Chris Duncan

Chris Duncan

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 are 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 it’s a hit.

Encinitas resident Chris Duncan shares his experience at Craft Beer Connoisseur Camp.

What’s your connection to beer?
Aspiring proprietor of my own beer bar. I will be opening a tap room featuring beer from independent breweries, most of which will be the small, local ones with little or no distribution. I will personally curate all the beer and I have already been at work establishing relationships with local brewers and getting to know their beers.

How did you hear about SDSU’s Craft Beer Connoisseur Camp?
I don’t recall specifically. I have followed the industry for a while and knew about SDSU’s Extended Studies program already. Possibly in the West Coaster though — great publication. I will most likely take some of the other classes as well to continue to advance my knowledge.

How far did you travel to attend?
Not as far as some of my classmates! Just a 30 minute drive from Encinitas for me.

What was your goal in attending?
To open a great beer bar in this town, one must really know their stuff, and this concentrated class was a great way to establish my base knowledge. One of my goals is to become a Cicerone, not for the title but to drive myself to understand everything I can as an owner serving unique craft beer. With this class knowledge, I easily passed the Certified Beer Server exam within a few days of completion, so I am on my way! As I mentioned, I will take other classes as well, even once I have my place up and running. Learning should never stop.

How did the camp meet your expectations?
I really didn’t know what to expect, but everything about it was amazing. From the in-class tastings to off-site visits, the program was so inclusive. The curriculum description didn’t do it justice!

Has your knowledge of craft beer been expanded exponentially?
Definitely! For me, it really showed me what I didn’t and still don’t know. There is so much more to learn.

Were the offsite visits particularly illuminating – getting a behind-the-scenes look at the industry?
They really were. Classroom learning is one thing, but seeing and engaging the real thing is unbeatable. For me, the morning at Cellar 3 with Dave [Adams, instructor] was extremely insightful — the brewery operations, bar set-up and the cooler design were so hands-on and relevant for me. But even the others in the class who may not have been into these things got behind the scenes; I’m sure they won’t look at bars and breweries the same way again.

Can you speak to the caliber of the instructors?
The instructors made the program. Having Dr. Bill [Sysak] teach some of the classes was incredible. They each were so perfectly aligned with their areas of instruction; it just shows how well structured this program is. I hope to be in touch with some of them for their expertise as I go about starting my business, which they have offered to provide. Great people — that’s what I love about the craft beer industry.

Damon Sherman, Gabrielle Acconciagioco, Bill Sysak, and Tomas Delfino

(L to R) Damon Sherman of Alpine, Calif.; Gabrielle Acconciagioco of Keller, Texas; Instructor “Dr.” Bill Sysak; and Tomas Delfino of Bogota, Colombia

What did you like most about beer camp?
Personally, it has to be the tasting skills I’m refining at home with note-keeping about beer, but professionally, the front-of-the-house learnings will really be invaluable for me.

Do you have a fond memory, small-world moment, or any other anecdote to share?
I have never heard the term “crushable” used more. But really, just that so many of my classmates came from such far points. I thought this would be predominantly local folks like me but with the guys from Columbia, New Jersey, New York and Michigan, I realized how fortunate I am to have this opportunity in my own back yard. Isn’t San Diego crushable?! I don’t think that’s in the right context but let’s go with it.

Will you be staying in touch with your fellow campers?
For sure. One of them set up the Beer Camp Facebook page which we have been using and hopefully future classes will as well. I got a new T-shirt out of one as well. A classmate from Founder’s Brewery and I traded shirts. He got my Belching Beaver T to wear around when making Founder’s beer now.

What did you do on your free day to explore San Diego?
Worked! I think some of the others from out of town had a good excursion.

Would you recommend SDSU’s Beer Camp to others?
Hands down for anyone wanting to get into any part of the industry, this program is a must! The time commitment is not easy, but well worth it because it covers so much in a short time.

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