Valley Whole Foods Beer Buyer Named Region’s Most Influential Brew Man
Published: Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 18:07
Local beer enthusiasts and bloggers at The Brew Bros. released the results to their annual Most Beerfluential Poll last week. Every year, The Brew Bros open a forum that allows community members to vote for who they think is the most “beerfluential” person in Arizona. This year’s poll tallied up some new and exciting names, but the guy voted most beerfluential person in Arizona was unsurprising to a lot of people.
That honor went to James Swann, a beer buyer at Whole Foods and bar manager for the store’s small bar The Watering Hole. In the past, Swann has worked at several Valley bars and most recently worked as a distributor and general manager for San Tan Brewery.
Swann can be seen volunteering his time at almost every beer festival or event across the Valley and spreading his knowledge of the brew at his weekly beer class.
We chatted up this year’s Most Beerfluential man about his love for craft beer and for the community it brings together.
College Times: When and how did you become so involved in the Arizona craft beer scene?
James Swann:It started quite a long time ago actually. Back in 2004 I ran a bar in Phoenix called Hazelwood’s First Place. We used to do beer festivals on our patio every third Saturday of every month. We’d draw about 50 to 60 people usually and it was always a lot of fun, but I think the thing that motivated me the most was the Great Arizona Beer Festival. It was in Phoenix before they moved it to Tempe. That was always something I looked forward to more than you could imagine, because I was tasting all of these beers that I had never heard of before from all of these breweries that I’d never seen and I think that was probably the point where I thought to myself, “there is so much more out there than import and domestic beer.”
In what ways do you influence the Arizona craft beer community?
I think the most important thing is our Friday beer classes [at Whole Foods]. We have one brewery come down and we go over four to five of their beers [...] and it’s just grown to be absolutely massive. In the very beginning the beer class was a couple people sitting at the bar and at this point every seat is taken so it’s grown by leaps and bounds. Now, that’s a large part, but beyond that, I do write for AZ Weekly. I have a column every week for which I write about different home brewers who are affecting the Valley. I talk to local breweries and, of course, I write about new and different beers that have popped up. I also like to participate with the Arizona Society of Home Brewers – I homebrew myself. I like to get involved and volunteer my time with charities like Beers for Brains – last year for their big function I was their beer ambassador – I really try to stay active within the craft beer scene.
How would you say the craft beer scene has grown in Arizona in recent years?
It’s absolutely taken off. Five or six years ago, there wasn’t a big focus on local beer. There were only a few breweries that were really capturing people’s attention, but if you look at the way the community has come together around local beer it’s astounding. There are breweries opening up, it seems, every other week. There is just so much happening and so much growth.
What do you think we need to do to push craft beer in the local community and help put Arizona on the map nationally?
The one thing I really believe it takes is working together. There needs to be a lot of synergy, so to speak. [...] It’s what we really need in Arizona for this whole thing to grow more. [We need] breweries working together and collaborating [and] the beer community as a whole working together and collaborating. The Brew Bros I think are a really big part of that and they have a lot more impact than even they realize. They’re quite visible and people are taking notice of them, and we need more of that because the bigger this gets, the better this is going to be for all of us. I don’t look at any of the other companies in the industry as competitors; I look at them as partners. The idea is working together as much as possible to achieve as much growth as possible.
What are some of your favorite spots in the Valley to have a brew?
The Hungry Monk is most certainly one. I really enjoy Papago Brewing; I try to get there every Sunday when I can. Flanny’s is also a great place to go.
Do you have a favorite local beer?
My favorite local beer is Hop Knot from Four Peaks, hands down. I drink more of that than anything in the world.
Do you have any sort of motto or philosophy when it comes to drinking beer?
My favorite beer is the one in front of me.