Rose Ann Finkel, 1947-2020

Rose Ann Finkel, an ebullient, indefatigable patron of good food and drink, and longtime CEO of the Pike Pub & Brewery, died yesterday of bone marrow cancer. Her husband Charles, also a fixture of Seattle’s beverage scene, announced the news in a message to family and friends.

Rose Ann, a native of New Orleans, was 73. She had received a bone marrow transplant eight months ago, but in the end the procedure didn’t save her.

* * *

Hard to believe it’s been 30 years since Charles and Rose Ann Finkel opened their Pike Pub & Brewery. It’s such a fixture at the Market, you’d think it’s been there forever, but there was a time, not that long ago, when fewer than half a dozen national breweries supplied the entire country with “lawnmower beer” and maybe half a dozen artisans and idealists—Sam Adams in Boston comes to mind—were making what they called craft beer. It was a classic struggle between industrial, bottom-fermented lagers and flavorful, top-fermented ales, between standardization and individuality. In the end, as we know, it was the consumers who won. Local artisan beers flourished, and some, like Red Hook, even formed an unholy alliance with the big boys to get national distribution.

In this fomenting vat of yeast and mash stepped the Finkels, who had decades of experience navigating the currents of beverage sales. Back in Oklahoma, Charles had been an early champion of Chateau Ste. Michelle wines and was hired to run the company’s national sales effort. Arriving at the same time was a young marketing whiz, Paul Shipman, who became Ste. Michelle’s brand manager. Later, Charles started a company called Merchant du Vin, which, despite its name, imported nothing but craft beer, while Shipman went on to run Red Hook. Then the Finkels started a tiny craft brewery on Western Avenue, which over the years grew and grew to its current location, a multi-level, gravity flow, steam heated brewery and brew pub.

The Finkels sold everything, “retired,” and embarked on bicycle trips to the food capitals of Europe and Asia, but they ended up buying the place back a decade ago, with Rose Ann as president. They hired a serious brewmaster, Drew Cluley, and quickly restored Pike Brewery to prominence. The family-friendly pub features a dozen or so brews on tap, a vast array of bottles and mixed drinks. Down on the brewery floor, several bourbon barrels stand alongside the stainless steel trappings of a craft brewery that produces 9,000 barrels a year. (At 15.5-gallons a barrel, that’s about 1.5 million 12-ounce glasses or bottles of beer. Sounds like a lot, but Budweiser probably spills more every day.)

Rose Ann was one of Seattle’s most prominent foodies. She and a couple of pals owned Truffles, a specialty food store in Laurelhurst; she was chief operating officer of Merchant du Vin, started Seattle’s Slow Food convivium, and is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier. In addition to his passion for craft beer and fine wine, Charles has a remarkable talent as a graphic designer, specializing in marketing materials for breweries. He’s also a writer, photographer and world traveler; his design shop website is a hoot. But his favorite stories still revolve around wine.

On vacation in California decades ago, the Finkels paid a call on the wine writer Leon Adams at his home in Sausalito. “Pay attention to the Yakima Valley,” said Adams. (Shades of “Go north, young man.”) Eventually, as Ste. Michelle’s sales manager, Finkel found himself sorting through resumés. One was from a promising microbiologist who’d just returned from a year in Europe. “My claim to fame,” Finkel says, “is that I called Bob Betz back.”

In 1998, having sold the brewery (hah! we know how that turned out) the Finkels became active in the Slow Food movement and traveled to Italy to participate in Salone del Gusto in Turin and at the University of Bologna, where they judged the Slow Food Awards.  They served artisan, American cheese at ‘Cheese’ in Bra in September 2001 because the cheese makers who were planning to be there were unable to fly. They became the leaders of the Seattle Slow Food convivium.

Rose Ann was an active member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an organization of women leaders in food, beverage, and hospitality whose mission is education, advocacy, and philanthropy. She contributed the section on beer to their cookbook, “Cooking with Les Dames d’Escoffier: At Home with the Women Who Shape the Way We Eat and Drink.”

In October 2015, Rose Ann and Charles were honored with the Angelo Pellegrini Award in recognition of their contributions to the world of food and drink.

“We have had a wonderful experience for almost 52 years,” Charles says of Rose Ann. “She had a lot of friends, a lot of people who loved her. She made a really great impression on everyone she met. I miss her, obviously. But I’m very happy she died in peace surrounded by people who loved her.”

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