The UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies Brewing Certificate Program
has become a popular and impactful program since its inception in 2013. It’s led by top names in the industry and many of its graduates have become accomplished brewing professionals.
Yet, like many industries, brewing also suffers from a lack of diversity in its ranks. According to a study conducted in 2019 by the Brewers Association, current race and ethnicity demographics of U.S. brewery employees skew overwhelmingly white for production staff (76.2%) and brewers (89%). The same report showed that women only made up 13.9% of production staff and 7.5% of brewers.
Ballast Point Brewing Company
set out to correct the imbalance in 2020 with the Brewing for Diversity scholarship, which provides full tuition and related fees for one student annually starting or continuing in the Brewing Certificate Program.
The 2022 winner, Chris Leguizamon, currently works as the Education Program Manager at Pure Project.
Chris is already an accomplished beer professional and influencer. He’s one of only 15 level three Advanced Cicerones® in the state of California. He’s also a Certified BJCP Beer Judge, is on the San Diego Brewers Guild
Board of Directors and runs a popular Instagram account, The Beer Educator
We wanted to learn more about him and the impact potential the award has for his career.
Interviewer: Let's talk about the scholarship. What inspired you to apply for the scholarship and how has winning impacted you?
The UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies Brewery Arts Certificate program opened right around when I moved to San Diego in 2014. Every beer professional I met was talking about it. A lot of the best brewers from San Diego were teaching classes for it.
I was really intrigued because you learn so much hands-on info from these certifications that you just can't get from books. You're learning from the best of the best in the industry.
I signed up and got started, but because of financial reasons, I had to stop taking classes. This was towards the beginning of my career.
Earlier this year, I sat on a panel with Kyle Wiskerchen of the Division of Extended Studies. After the event, Kyle said, “you sound like you took our classes.” I told him I took some classes and I really wanted to finish it but just couldn’t fit it in financially at the time. He told me about the Brewing for Diversity scholarship and recommended I toss in my hat.
Now here we are.
Can you talk a bit about the need and importance of diversity in brewing?
For me and many first-generation Americans, we were always taught that education is the path to success. Without an education, you get lost by the wayside. There are 160 breweries here in San Diego. There are thousands of people working in the industry. How do you stick out?
Scholarships for this type of education are extremely important. Once you have that brewing certificate, no one can take that away from you. You can step up for that job interview. You know you’ve earned it.
So I believe these brewing certificates really help people like me flourish—the whole industry benefits. With more people at that table representing more diverse and unique perspectives, we can make a stronger community and explore more of what makes beer a culinary experience.
Tell us about your background and how you got into brewing.
I’m a first-generation American. My parents are from Colombia. I grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania. I went to state college in the middle-of-nowhere-Pennsylvania called Shippensburg and got a physics degree.
I've always had a curious mind. I constantly want to know why things happen and how they work.
Beer always sparked my interest, too. After college I got an internship at the battery factory—where everybody in Reading worked—and on the weekends I worked at a small start-up brewery. It's probably the size of my living room. That was June of 2014.
When the brewery first opened, we were in the hustle of getting beers on tap, and one day I noticed one of the beers tasted a little different. There was a fruitier taste. I asked the head brewer about it and he said he fermented it a little bit warmer so it could bring more esters forward.
I had never thought about the fermentation process like that before and how temperatures can change the flavor of a beer. From there I constantly wanted to know more.
I started noticing more small nuances between flavors from one batch to the next. I felt like I wanted to learn more but there weren't opportunities at the time in Pennsylvania.
Once my internship at the battery factory was done, I told my dad, and I was like, “Hey Dad, I visit San Diego every summer to see my uncle. Can I live in the place where I vacation?”
He was like, ‘You're 23. You don't have a car or house. If you're going to make that jump you're gonna do it now.” He did when he was 23 and moved from Colombia to the United States without even knowing the language. The worst thing that could happen is I come back to Pennsylvania, he said.
So I moved out to San Diego. I realized there are 160 breweries here. Something's gotta give.
How did you first get started with the brewing scene in San Diego?
My first job was as a tour guide at Mission Brewery. I learned a lot and my tours became very well-rounded.
Next, I went to Stone Brewing. I had a lot of self-doubt when I started there as a tour guide. I tried to mimic what other people were doing but I kept fumbling over my words. My mentor Ken Wright comes up to me and says, “Hey Chris, we hired you for you. Put your own personality into it.” That was a really important message for me at the time. That's when I really blossomed as a beer professional.
Tell me a bit about Pure Project and your role there.
Now I am the Education Program Manager for Pure Project. A big part of my job is being the liaison between the back of the house and the front of the house. There's a lot of technical jargon that goes along with brewing and I try to make it more digestible for the customer-facing staff. This helps everybody become more knowledgeable and understand what we're doing as a company.
I write brand sheets about each new beer for all our staff members to keep everyone as knowledgeable as possible about the beers we’re serving. We're trying to create a better beer experience at every single tasting room and that's my role.
It sounds like you're very experienced and know a lot about beer, but you’re going back to school to learn more. What’s motivating you to continue with the certification?
The reason I wanted to finish it up is that at this point in my career, I have influence. I'm able to shine a light on the different career paths and ways of learning about beer.
Learning is important. As an industry veteran, I want to lead by example. I still feel like there's so much more to learn.
The more I learn, the better feedback I'm able to give too. This is helpful when I work the judging tables down in Ensenada, Tijuana and Mexicali. I'm able to speak Spanish so language isn’t a barrier. It's really cool to be one of the youngest judges at those tables and at the same time being a Latino and being able to speak the language.
Hopefully, I can start judging broader than Mexico and the United States, and where the craft beer worlds are still developing. With these classes, I can learn more about brewing and give that positive feedback to help create a better craft beer scene in other countries and communities.
I'm really excited. It's really cool to grow, learn, and give back.
I'm an open book. People can always reach out. The more people learn, the more they grow. I think that's how we're going to make this industry a really impactful one in decades to come.
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To learn more about Chris, follow him on Instagram at @chris.thebeereducator or his website, christhebeereducator.com
. To learn more about Pure Project, find the company on Instagram at @purebrewing or their website at purebrewing.org
Taught by leading professional brewers and other industry experts, the UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies Brewing Certificate is a part-time, evening and weekend program that offers academic and practical training for entry-level brewing professionals. The certificate can be completed in 12-18 months and students may take as many classes as fit their schedule. For more information, please visit the program website
or send an email to email@example.com.