In fall 2013, San Diego State University began offering a Business of Craft Beer certification. Rather than train people to brew, the program teaches different aspects of working in the craft beer industry, whether starting a brewery, working for one, or simply becoming more knowledgeable about beer. In two years, the program has become a popular destination for hobbyists and those looking to get into the industry at every level: from taproom employee to executive and even investor.
The program was started by Giana Rodriguez, program director of the SDSU College of Extended Studies, which offers coursework to the public without the need to enroll as a full-time student. When Rodriguez took the position three years ago, the program offered certifications for the business of wine and media events planning, but nothing pertaining to the city's biggest beverage concern.
"We started having conversations with people within the industry," she says, "to find out where the gaps were" in beer job qualifications. And the program's coursework reflects the type of skills craft beer employers seek. To define the parameters of the program, Rodriguez assembled an advisory board of industry leaders, including Hamilton's and Monkey Paw owner Scot Blair, Green Flash CEO Mike Hinkley, and TapHunter CEO Melani Gordon.
A Level 1 certificate requires six courses and takes about a year to complete. It's primarily geared toward students preparing to become a cicerone — beer's answer to a sommelier — or a certified beer judge, qualified to assess beers in a contest setting. A Level 2 certificate requires an extra semester and additional coursework covering topics including beer distribution, draught systems, and marketing.
While the coursework varies depending on individual interests, all students begin with the class Exploring Craft Beer, a six-week course on beer history and styles. Rodriguez says more people register for this class than seek a certificate, and demand is high. "We sell out in a day," she says, adding that registration is capped at 54, and a waiting list routinely develops. For two recent semesters, the waiting list grew long enough that SDSU added an extra section, increasing capacity to 108.
Stone Brewing's designated Craft Beer Ambassador "Dr." Bill Sysak is one of many local beer professionals who teaches for the program. He offers a course on food pairings and leads the initial Exploring Craft Beer class. "I basically have six weeks to get everybody excited about beer," he says, "to give them a feel for where they want to be in the beer industry."
Rodriguez points out that these certifications don't provide skilled workers exclusively for breweries, but also ancillary industries. "We're really working on the hospitality sector," she notes, "working with hotels, having people be able to speak more intelligibly about craft beer." But it goes beyond people preparing to be knowledgeable beer servers, she adds. "We're starting to see people who already have a business degree — have a marketing degree, law degree — wanting to work with the industry…even investors coming in to learn and network."
Registration is now open for the next section, which begins November 4.