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From Special Ops to Special Hops

Retired Colonel Sam Hartwell looks for a career change in brewing

Following a successful 30-year active duty and reserve career in the Army—which included time served in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as intelligence support for special ops—Sam Hartwell retired as a colonel and was ready for a different kind of “action” in his life.

A self-described beer aficionado, Hartwell has always been a fan of brewing, and his time spent abroad in Europe only fueled his love for the craft. Finally, he was ready and, with help from his Veterans Educational Benefits, able to take the dive. “The G.I. Bill was a huge benefit and hugely influenced my decision to continue my education,” said Hartwell.

Hartwell applied to UC Davis Extension’s Master Brewers Program. “I had no experience whatsoever in the brewing industry,” said Hartwell. With a background in chemistry and engineering, the program was a crash course in brewing science. “It really brought me up to speed, and I learned what it’s all about. It was pure academics and quite intense,” he said.

One thing he didn’t need a crash course in, however, was the precision and discipline required in the brewing industry. “Brewing is really about attention to detail with highly specific procedures that you have to follow,” said Hartwell. “Everything has to be right all the time, the first time.” And that mentality—following special operating procedures scrupulously—was something he’d already learned and mastered during his service in the U.S. Army.

With a desire to continue his education, Hartwell sought the advice of Master Brewers Program professors Michael Lewis and Charles Bamforth on other opportunities, then moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, where he is finishing up his M.S. in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University. “The Master Brewers Program was an incredible academic experience because of the world-class professors who are at the peak of their profession,” he said, noting that the brewing portion of his master's program has been more of a review of Davis’ program with the addition of lab time.

With a new career in brewing well within reach, Hartwell is deciding whether he wants to go into brewing or distilling. And he has advice for fellow veterans out there, who may also be interested in tapping into the brewing industry. “Use your G.I. Bill, and get the training,” he said. “You won’t get better academic training than at UC Davis Extension.”

Student Reviews


“This program is good for anyone of any skill level. It gives you a step above anyone else when looking for jobs. Seeing the program is very impressive to interviewers.”

Ronnie Fink, director of brewing operations, Modern Brewery, Saint Louis, Mo.


Because of this program, I’m able to work in a brewery, and if something goes wrong, I understand the science behind it and can use that knowledge to correct it.”

Aaron Barth, head brewer, Big Storm Brewery, Odessa, Fla.


“If you want to learn about brewing, this is one of the most in-depth ways to do it. It takes you from the field to the bottle to the store...every single aspect of brewing. You don’t miss a thing!”

See how Crystal turned her passion for brewing into a successful career. Watch her video.

Crystal Fraley, consultant, White Labs, Davis, Calif.


“It’s a great program for really putting everything together and for the general math and science that goes into brewing.”

Benjamin Mills, owner and head brewer, Fossil Cove Brewery, Fayetteville, Ark.


“I owe where I am to the Master Brewers Program. It really helped get me on a career path, not just a job, a lifelong brewing career.”

Kevin Wright, founder and brewmaster, Third Space Brewing, Milwaukee, Wis.


"I could not be happier and more proud of what I get to do for 40+ hours a week: brew beer. I have the Master Brewers Program to thank for that. I cannot put into words how much the program has benefited me."

Jason Eich, production brewer, The Dudes' Brewing Company, Torrance, Calif.

"The Master Brewers Program was one of the best investments I've ever made, and the education has really paid off in my career."

Nick Smith, founder/brewer, Soul Barrel Brewing, Cape Town, South Africa

"The instruction provided at UC Davis Extension has been indispensable to my success, not only in brewing science and process improvement, but to managing union staff."

Steven Reid, brewing supervisor, F.X. Matt Brewing Company

"Sierra Nevada offered me a cellar operator position, which I enthusiastically accepted. I cannot thank you enough for the post-program support. Once again, it shows why the choice to attend UC Davis Extension was the best one."

Ben Einhaus, 2013 Master Brewers Program graduate

"I have landed a position with the North Coast Brewing Company…I just wanted to take some time to thank the people that have helped me get to this point…Thank you once again for your patient tutelage and preparing me well for this new chapter in my life."

Brandon Jacobs, 2011 Master Brewers Program graduate

"The Master Brewers Program shines like diamonds in a sea of coal in the brewing industry!!"

Mark Peffers, head brewer, Bull & Barrel Brew Pub, Brewster, NY, 2011 Master Brewers Program graduate