“I’ve never seen so much stainless steel in my life,” said Denny Vervaet, who traveled 2,400 miles to gain a better understanding of the craft beer business in the craft beer capital of the United States.
Vervaet was one of dozens of students in San Diego State University’s second annual Craft Beer Education Camp this summer, which gives craft beer aficionados around the world the opportunity to experience a nine-day version of SDSU’s popular Business of Craft Beer program.
Students chose from Craft Beer Connoisseur Camp (intensive preparation for industry exams such as Cicerone® and BJCP) and Brewery Startup Camp (everything you need to know to launch a brewery). Each offers 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.
Vervaet partook of Brewery Startup Camp, which included tours of numerous local breweries.
“The experiences and takeaways I have from attending this program were amazing!” said Vervaet, who hails from Blenheim, a small town in Ontario, Canada. “San Diego is the forefront for the business of beer and these courses were taught by the pioneers and experts in the craft beer industry. I came to gain a better understanding of what a developed craft market looks like and I left with so much more. This really was the most amazing schooling I have ever done!”
Vervaet answered a few questions about his experience.
How did you hear about SDSU’s Brewery Startup Camp?
I actually came across the course online through Instagram from a guy who attended the year previous. I reached out to him to get more details about his experience and immediately knew this was something I needed to attend.
When did your love of beer begin?
My love of beer is definitely passed on from my grandfather. He came over from Belgium with my grandmother, middle of the last century. I remember when I was younger and would go downstairs to see him brewing beer, not taking much interest obviously at that age. When he passed away, I helped clean out the downstairs fridge to find nothing in it but one bottle of homebrew carefully sitting on the middle shelf. It’s now shown proud in my brew room, as I knew I had to continue where he left off.
Do you currently work in the industry?
I do not. I support the industry, checking out any new or existing micros I can. Is it my dream someday to be involved myself? For sure!
What was your goal in attending beer camp?
I guess I would say I came to check out an established market and how it ticks. In my province, craft beer is still very much an emerging market and in its infancy. To give you an idea, within my area, there are only two microbreweries and I’m talking within maybe 100 kilometres. Where better to take this type of course than the craft beer capital of the USA.
How did the camp meet your expectations?
By far exceeded. It wasn’t until I flew home that I really had time to reflect on all of the lessons, experiences, and ideas I took in from this short time. This course was perfect for me, as I don’t have a lot of time to be away from home, having three young girls.
Has your knowledge of craft beer been expanded exponentially?
I would probably just say that San Diego is a very special market for craft beer. There is no lack of breweries to visit, people to connect with, or events to attend. Coming from my small market, it’s hard to explain to people back here who haven’t experienced a market such as this, the magnitude of what craft beer has become in different parts of the world.
Were the offsite visits particularly illuminating?
Every brewery has its own unique style, not just with their beer, but with their overall themes. This industry is very welcoming to begin with, but now I’m in this course that takes us to some of the best micros in the states where these well-known brewers and owners are telling us how they run their own successful brewery. It really was overwhelming. In a good way.
Did you pick up any solid ideas about how to run your brewery?
The common theme from all the breweries I visited was: build it bigger. The cold box, the brewing area, the equipment itself, and many other aspects of the brewery plan. It’s easier to grow into a larger space then knock down a wall later down the road.
Can you speak to the caliber of the instructors?
Top notch. These people are currently brewers, marketers, owners. There were no secrets, they did not hold back. Anything we wanted to know they were able to give an answer or a follow-up after the classes ended.
What did you like most about craft beer camp?
The networking and idea sharing was my favourite aspect, if I had to name one thing. Well, that’s two I guess. It was all good.
Do you have a fond memory, small-world moment, or any other anecdote to share?
We wanted to go visit a new brewery in Chula Vista called Thr3e Punk Ales. Took Uber all the way down there close to the Mexico border and find out that this brewery wasn’t even open yet and was closed that night for a private soft opening. Luckily, [Michael] Peacock, the king of draught systems, [Editor’s note: And craft beer camp instructor] was there that evening and we kind of got invited in and he gave us a private tour. Amazing.
Will you be staying in touch with your fellow campers?
I am still in contact with a few classmates. It was great when we were all together in San Diego, as many of us are home brewers and the idea sharing we did was amazing. A few of us are trying to figure out the logistics of sharing our beers through our mailing addresses.
What do you brew?
At home we usually brew a lot of hoppy beers — different IPAs styles. Lately we’ve been working on a lot of Belgian style beers, going back to my roots of my grandfather. After all, he is the reason I got into this in the first place.
What did you do on your free day to explore San Diego?
I tried to check out as many breweries as possible. I knew there was no way I could get even close to visiting half of them so I really had to pick and choose where I wanted to go. Did some touristy stuff as well, checked out the USS Midway, San Diego Zoo (kid at heart) and even caught a concert in Chula Vista.
Would you recommend SDSU’s Craft Beer Camp to others?
If you have never been to summer school before, here’s your opportunity. Except you will be going on your own terms, not because you failed calculus. This is a trip I will never forget, the courses and material are top notch. I don’t think they could possibly cram anything more into this week, but they don’t need to — it’s all there for ya. Cheers eh!