On a fine day you can walk for miles up and around the mountain which might leave you a bit short of time for beer.  In those circumstances, when the last embarkation time is approaching and your time for beer is short, my golden rule is make sure you can see the ship from the bar.  The ship will not wait while you lose your bearings after a couple of strong beers and it’s a hike to the next port under your own steam.

An ideal spot to run to the ship from in Bergen is Una, a craft beer bar with about 20 taps specialising in Norwegian microbreweries.  The address is 7 Bryggen so it is in the heart of the mediaeval district of Hanseatic commercial buildings which line the harbour.  Today the area houses shops, museums, restaurants and pubs.  You can’t miss the pub – it’s right there in the red brick building on the corner !

Don’t linger though.  Norway is extremely expensive for liquor and a 40cl glass will set you back about £10.  A small beer here is proportionately the same price per cl so a couple of small beers at least gives you a chance to try some different beers without completely busting the bank – though be wary the staff will always try to upsell to a large glass.

Thanks to Sean at Micro Beers in East Sheen for this recommendation.

 

 

Craft beer in Cadiz

An early inspiration for this blog was a visit to Cadiz.  Situated in South-West Spain, Cadiz is ideally situated for cruises to the Mediterranean and is a regular port of call.  Cadiz has the obligatory cathedral but no other significant must-visit spots (correct me if you think differently) leaving plenty of time for beer hunting.

Pick up a map at the little tourist information booth that is opposite where the ship docks and head along the tourist routes which are painted in various colours on the pavements.  This will guide you through the narrow streets and open plazas of the old town and will take you around the outside waterside walls of the city.  It’s a pleasant walking city but at some point in the day you’ll need refreshment.

You’ll easily find a sherry, or a flamenco dancer for that matter, but beer is harder to find.

There was a small beer shop called Gades on Jose del Toro street but I have just discovered the shop has recently closed after struggling for 5 years.  On my last visit, apart from a good range of Spanish craft beers, there was also 2 taps of draught.  It was a bit tucked away so hopefully they’ll reopen in a better spot in the future.

Gades also run a small pop-up bar on the Mercado Central de Cadiz  in the centre of the old town.  The Central Market is a modern foodie spot with over 100 stalls selling fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, fish, bread etc but has a token nod to beer.

At Gades bar, which is at cabin 118 (look around, you’ll see it eventually), you will find about a dozen bottled beers including the excellent 942 an American pale ale brewed by Dougall’s of Lierganes, in Cantabria, Northern Spain.  There are also usually 4 draught beers including Weihenstefan Weissbier and often a beer from the city brewery, Maier.

(Tip :  the loos are behind number 118, down in the lift, and opening hours are about 9.30 to 3.30)

In the centre of the Cadiz there is also a microbrewery, Maier.  The beers are hard to find in the city, the local bars seem hardly supportive but they are worth hunting down if you can.  The brewery hosts visits and has a bar area, though I have yet to do more than poke my head around the brewery door.  The brewery bar is open Monday to Friday 9 to 3 and 6 to 8.30.  Hopefully I’ll get a chance to visit on a future trip.  Check out the (Spanish) website for further details or email bebe@cervezamaier.com

So, there you are.  Cadiz, a traditionally fairly dry city as far as beer is concerned but scratch the surface, seek and ye shall find something to sparkle those taste buds.

 

A less travelled path ?

The British holiday maker is often a creature of habit and it is not unusual to hear of people who visit the same holiday destination time and time again.  Cornwall, Lake District, Scotland, Brittany, Tuscany, Costa del Sol, Florida, Algarve … ad infinitum, almost everywhere seems to have its returning tourist.

Cruising is the same.  One of the ice breakers at dinner on any cruise is the “have you been on many cruises ?” often prompted by someone who has been on dozens and is begging to share their experiences.  This may sound like tedious bragging but it does set off conversation and is much better than a silent table or talking about work.

Cruising can be a bug and if it bites you like it has bitten me it’s hard to shake off and now that I am more free of work commitments I am at my happiest cruising the 7 seas – usually in the search for good beer.

The beer drinker around the world is also a creature of habit.  I’m guessing that over 90% of the world’s beer is a pale, lager style beer, served cold and sold as cheaply as possible, a refresher, a sharpener and often a national brand.  Most of it is brewed by a single multi national brewing conglomorate.  It’s hard to denigrate this as billions of pints are quaffed every day but there is also a growing demand for a beer with perhaps more flavour and character, a craft beer.

The joy of a cruise is being dropped off in a new city every other day.  After a few hours of exploring the usual tourist spots, a beer geek’s appetite turns to his quest for great beer.  It is easy to drop into the first bar that looks popular, take a long draft of the local beer, cold and wet, thirst quenching, and stretch out and watch the world go by but my quest is usually a little deeper.

I’m looking for something a little different, a beer that is more than a quaff, something that tastes great, perhaps has a local back story, something I can’t find at home – scratching the surface of the local beer scene.

In recent years I have stumbled across some fabulous beer spots off of a cruise ship and I’m starting this blog to give others a leg up to finding a city’s great beers.  Come along with me and we’ll dig out the best bars and the best beers within a spit of the cruise terminal.

Cheers !