Drinkings Beers with Ian Harwell at Ground Control

Drinkings Beers with Ian Harwell at Ground Control

There are a lot of great things about living in Arizona. The weather is great, I can play golf all year round, and there are a ton of great restaurants that I have never heard of. Another benefit of living in the Valley is the craft beer scene. There isn’t much of a craft beer scene in Indianapolis, but it’s like a family here in Arizona. It didn’t take us long to get connected to the right people. We met Dakine Beckman, and he has introduced us to a lot of great people. One of those people is Ian Harwell. He used to work at BevMo!, but now is in control over at Ground Control, a place that I kept hearing good things about. He had been bugging me to come over there, so I put it on my calendar to finally visit. We went there last Sunday, and had a blast.

Ground Control reminds me of Hearthstone Coffee House and Pub in Fishers, Indiana. It has a similar vibe. Both places have coffee and several beer taps, but at Ground Control you can also eat! We would end up ordering a couple of flights of beer, a pizza, and some appetizers. It was a great experience. The beer selection is great, thanks to Ian, and the food was fresh and delicious. The pizza was outstanding. The sauce was sweet and spicy. Oh, and Ian’s wife came. She let me try a bite of her jalapeño popper. If you like peppers, order this as an appetizer. You can thank me later!

While we were there, I asked to interview Ian. I do band and DJ interviews here on the blog, but I wanted to learn more about a craft beer drinker that also gets to order the beers for a place like Ground Control. He was working, but that just gave us more time for me to drink! It is obvious in just talking with Ian that he loves craft beer. I also wrote a review of Ground Control, but wanted to share Ian’s story with you first. Thank you for the hospitality, Ian. Cheers!

Explain the name Ground Control.

That is probably a question for Sean. He is a military guy. He is also a coffee guy. The two just went together. He is an air force pilot and pilot instructor at the base. He has some high ranking that I can’t remember right now. (As Ian walked away, he was singing a David Bowie song called “Major Tom.” Get it?)

I know you drink a lot of beer, but what do you do here at Ground Control?

They call me the “beer guy.” I do have to serve to make the money, but essentially anything beer and wine related I make the decisions on. I decide what to bring in. I won’t bring in anything I wouldn’t drink myself. I like pretty much anything, so I can find something in every style of beer to drink.

For the record, I have not had a domestic beer on tap in six years.

Speaking of beer, what are some of your favorite beer styles?

I like double India pale ales; anything barrel aged, and sours. My wife and I have a goal to go to Belgium and do some geuze tours. That would be the icing on the cake for us. We wouldn’t need to do anything else.

Is it possible for you to pick a favorite beer?

No. I take that back. The Kentucky Brunch Imperial Stout from Toppling Goliath Brewing Company. That’s my favorite now. I would give my first-born child to try that beer again. It’s from a small town in Iowa. I am going to figure out a way to get that damn thing.

Do you have a favorite brewery?

How about I give you my favorite local, national, and international brewery. Local I would say Dragoon Brewing Company. Dragoon is SO good. Hoppin’ Frog Brewery is up there for me with my Ohio blood. Anchorage Brewing Company… they do some dirty things with that Brettanomyces. For international brewing companies, I would say Cantillon Brewery.

Craft beer is a popular thing right now. Where do you see the craft beer industry going over the next few years?

It’s impossible to predict, but I think you are starting to see it now with more sessionable beers. I am a big hop bomber myself, but they go overkill sometimes where you just don’t want them. I think you will see a continued growth in wild ales. It doesn’t have to be a sour, it can be just a general wild ale.

I’m thinking… that’s a tough question, buddy. You hope that it never hits a bubble. I think with all of the new breweries opening, it will eventually weed out some of the not so good ones. You never want to see a business fail, but there are a lot of local breweries that are opening up around here lately.

People always ask if the local beer bubble is going to burst… but look at a place like San Diego. They have like 50 breweries and they are doing good. I also think you will start seeing more and more women in craft beer thanks to groups like Girls’ Pint Out pushing the awareness. Beer doesn’t have to be a gender based drink.

I’m curious… Do you drink every day?

Yes. A lot of people will assume that because I have a lot of beer in my life, I am constantly getting drunk. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t like to get wasted. Once was our wedding! It was hilarious. I didn’t feel anything until it ended. (Laughs.) I like to sit there and enjoy my beer.

There is so much I want to try and so much I want to learn, you can’t take a day off from trying something.

Do you track your beers using Untappd?

Not as much as I used to. I use it only because I want to remember what I have had. It’s easier than going on RateBeer and writing a paragraph abut it. I will go back and rate it on RateBeer where it allows you to break it down by aroma, taste, and all that. In the beginning I used Untappd to find beers that I haven’t had. Now I don’t really worry about it.

RateBeer and BeerAdvocate are great resources for learning about beer online. Do you use those sites? If so, do you prefer one to the other?

I prefer RateBeer. I agree with the ratings there. My most trustworthy beer drinking friends are using RateBeer.

People always comment about how trading with BeerAdvocate can be a pain. I have never traded with anyone on BeerAdvocate, so I can’t speak to that.

Speaking of beer, you recently brewed some. Tell me more about that. Sad I never got to try it!

The Odell one was back in April. It was late last year, but JR from Odell mentioned me coming to come up and brew something with then. That is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was a 9.2% ABV chocolate coffee stout. The keg I got here was really good, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. All of the reviews I read online said it was coffee forward, while the one I got here was all chocolate forward. There are two more kegs of it, but we are saving one of them for the Strong Beer Festival next year.

For that we used 10 pounds of our roasted coffee. We used 5 pounds of Colombian and 5 pounds of Nicaraguan coffee. After fermentation we cold pressed the coffee and threw it in there. I also used 5 pounds of dark chocolate and 5 pounds of milk chocolate in the boil.

I see some whiskey back there. I even see some Fireball behind the bar. Do you drink anything besides beer? I like vodka!

I like good bourbon. My wife and I like Tito’s Vodka a lot. I drink anything straight. I might use St. Germain liqueur in it.

You used to work at BevMo!. Why did you leave there and how did Ground Control come into the picture?

I was a customer here for a long time. I became friends with the owners and started working here to start learning about running your own business. That is my ultimate goal. I had a good time working at BevMo!, but it’s always good to change after a while. I like working for a local company.

Do you prefer draft beer, canned beer, or bottled beer?

It’s all good to me.

What’s next for you? I mean… Besides another pint!

(Laughs.) I want to continue to develop West Valley palates, taste craft beer, and get Bombers & Pints going. That’s the store I want to open.

In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. You are an artist of craft beer. Go!

Cheers! The one that would describe me would be, “pekow!”