Justin Cross

Justin Cross at Stone Brewing

This past summer, students came from all over the U.S as well as Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela, and Australia, to partake in San Diego State University’s Craft Beer Connoisseur Camp (intensive preparation for industry exams such as Cicerone® and BJCP) or Brewery Startup Camp (everything you need to know to launch a brewery). Each offered eight days of intensive instruction by local industry superstars such as “Dr.” Bill Sysak, George Thornton and Dave Adams; and one free day to explore San Diego.

The camps were a brand new offering from SDSU’s popular Business of Craft Beer program, which provides hands-on training for those looking to enter or already working in the brewing industry on the business side, rather than the brewing side of operations. To make the program more accessible to beer aficionados worldwide, SDSU launched Craft Beer Education Camp. Wildly enthusiastic reviews from students indicate the concept is a hit.

Student/camper Justin Cross shares his experience at Brewery Startup Camp.

What is your connection to beer?
I’m a beer enthusiast, former industry employee, home brewer, and future brewery owner. I’m fascinated by the process of making beer and how it has evolved over thousands of years. I am equally as fascinated by the fledgling craft brewing industry and love where I believe the industry is headed.

How did you hear about SDSU’s Brewery Startup Camp?
I learned about it while listening to the Business of Beer podcast with Andy “The Beerman” Coppock. Andy was interviewing Giana Rodriguez [SDSU’s Business of Craft Beer program director] and Michael Peacock [an instructor with the program] and they were explaining what SDSU is doing for beer education. I was able to meet and interact with both Giana and Michael during beer camp and I plan to hire Mr. Peacock to design and install the draft system at my brewery.

How far did you travel to attend?
I drove about three hours south to San Diego, from Rosamond, California. While I was attending beer camp, my house was packed and emptied by a moving company. After dinner at Stone Brewing on the last night of beer camp, I drove three hours home to an empty house, slept on the floor, then drove my wife, kid, and dogs to Arizona the next morning. We now reside in Phoenix and I’m getting ready to build a new home brewery at our new house.

What was your goal in attending?
My goal was to learn from industry experts. I had been researching, planning, and practicing everything possible within the beer industry for the past 1.5 years and I had many theories to talk about and questions to ask. I was looking for a lot of information related to legal, financing, and brewery design aspects.

Did the camp meet your expectations?
The camp met and exceeded all of my expectations. The Q&A opportunities with people like Dave Adams, Candace Moon, Derek Gallanosa and Michael Peacock (to name a few) were priceless!!

Has your knowledge of craft beer been expanded exponentially?
Absolutely. I was able to listen, ask, and talk about everything on my mind. Some ideas of mine were confirmed and some were reversed 180 degrees. I am much better prepared to open my brewery after the course.

Were the offsite visits particularly illuminating – getting a behind-the-scenes look at the industry?
Yes!! Brewery tours are always enlightening to see what other breweries do differently, but some days in particular were very illuminating. The class taught by Mr. Peacock at Green Flash Cellar 3 was my first class. He walked us through the brewery and talked about every aspect of the draft system and allowed for many questions. Cellar 3 and Stone Brewing opened my eyes to what a world-class brewery can be.

Justin Cross and Greg Koch

Justin Cross (right) with Greg Koch, co-founder of Stone Brewing.

Did you pick up any solid ideas about how to run your brewery?
Yes, our day with Chad Heath [senior director at Stone Brewing] was an eye-opener. I decided to change my initial plans for distribution packaging after talking to Chad. I was fortunate enough to “pitch” a brewery and beer to Chad and receive feedback. This solidified a few ideas I had about branding my business.

Can you speak to the caliber of the instructors?
The instructors, in my opinion, are of the highest caliber! I had been following a handful of the instructors for a while before I learned about the course, so I was pumped to be able to meet them and learn from them.

What did you like most about beer camp?
Access to have Q&A with industry leaders. I also really enjoyed the course content and the trips to San Diego breweries.

Do you have a fond memory, small-world moment, or any other anecdote to share?
I met a classmate from Perth, Australia who I became friends with. We plan on cross-continent beer collaborations. I also loved hearing the instructors talk about San Diego beer brands. Gaining perspective from industry leaders on some impressive companies such as Modern Times and Monkey Paw was great to hear.

Will you be staying in touch with your fellow campers?
Yes, I talk to my buddy from Australia and I plan on communicating with the other campers frequently when my brewery is getting ready to open.

What did you do on your free day to explore San Diego?
I took a paid brewery tour, a self-guided tour of multiple other breweries, and went to a San Diego Padres baseball game. I wanted to experience as much of the local beer community as possible and I think I made a good effort!

Would you recommend SDSU’s Craft Beer Camp to others?
Yes, absolutely!! I have already told many other people to be on the lookout for the next beer camp. I myself am also staying tuned for any future “camp” classes that would be beneficial to me. I don’t have the time to attend full-time school in San Diego, so these “crash courses” are perfect for me.

Save the Dates for 2017: Craft Beer Connoisseur Camp is July 26–August 3, Brewery Startup Camp is August 4–12. For more information, please visit neverstoplearning.net/craftbeercamp.