Business of Craft Beer turns 10

Revisiting SDSU’s beer-centric certificate program after a decade of operation, examining it through eyes of OG instructors and graduates turned industry pros

It was 2013 when courses associated with the Business of Craft Beer program first appeared in the catalog for San Diego State University’s Global Campus. Designed to prepare students to enter the brewing industry, whether as a brewery owner, business professional, or front-of-house staff at a tasting room, bar or restaurant, it boasts a wide-ranging curriculum that has grown and shifted with the times, business conditions, consumer preferences and legislative updates.

“In 2013, with breweries popping up all around San Diego County and throughout California, the team at SDSU Global Campus saw a need to offer courses to help students learn the ins and outs of the Business of Craft Beer,” says Program Director Natasha Nace. “Ten years later, we are thrilled to continue to offer a program that includes the newest trends in craft-beer education.”

The program initially offered eight courses en route to a Level I certificate. It now offers a total of 15 courses, including its newest, The Chemistry of Beer and Wine, and Draught Systems II. There are also several seminar-series courses, and a Level II certificate has been added.

To this day, enrollees’ first course is what it was a decade ago, Exploring Craft Beer.  Like many of the program’s courses, it’s only ever been taught by a single instructor. In this case, Wild Barrel Brewing co-founder and renowned beer expert, Bill Sysak (pictured below with students at Wild Barrel).

“When the program’s advisory board approached me about being an instructor, I was with Stone Brewing and had recently been promoted to the role of Craft Beer Ambassador,” says Sysak. “I was overseeing the beverage programs at their Bistro restaurants, creating events and festivals, both on- and off-site, and traveling to speak at various events, festivals and conferences across the country.”

Sysak’s class focuses on the basics of beer, touching on its history, ingredients, sensory aspects and more. Sysak says that in 10 years, all his students have passed Exploring Craft Beer, with a number voluntarily enrolling in his other hospitality-geared course, Exceptional Beer and Food Pairings. He is proud of that 100% pass rate and enthused to see program graduates who have gone on to make a splash in the local industry.

One of those individuals is Nick Corona, the founder of Five Suits Brewing in Vista. As an award-winning homebrewer with aspirations of opening his own business, he had long wanted to learn more about the industry. The opportunity to learn from veterans with many years of experience in so many different areas was what inspired him to sign-up for this particular program.

“Education in all facets of the industry are available, from craft-beer history to finance, all the way to technical aspects like understanding the full workings of a draught system. I’ve used so many lessons that I’ve learned from the program in our day-to-day operations, but the biggest were how to best streamline our business to avoid many of the pitfalls that we have seen and heard of before,” says Corona. “Hearing directly from industry professionals about their experiences and some of the struggles they faced was not just eye-opening, but it better prepared me to look further down the road and anticipate change as it unfolds.”

Students engage in hands-on exercises during the Draught Systems I course

Over the past 10 years, more than 3,500 students have taken Business of Craft Beer courses. That includes students from other states and countries whose participation was made possible by the program adding online options during the pandemic.

“We now offer courses in multiple modalities, including in-classroom, online, hi-flex and off-site course offerings,” says Nace. Some courses take place at local breweries, including Wild Barrel, Mujeres Brew House and White Labs. “Although the traditional classroom is a great learning environment, we realized that students wanted hands-on training and off-site courses enhance the student experience.”

Being in a working brewery environment is particularly helpful for Michael Peacock (pictured below with students at AleSmith Brewing) who teaches Draught Systems I and II. Peacock is another Business of Craft Beer success story. Already a food-service professional of 30 years, he enrolled in the program. Part of his coursework for the Brewery Startup I and II courses included drawing up a business plan for the company he went on to found, TapCraft. Shortly after joining 26 of his fellow students as the program’s first graduating class, he was recruited to come back as an instructor.

“How could I say ‘no’? My course was originally going to be a three-to-six hour class. That quickly developed into a six-week, 18-hour class and has expanded to two six-week sections,” says Peacock. “And as a small business owner, I teach beverage systems in multiple programs and in different countries. My personal and professional networks continue to grow, and I am often consulted on the development of new products beyond the craft-beer industry.”

