Beer snobs, noses upturned at the sight of Bud Light, have long been ignored on cruise ships. This is their day or reckoning — almost. Celebrity Silhouette’s new version of Michael’s Club has traded cognac for craft beer, aiming to capitalize on the land-based micro-brew trend.
I chatted with Associate VP of Food & Beverage Scott Steenrod about re-inventing a fleetwide icon, the grueling task of tasting and selecting 64 eclectic beers that can be readily sourced and delivered to a floating hotel, and more importantly, what savory foods would accompany the ales, stouts and lagers.
Prices range from $4.50 (Bud) to $49 for the real Champagne of beers, Dues Brut Des Flanders, a beer-sparkling wine concoction that’s $49 for a 750ml bottle. (“We bought the whole available stock [of 20],” said Steenrod of the limited-production beer.) In between, there are brews from San Diego (Stone IPA), Asheville (Highland Black Mocha Stout), Belgium (Deleirum Tremens), Britain (Fullers ESB, Newcastle, Old Speckled Hen), Japan (Ichiban) and more than a dozen other countries. The cache will likely change, said Steenrod, given the difficulty of restocking a mobile bar and the seasonality of certain beers.
Beer aficionados love nothing more than articulating complex flavors (is that wet dog?) and marketing concepts (gargoyles! Drunken monks!). But they also like salty snacks, so Michael’s will offer complimentary truffled nuts, the smell of which will invade nostrils upon entry. Beyond chewing and chatting, visitors will be entertained by acoustic guitar work and televised sporting events.
When you’re dealing with a connoisseur, details matter, so Celebrity linked up with Cicerone, a company that’s created a certification program for expert beer servers. (A consultant is currently onboard to help with the startup, explained Steenrod.) Like Stone Brewing Company’s “Arrogant Bastard,” one of Michael’s 64, the certification program is intense. Silhouette’s beer sommeliers (or beer Cicerones, if you ask the Cicerone folks) are following a syllabus that includes information on taste perception (sweet, sour/acid, salty, bitter and umami), choosing beer style-specific glassware and quantitative parameters of beer character like “International Bitterness Unites.”
While the concept has been a year in the making, there’s a skunky issue or two to dispense with — like referring to Guinness as an English beer on the menu. “A typographical error,” said Steenrod wryly, meaning it’ll be fixed before a kilted army commandeers Silhouette. The beer sommeliers are still developing their palettes and knowledge — those I spoke weren’t close to sampling all 64 beers yet — so it’ll undoubtedly take some time before they’ve mastered the teaching element. (“I’ve been drinking all my life,” explained the bar manager with a grin, so at least he’s confident of his future mastery.)
The line is also still finalizing different tasting ideas, such a one-hour “global flight,” which will combine instruction and inebriation a few times per cruise. “What about some sort of beer drinkers club with discounts?” I asked. At Cellar Masters, the line’s wine bar that uses a self-dispensing system, passengers can earn 20 percent discounts if they spend $100. Steenrod seemed receptive, so I’ll be requesting a finder’s fee, to be paid in Mocha Chocolate Stout, on my next Celebrity cruise.
Regardless of the impending tweaks, Celebrity clearly believes in the concept. Steenrod revealed for the first time that the Michael’s Clubs on Infinity, Summit and Millennium will all be transformed into craft beer pubs during those ships’ upcoming refurbishments.
One more note: The 64 beers will be part of Celebrity’s all-you-can-drink beverage packages. Those who opt for the premium package will have almost everything covered by the $12 max … and if a micro-brew exceeds $12, you can pay the difference.
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