James Magill (right) with Greg Koch (left)

Stone Brewing co-founder Greg Koch (left) and James Magill.

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 Start-Up 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 James Magill of the Torrey Highlands area of San Diego, shares his experience at Brewery Start-Up Camp.

What’s your connection to beer?
I’m a beer enthusiast and home brewer with a goal of eventually working in the craft beer industry.

How did you hear about SDSU’s Brewery Start-Up Camp?
I’m currently enrolled in SDSU’s Business of Craft Beer Certificate program, which begs the question: why would I sign up for a camp that provides information (in a condensed way) based on the classes in the Craft Beer Professional Certificate program? Hopefully the following answers will explain why I did and why others should consider it.

What was your goal in attending?
I had several reasons/goals for attending the beer camp. First, I wanted to expand my network within the craft beer industry. Second, with a goal to eventually work at a craft brewery, I wanted to gain a broader understanding of the business and the challenges craft breweries encounter. Finally, I saw the camp as a way to gain a different perspective by quickly covering a number of related topics and areas while developing a knowledge base which I could build on as I continued to take classes to fulfill the professional certificate requirements. My hope was that the individual classes would complement the camp by providing more in-depth information, giving me both a broad and deeper understanding of the craft beer business.

How did the camp meet your expectations?
The camp met and exceeded my expectations. I don’t currently work in the craft beer industry, so it allowed me to immerse myself in the business for nine days with others that had specific business objectives, and to share in their experience. Thus, I was able to learn as much from my classmates as I did from the instructors. I expanded my network and quickly enhanced my knowledge and understanding of the craft beer business and industry, which I’m already benefiting from in the draught systems class I’m currently taking. I also received credit for two classes: Brewery Start-Up I and Distribution. So the camp accelerated my certificate completion – bonus!

Has your knowledge of craft beer been expanded exponentially?
For me, that happens with every class I take. However, what the camp provided that I found most enlightening was the opportunity to go behind the scenes and see the thought process that goes into the different craft beer business models. Within the camp there were individuals who wanted to start breweries, brew pubs, hop farms; use contract brewing; and importing and exporting craft beer.

Were the offsite visits particularly illuminating – getting a behind-the-scenes look at the industry?
It’s always great to get a behind-the-scenes look at the business to help relate the classroom material to real-world application. The offsite visits allowed me to look at various business models – small scale (Helm’s Brewing), medium (Brewery Ignitor, Amplified Ale Works) and large scale (Stone Brewing).

Can you speak to the caliber of the instructors?
The instructors were excellent, as anyone in the program can attest to. Their knowledge and experience is as beneficial as the material they’re presenting.

What did you like most about beer camp?
There were two things I really liked about the camp. First, the people and instructors. It was fun getting to know them, their backgrounds and their perspectives on San Diego craft beer. Many took the opportunity to take in the tasting rooms and breweries after class, which provided for robust discussions. Second, the informal learning environment. The Q&A and dialogue sessions were very interesting and engaging, which allowed the instructors to share their experiences both on and off topic.

Do you have a fond memory, small-world moment, or any other anecdote to share?
A number of things come to mind. First, the beer pairing lunch at South Park Brewing with Scot Blair was fantastic and very educational. Second, the White Labs tour, even though brief, was very informative. Finally, spending the day at Stone Brewing’s headquarters which, like their breweries, has no signage. But my most memorable moment would be that while at Stone’s HQ, Greg Koch came in and had an open dialogue with the class on topics which included: getting Stone Berlin started, site selection, expectations … etc., Stone’s Richmond facility compared to the Escondido brewery, where he sees the craft beer industry in 3-5 years, and the positive and negative trends.

Will you be staying in touch with your fellow campers?
I would like to as I hope our paths will cross again in the future.

What did you do on your free day to explore San Diego?
I actually took the brewery tour, which may seem odd given I could visit them any time I want. However, in addition to tasting beer with friends, I was able to have discussions on the applications of what we learned, such as: front of the house management, the different brewery setups, draught systems, and marketing; and get insights on everyone’s prospective business plans.

Would you recommend SDSU’s Craft Beer Camp to others?
Definitely! Even though the camp parallels the craft beer certificate program with regard to the material presented, I think there’s a lot to be gained from the insights and experiences offered with such a focused group (i.e. brewery startup). I found the camp to be complimentary to the certificate program rather than redundant.

For more information on the 2018 Brewery Start-Up Camp, please visit neverstoplearning.net/craftbeercamp.