David Plundo and Greg Koch

David Plundo (right) and Stone Brewing co-founder Greg Koch.

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.

Alabama resident David Plundo drove 110 miles to Atlanta, Georgia, to catch a coast-to-coast flight to San Diego to attend Brewery Startup Camp.

What is your connection to beer?
I was not a beer drinker until I discovered craft beer. Living in several different states over the years, I have watched the craft beer industry grow with craft breweries dotting the landscape. Having dreamed of starting a craft brewery but not knowing much about the industry, it just seemed impossible to gather the necessary knowledge and contacts to make an informed decision as to the feasibility. So, as most dreams go, it remained just that … a dream. I continued to enjoy visiting breweries and doing the brewery tours with my wife. We would always talk afterwards about what if … Then I heard about the Brewery Startup Camp at SDSU.

How did you hear about SDSU’s Brewery Startup Camp?
It showed up in my Facebook newsfeed one day. Then it was there again and again. I would read it, follow it to the website and think “How I would love to do this,” but nine days in San Diego. I work! If I was ever going to pursue opening a craft brewery, this was the best format for me. After discussions with my wife and family, and their enthusiastic support, I signed up.

How did the camp meet your expectations?
Oh my gosh! The camp was eye-opening. It far succeeded my expectations, taught by industry leaders who had each had a part in starting breweries and are currently working in them. The openness and sharing of information in an organized educational venue was amazing. As this is an unusual type of educational program, many of the classes were held a craft breweries throughout San Diego. We had the experience of visiting large and small craft breweries and were taught by owners, head brewers, and industry personnel highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of the equipment and ingredients they use, along with their journey of becoming a successful brewery. The information was not all sunshine and roses though. They were upfront with the startup costs, building codes, legal issues, alcohol control boards, zoning issues, hop shortages, and distribution networks, to list a few.

Has your knowledge of craft beer been expanded exponentially?
I was looking to gather information and boy did I. It came fast and furious. The 55 hours of instruction flew by. Every instructor had information I needed to know. Just the contacts I made to be able to reach out to with questions was invaluable. I came to the camp as a novice enthusiast and left convinced that this would be tougher than I originally thought, but I could do this.

Were the offsite visits particularly illuminating – getting a behind-the-scenes look at the industry?
This is a unique course, and the offsite visits to local craft breweries were essential to the validity of the educational program. Seeing the physical setup of the brew house and fermenters, and hearing why certain equipment was chosen allowed me to realize what I would need to start. Seeing and learning about the various tap systems and the tasting rooms in each brewery we visited further helped me realize what would be necessary.

Did you pick up any solid ideas about how to run your brewery?
Every class had solid ideas about starting and running a craft brewery. From the size of my initial brew house, the legal requirements for alcohol production, trademarking the brewery name, building size and requirements, social media marketing … I could go on and on. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know! 

Can you speak to the caliber of the instructors?
The instructors gave legitimacy and validity to the camp. These are the people working every day, brewing craft beer and working to become and stay successful in the industry. They were passionate about what they do and were willing to share their experience, both good and bad.

What did you like most about beer camp?
Hard to choose but the offsite visits to the local craft breweries was certainly a highlight. Sampling a rather diverse number and types of craft beers was a plus and was essential to the understanding of trends, food pairings, and what is possible in your own brewery.

Do you have a fond memory, small-world moment, or any other anecdote to share?
The openness of all the breweries to share information including beer recipes took me by surprise. But one of my highlights was getting to meet and talk with Greg Koch, one of the founders of Stone Brewing.

Will you be staying in touch with your fellow campers?
When you are in an intense learning environment, the people you meet and the friends you make become special to you. You rely on each other during discussions, pick each other’s brains for ideas and help with your own concepts. You spend so much time together during class and then get together in the evenings and visit additional craft breweries, ahem … for research purposes. These relationships last after the camp ends. As we all scattered back across the country and world, we will always be available by phone or email as we formed a bond over something we are all passionate about. I look forward to visiting and supporting my new friends as they start their own breweries and look forward to their support of me.

What did you do on your free day to explore San Diego?
San Diego is a great place to visit if you have any interest in craft beer. There are over 120 craft breweries in the greater San Diego area. I was fortunate to have my wife come for the weekend and since the free day was on a Saturday, we spent it visiting other craft breweries as I excitedly told her about my experience, explaining that we could actually start a craft brewery with what I learned, and the support of the camp faculty and my new industry friends and classmates.

Would you recommend SDSU’s Craft Beer Camp to others?
Absolutely! If you have ever thought “Wouldn’t it be great if I could?” This is the camp for you. Many thanks to Giana Rodriguez and Evon Yousif at SDSU for making this camp possible. This would have been impossible to attend as a semester course working full time and living in the eastern part of the country, but it was well worth the vacation days for the volume of information gained in the condensed camp format. Now I know … I can do this!

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.