The results are in for Arizona’s most Beerfluential person and boy were they close. I want to say that I am a bit surprised by the results, but that’s not really the case. When discussing the results with a close friend, the words’ “Changing of the Guard” were used to describe the results and is very fitting to the outcome of the poll.
Arizona has been trying to break into the national beer scene for a while and we have had some very significant leaders that helped lay some ground work. We have had brewers, distributors and homebrew club presidents that have pushed the state further than many thought.
At some point there was only so much that they could do and needed the community to step up. For reference, take a look at what Andy Ingram (Brewer/Owner at Four Peaks and the President of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild) said in June, 2011 in regards to the beer culture in Arizona:
“The point is that we’re a young industry here, but we’re growing. The longer we stick around, the more fans craft beer will have. A beer culture doesn’t sprout up overnight.”
Just since Andy mentioned this, significant strides have been taken. First Phoenix (and the surrounding areas of Scottsdale/Tempe) made it into the final round of the Beer City USA. Although we didn’t make it to the top 10 there, we at least made an impression and have built a foundation for next year.
The second stride taken was the creation of the group Arizona Craft Beer Lovers. The group has been invaluable to many of the local businesses and has helped establish leaders in the industry. Sure, the group has morphed into something a bit different than how it started, but bringing over 550 people together for the sake of craft beer is fantastic for the community.
That being said, there was a common theme for the Top 5 finishers in this year’s poll. That theme was the ability of these folks to get in front of the consumers. As we reveal these people, you will see exactly what I mean, but for now, you will just have to take my word for it.
The following 4 days, we will be releasing the names of the winners in exclusive interviews discussing why these people are considered influential by their peers. For those that made it to the Top 5, congrats, and we want to thank everyone again for voting.
To start the count down, we have an individual coming out of the West Valley. This person had the second highest write in votes from a huge number of fans that come into his place of business for beer recommendations. The number5 most Beerfluential person is Ian Harwell:
The Brew Bros: How long have you been in the craft beer community?
Ian: I’ve been actively involved in the beer community since I began working with BevMo! 5 years ago – each year getting more involved than the previous.
TBB: What types of things do you do in the community?
I: While at the Glendale BevMo! location, I started developing a reputation for being a guy you can trust with beer recommendations, especially after being mentioned on Beer Advocate a few years ago. After 3 years at the Glendale location, I became the Assistant Manager for the Goodyear location. As a craft beer enthusiast, I was a little disappointed at the lack of craft beer enthusiasm in the area at the time. I felt that I had to take it upon myself to educate the community about craft beer. It’s been a slow process, but the response from the community has been great. Our craft beer sales have improved dramatically since I have started in Goodyear, our craft beer tastings in-store have gone from 2–3 tasters on Friday nights to 20–30 tasters. As a result of the growing popularity, I felt it became busy enough to be able to start doing Wednesday beer tastings as well.
I am also an Administrator for the West Valley Craft Beer Fanatics. We are a group dedicated to tasting and educating the West Valley on good craft beer. We also do group happy hours to support business(es) that pride themselves on serving craft beer (Sean Rassas’ establishment, Ground Control, comes to mind).
I am also in the early developmental stage of starting my own business that will be a West Valley craft beer store and tasting room. I plan to have an awesome selection of cold crafts, a unique tap selection, glassware, beer books, etc. I want to have weekly events and I want to see the West valley become a beer destination like Tempe and Chandler. I see what the beer community is doing out there, even in Gilbert too, and I tell myself “I want that” and with this store and the 3 breweries in the works (Freak’N, Veritas, and Mischief), I believe we have what it takes achieve this.
TBB: What do you feel is important for the state of Arizona to accomplish to gain an edge in craft beer?
I: I think Arizona has come a long way in the few years I have been a involved in the beer community and think it is very underrated as a beer city. We have great local breweries and great beer establishments (Whole Foods Chandler’s The Watering Hole, Flanny’s, Hungry Monk, Taste of Tops, etc.). With that being said one of the biggest debates in our West Valley beer group is the lack of risks our breweries take with their beers. In a time of beer trading, crazy double/triple IPA’s, and the emergence of sours and brett beers, there isn’t much for those customers. I don’t mean that as criticism because I love our locals; I am mainly talking from a beer geeks perspective that doesn’t have much to turn to when trying to impress out of state beer geeks. What Papago just did with the announcement of their collaboration beers can help, especially if they also are available in the other brewerie markets. Also, someone is going to HAVE TO start distributing out of state.
TBB: Why do you feel like your peers have voted you into the Top 5?
I: I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know why and I don’t feel like I deserve to be mentioned among some of the names that were included in the voting.
I didn’t even know I was getting any votes until you told me, but apparently my wife and a few of my customers started a campaign to get me in the Top 5 while I was campaigning for Sean Rassas and what he has done for the West valley craft beer community.
To be included in the top 5 as a write-in is an amazing feeling that I take a lot of pride in. I just hope I do the beer community proud and continue to do my part in developing an awesome craft beer community in the West valley.
TBB: If you could do anything to help craft beer in Arizona, what would it be?
I: Develop relationships with out-of-state distributors to distribute AZ craft beer to retailers. Standout beers, such as Four Peaks’ Hop Knot or Kiltlifter, Sonoran’s White Chocolate Ale or San Tan’s canned brews. Arizona has potential to be a great craft beer community, such as San Diego, but people outside of Arizona need to be made aware of this.
TBB: Who in Arizona influenced your craft beer passion?
I: There are a couple of people that I have a lot of respect for. I really hope James Swann is in the top 5 as well because that man is awesome. I have only met him a couple of times but his passion for and commitment to educating the community is truly remarkable.
Sean Rassas and the success he has had with Ground Control. I fell in love with the place upon my first visit a few years ago, especially when the first thing I see is a finely lit display sign that reads “no crap on tap.” He brought quality and hard to find craft beer to the far West valley 5 years ago before anyone else did and the risk paid off. His achievements truly give me the confidence my future bottle shop can have this same success in Arizona’s craft beer movement.