Craft Beer Education Camp: 9 Glorious Days of Intensive Instruction in San Diego, the U.S. Capital of Craft Beer

Bill Sysak

“Dr.” Bill Sysak, Craft Beer Ambassador & Certified Cicerone®

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 123 breweries in San Diego County, with another 30 in planning. [May 2017 update: There are now 142 breweries, 28 satellite tasting rooms, and 27 breweries in planning, according to West Coaster Magazine.]

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 is launching its newest offering: Craft Beer Education Camp.

Students can choose from Craft Beer Connoisseur Camp, July 24-August 1, 2016, which offers intensive preparation for industry exams such as Cicerone® and BJCP; or Brewery Startup Camp, August 2-10, 2016 (everything you need to know to launch a brewery). Some early registrants have signed up for both. Each camp offers eight days of intensive instruction and one free day to explore San Diego. [2017 Camp Dates are: Craft Beer Connoisseur Camp, July 26–August 3; Brewery Startup Camp, August 4–12.]

“Dr.” Bill Sysak, a founding advisory board member and instructor with SDSU’s professional certificate program, will teach several courses. As the Craft Beer Ambassador for Stone Brewing Co., Dr. Bill (a nickname from his combat medic days in the Army National Guard) is the beer expert at the 10th largest craft brewery in the U.S. He oversees the beverage philosophy for Stone’s hospitality division; develops training and educational programs; helps create and host numerous events held at Stone and around the country; and attends national events like Savor, the Craft Brewers Conference, and Great American Beer Festival. He also likely elicits severe career envy among beer lovers everywhere. [Update: Sysak left Stone in October 2016 to start his own brewery. Wild Barrel Brewing Company will open in San Marcos, Calif. later this year.]

Dr. Bill shares his thoughts on craft beer, and craft beer camp:

Who do you see as the ideal candidate for SDSU’s Craft Beer Education Camp?
First of all you need to be passionate about craft beer. Who in their right mind would spend eight days learning from experts and drinking world-class beers? Oh, wait. That sounds pretty good! I see business professionals both in and out of the industry who aren’t close to the environs of San Diego and who don’t have the ability to travel once a week to take all the courses. This is one-stop shopping, so to speak. Beer shopping.

What can campers/students expect, academically and otherwise?
If they’re new to craft beer, we will ignite their passion. If they’ve been around the industry for a while, we will fan the flame that originally got them into craft beer. Summer camp will include days of intensive education made fun and interesting by our knowledgeable instructors.

You’ll be teaching The History of Beer. Can you share some fascinating beer lore?
One of the main reasons the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock was because they ran out of beer. They had no barley so they made acorn beer. Our national anthem was borrowed from an 18th century drinking song. Beer was the first beverage to be pasteurized, not milk.

Given that the Code of Hammurabi included the death penalty for watering down beer, do you think Billy Carter dodged an arrow by being born in the 20th century?
We know fizzy yellow beer has been the scourge of the last century. The craft beer industry as a whole is working to rectify that.

You’ll also be teaching The Craft Beer Renaissance. What is it about San Diego that made it such fertile ground for that renaissance and enabled us to snag the title of Craft Beer Capital of the U.S.?
Ninety-five percent of all the craft brewers in America started out as home brewers. Having great home brew clubs in the area for the last couple of decades has allowed San Diego to have a plethora of award-winning breweries.

What words of encouragement do you have for anyone who wants to be part of the craft beer renaissance, either in San Diego or elsewhere?
It’s not just a renaissance, it’s a revolution! Come join us! There are great craft breweries springing up all over the world and there is plenty of room for continued growth. Get passionate!

You’ll also be teaching Craft Beer and Food Pairing, and Off-Flavor Introduction. What’s your favorite unexpected pairing, and favorite off-flavor?
A double IPA paired with carrot cake. When I suggest it, people tend to look at me funny but once they try it they are instantly hooked. It’s all about the “Oh wow” moment when the beer and food are both elevated in the pairing that I love. Hmmm, favorite off-flavor. I like the effect that oxidation has on the 3 percent of craft beers that can be cellared for up to 10 years, but for the other 97 percent, oxidation is bad. Let’s call it a love/hate relationship.

Do you anticipate that Craft Beer Camp will afford the same networking opportunities as the regular program?
Yes I do. Our relationships with members of the craft beer scene throughout San Diego will continue to create a fast track for our graduates to enter the industry both locally and abroad.

Did you love your first sip of beer ever or was it an acquired taste?
I did but that is a long story. Not everyone does. I’ve introduced tens of thousands of people to craft beer and it’s all about finding that gateway or transitional beer to hook them in. Once they have found that beer, all bets are off.

Course tuition is $1,500 per camp. Everyone is welcome; must be 21 or older. For more information or to reserve your place, visit NeverStopLearning.net/CraftBeerCamp