Brewmaster Colin Presby, 31, has a job at sea that no one else has ever had.
He does his beer-making at the Red Frog Pub & Brewery on the new, 3,954-passenger Carnival Vista. It is Carnival Cruise Line's largest ship and the first North American ship to have a brewery.
The action takes place in full view in front of passengers at the Caribbean-themed pub's entrance, on the ship's much-trafficked Promenade Deck.
Mixing grain he just milled into boiling water in one of two large, German-made, copper-topped glass kettles, Presby said his goal is to achieve a "wow" from beer-loving cruisers.
"What we're trying to do is make high quality, full-flavored beer," Presby told USA Today. "I want this to compare very favorably to any craft brewery wherever a guest comes from."
The shipboard brewery is producing three distinct types of beer based on recipes from Miami's Concrete Beach Brewery – a brand of Alchemy & Science, a subsidiary of The Boston Beer Company.
There's a citrusy, hoppy, pungent, 6% alcohol ThirstyFrog Port Hoppin’ IPA; a cloudy, hazy ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat made with coriander and orange peel and designed, Presby said, for sipping outdoors on a hot Caribbean day; and a rich FriskyFrog Java Stout.
The Carnival Vista is the only place you can sample the beers – poured by a bartender or poured yourself from two self-serve draft stations in the RedFrog pub.
Presby brings experience to his shipboard beer-making role.
He started homebrewing in 2006 with the guidance of one of his chemistry professors at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. And he has been on the scene ever since – including working with brewing legend Carol Stoudt and as head brewmaster in a brewpub in his hometown of Reading, Pa.
Presby said he never imagined he would be brewing on a ship.
"This is a great acknowledgment and a great step forward for the cruise industry and the craft beer industry," Presby said. "Guests are looking for variety and freshness and the best way to meet that demand is making beer. We're delivering the freshest beer you're ever going to have on any ship anywhere."
Presby this month introduced the beer in the Mediterranean, where the ship is doing its inaugural sailings before heading to Miami in the fall.
He said there are some inherent challenges, most involving logistics.
"Ordering and making sure we have everything we need whether it is spare parts or ingredients or cleaning supplies, you can't just call up and have something overnighted and get it the next morning," Presby said. "But in terms of the actual brewing process it's pretty much the same."
The kettles are heated by the ship's steam system. The brewery setup also includes eight tall fermenters, viewable behind glass in the pub, with additional facilities below.
Interest in the operation is such that Presby is doing behind-the-scenes tours on sea days that include the fermentation cellar ($12.95 per person including a tasting). Limited to 12 passengers, the tours have proven a hot commodity – so much so that Presby is contemplating adding additional tours on port days.
What guests see brewing onboard is actually beer for a later cruise – the fermenting process takes two-and-a-half to three weeks.
Each batch is about 200 gallons, and Presby said his goal is to brew about 18 barrels per week.
Given the immediate popularity, shipboard chefs are discussing ways to introduce the beer in dishes and do beer-and-food pairings featuring the beers, Presby said.
Even when he's not brewing, Presby hangs around the pub to talk craft beer. Part of the fun is seeing guest reactions.
"We're looking for that high impact," Presby said.