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

When San Diego State University’s College of Extended Studies launched the Business of Craft Beer program in the fall of 2013, registration for the introductory course, Exploring Craft Beer, sold out in eight hours. The following fall it took 48 minutes.

The program’s wild popularity reflects the explosive growth of the craft beer industry in San Diego, the current Craft Beer Capital of the U.S. At the time of this writing, there are 128 breweries in San Diego County, with another 25 in planning.

The Business of Craft Beer 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 its newest offering: Craft Beer Education Camp, in summer 2016.

Students came from all over the U.S as well as Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela, and Australia, to partake in 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). Some students attended both. Each camp 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. Wildly enthusiastic reviews from students indicate that Craft Beer Education Camp was a hit.

Damon Sherman, Craft Beer Education Camp

Damon Sherman

Student Damon Sherman of Alpine, California, shares his experience.

What’s your connection to beer?
I began drinking craft beer in 1992 with the likes of Karl Strauss, Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, etc. I never went back to poorly made yellow beer and have been challenging my palate ever since. I began home brewing in 1993 and from memory I remember a pretty good English Brown Ale and one incredible oatmeal stout. I quit home brewing shortly before entering the police academy in 1998, which has been my career since. I have continued to push my palate with different beers and food pairings and plan to start home brewing again soon.

How did you hear about SDSU’s Craft Beer Connoisseur Camp?
I was in Burning Beard Brewery shortly after they opened. I picked up the #2 issue of Craft County Magazine and saw the ad on the back cover. I saw the dates coincided with my birthday, prompting me to say, “Happy birthday to me!”

What was your goal in attending?
I’m retiring from the police force and looking to reinvent myself through one of my greatest passions, the art and craft of beer.

How did the camp meet your expectations?
The camp far exceeded my expectations. Literally EVERYTHING was thought of. That would be easy if the camp had been going on for years, but this was the first. The best example beers were chosen for instruction. The shuttle service was both smart and convenient. And the instructors were nothing short of the tops of their respective fields.

Has your knowledge of craft beer been expanded exponentially?
I entered the camp with 24 years of craft beer knowledge. I have tasted conservatively over 2000 different beers. But the one thing I learned at camp was exactly how much I still had to learn. We will never know all there is to know, and that journey to try is what truly excites me.

Were the offsite visits particularly illuminating – getting a behind-the-scenes look at the industry?
Yes!!! For someone who has yet to work in the craft beer industry, those visits were instrumental in giving context to the great instruction we received in class.

Can you speak to the caliber of the instructors?
What else can I say? Dr. Bill. George Thornton and Dave Adams. Michael Peacock. All four are elite in their fields and not just in San Diego. The four have distinctly different styles, but complement one another perfectly.

What did you like most about beer camp?
I liked the wide variety of exposure to the industry we were given. Truly all facets were covered during any one of the nine days. Though, after all is said and done, I have many new friends. Friends from all over the world.

Do you have a fond memory, small-world moment, or any other anecdote to share?
As I said, camp took place during my birthday. Some fellow campers brought in special bottles of beer for me as gifts. Some were from inside industry contacts and another from his private home-brew batch. Very nice gestures.

Will you be staying in touch with your fellow campers?
Yes! To date I can say I have spoken to at least one camper every day since camp ended.

What did you do on your free day to explore San Diego?
I have contacts at Burning Beard Brewery and arranged for a private, closed door tour of the facility for interested members of my class. I felt it was both important for exposure to the brewery as well as giving campers an inside look into a brewery that’s been open for only three months. Shannon, the tasting room manager, gave a one-hour tour of the entire facility and then one of the owners, Jeff, sat with us over several beers and answered questions.

Would you recommend SDSU’s Craft Beer Camp to others?
I would and already have!!! Keep ’em coming!


Rave Reviews from Students of SDSU’s Inaugural Craft Beer Education Camp, Summer 2016

“The overall experience was amazing and one of the best things I have ever done. I wish I was back in grade school so I get to answer the question ‘What did you do over the summer?’ Cheers to SDSU for an amazing job.”

“The quality of instruction was incredible! Plus, I met so many valuable contacts who could help me in my future endeavors.”

“I came in with zero craft beer experience or background. I felt comfortable with people in the class knowing way more than I did; they helped along the way. The instructors were great; they are at the top of the craft beer industry.”

“I loved everything. I can’t say enough good things about this experience.”

For more information on Craft Beer Education Camp, please visit NeverStopLearning.net/BeerCamp