Program graduate Joshua Schreer (who says that Peacock was hands-down the most fun instructor he had) also saw his network grow as an enrollee and proceeded to put those connections good to use with his own venture, Vista-based brewing company, WestBrew.

“Networking through the program proved extremely valuable. As soon as I signed up, I was exposed to the heads of the local industry as well as many people eager to be in it or looking to expand their knowledge and their own personal networks with similar working professionals,” says Schreer. “During the program, I met some of my initial team members who helped me launch WestBrew. We have opened three locations in two years and have hired on some of the best professionals in the craft-beer industry.”

Similarly, Marlow Myrmo met a fellow student who would become his right-hand man in the brewhouse. After 15 years in the restaurant industry, the manager of the original Hodad’s in Ocean Beach was curious about what a brewery could add to the business. He came across an online ad for the Business of Craft Beer program and enrolled. His plan was to complete the Level I and Level II certifications, write the business plan for the restaurant group’s brewing arm and follow through on its implementation. Five years later, he is director of operations for Hodad’s Brewing and his classmate Josh Ferracioli is the organization’s head brewer.

Doug Pominville from Thorn Brewing (right), working with industry guests from local breweries, Creative Creature Brewing and Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing

“The program covers so many topics and there is something for everyone. Beer styles and origins, sensory evaluation and off-flavors are great for anyone who loves beer. Brewery Startup, learning about certain requirements needed for a brewery build-out and ABC laws pertaining to starting a brewery were key lessons for me,” says Myrmo. “The Business of Craft Beer program can open up the world of beer for curious minds and create opportunities for anyone interested.”

“We have students that fall into three main categories,” says Sysak. “Enrollees who are passionate about beer and want to expand their knowledge, students who are in the hospitality industry and want to be better at what they do, and people who want to break into the beer industry. The program serves as a great resource to assist students in making their beer dreams come true.”

Students can enroll in the Business of Craft Beer program online. Courses are offered in the spring, summer and fall in-person, online, hybrid (a mix of in-person and online), and at local breweries as well as other off-site locations throughout San Diego County.

Students assemble with former program instructor George Thornton (in green, seated on floor) at his business, Home Brewing Co.

Business of Craft Beer Alumni

In addition to serving as Director of Hospitality for Modern Times Beer and Vice President of the San Diego Brewers Guild, Jake Nunes has been involved with the Business of Craft Beer program since its inception, both as part of its advisory board and an instructor for Beer Styles I and II. He says the positive reputation of the program has helped many of his students find employment.

“I have always cherished my relationship with this program. It is one of my proudest accomplishments,” says Nunes, who adds that the positive reputation of the program has helped many of his tutees find employment. “Many of my students have gone on to be successful in the beer industry as taproom managers, brewery owners and award-winning brewers.”

The following are just some notable graduates of the program working in the San Diego brewing industry…

  • Nick Corona, Owner & Head Brewer, Five Suits Brewing (Vista)
  • Chris Duncan, Owner, Brewers Taproom (Encinitas)
  • Josh Ferracioli, Head Brewer, Hodad’s Brewing (Serra Mesa)
  • Steve Garcia, Co-owner, Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing (Chula Vista)
  • Andrew Hannegan, Owner & Head Brewer, Hannegan’s House Beer Co. & Creamery (National City)
  • Othman Janati, Owner, Hidden Craft (Downtown)
  • Kevin Lewis, Co-founder & Head Brewer, Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing (Chula Vista)
  • Sean McNeil, Sales Manager, Resident Brewing (Downtown)
  • Alex Montelbano, Co-owner, Kové (Miramar)
  • Marlow Myrmo, Director of Operations, Hodad’s Brewing (Serra Mesa)
  • John Peacock, Brewer, North Park Beer Co. (North Park)
  • Michael Peacock, Owner, TapCraft
  • George Ramirez, Owner, Over the Tap (National City)
  • Joshua Schreer, Owner, WestBrew (Vista)
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