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How One Man Revolutionized The Beer Industry For The Better

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pike brewing company

pike brewing company

By Becky Garrison, Epicure & Culture Contributor 

“See that man sitting over there in Post Alley Park?”

Charles Finkel, founder of Pike Brewing Company, points to a somewhat scruffy older man sitting in a small garden planted with grape vines, hops and other greenery. Finkel takes a short break from our lunch of Puget Sound Penn Cove Mussels paired with Skagit Valley Alba beer to explain the social significance of this park, situated in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market.

“He’s one of our neighbors who lives in those low income housing projects right across from Pike Pub. I decided to fix up that park, so now he has a place where he can go and relax. And I like to go there, too.”

This small gesture embodies the ethos of Finkel’s commitment to creating a pub environment that truly embodies the communal spirit found in the Colonial era alehouse tradition, which was transplanted to the United States from Great Britain and Western Europe. Finkel also aims to have all the products used in the pub’s dishes and brews sourced from Washington State’s soil and sea. In fact, our delicious meal of mussels was prepared using local ingredients.

pike brewing company

More Than A Passion For Beer

The Skagit Valley Alab I’m sipping is the first offering in his Pike Locale series. Pike Brewing Company has joined forces with other local brewers and distillers such as Copperworks Distillery, Fremont Mischief and Westland Distillery to support local Skagit Valley farmers. Apparently the growing conditions in the Scottish Highlands mirror the climate of Skagit Valley, thus making this place an ideal location for growing malts that produce the complex and full flavors savored by those seeking craft beers and spirits. Along with creating world-class beers and spirits, this grassroots effort also serves to help save the local farming communities by allowing them to grow highly marketable crops using sustainable farming practices.

The roots of Finkel’s compassionate humanism and forward-thinking mindset can be traced back to his childhood. He was born into a loving and supportive Jewish family while also growing up in an area of Oklahoma, which, according to Finkel “didn’t discriminate as long as one was a Christian.” This experience of being an outsider gave him the gumption to abandon the herd mentality and find his own way at an early age.

This #Seattle #brewery and pub is all about honest #beer & food. Share on X
pike brewing company
Pike beers from Seattle Made Week. Photo via Pike Brewing Company.

Revolutionizing The Local Beer Scene

In 1966 at age 25 Finkel began his career with Monsieur Henri. Here he immersed himself in the world of selling great French, German and Spanish wines, and used this experience to found Bon-Vin in 1969. Initially he represented European wines, but the following year he expanded his business by having the distinction of being the first company to represent “boutique” wines from California and Washington. He introduced Chateau Ste. Michelle nationally in 1970, and moved to Seattle to build the chateau in 1974.

Then in 1978 he moved over to Merchant du Vin, where he represented both fine wines and European beers.  Finkel challenged restauranteurs in the Pacific Northwest whom he deemed as pretentious for having an expensive French list while serving mass-produced beers.

Explains Finkel, “I didn’t try to embarrass them, but I’d just ask them; ‘If you have this kind of beer, why don’t you just serve jug wine?'”

To help, Finkel would bring in some 26 imported beers for an impromptu tasting. In fact, he introduced the concept of a beer list, like a wine list offering beer according to the way they taste (brewing styles), not only in the Pacific Northwest but throughout the United States.

pike brewing company

Originally, Merchant de Vin owned Pike Brewing Company, which Finkel and his wife Rose Ann founded in 1989. This company ran the brewery during the Finkels’ absence from 1998 to 2006.

Jason Parker, currently the co-owner of Copperworks Distilling Company, laughs when he recalls with fondness his experience working with Finkel as their first head brewer.

“As I was a home brewer who went pro, I didn’t have the level of awareness that Charles did regarding the fine touches that matter to the customers. So I was almost fired five times and then hired six times.”

Thanks to this experience, Parker learned about the aesthetics, such as fresh flowers and the right tables, needed to create the welcoming atmosphere of Copperworks.

pike brewing company

In the ensuing years, many brewers scattered throughout the United States began their brewing career under Finkel’s discerning eye. Meanwhile, Finkel continued to expand his vision of creating a pub that continues to welcome both residents and tourists in a very fun and educational way.

Visitors wishing to pay homage to Seattle’s shadier past might want to stop by Nellie’s room, named after Nellie Curtis, who ran the brothel in the nearby Le Salle Hotel, and have a glass of Pike Naughty Nellie in her honor. Also, this pub houses an expansive collection of beer memorabilia chronicling the history of beer.

This #Seattle entrepreneur is using his #passion for beer to help the #local community. Share on X
pike brewing company
Scenes from Pike Brewing Company. Photo via Epicure & Culture editor Jessica Festa.

An Exciting Future For Pike Brewing Company

Finkel may dream big, but he still possesses a child-like delight over the little touches that give this pub its distinctive homey charm. He gets excited like a child who got his favorite toy for Christmas when he shows off a new appliance about the size of an espresso machine that brews beer for home use. His delight bubbles over when he describes his partnership with Caffe Vita in producing Pike Vita, a bright and blonde coffee ale.

pike brewing company
Charles & Rose Ann Finkel via Pike Brewing Company

When I last visited Finkel in August 2016 he couldn’t wait to show me the architectural plans for a 6,000 expansion that will enlarge the brewery and add a new restaurant. This project slated for completion in spring 2017 will include a seafood restaurant, a mezzanine where one can dine with a spectacular view of Puget Sound, another kitchen, six additional steel fermenters and of course, even more of Finkel’s beer-themed artifacts.

“These additions will enable guests to feel more like they’re part of this whole brewing experience,” explains Finkel.

I’ll raise a glass of the latest Pike Locale in celebration of Finkel’s commitment to craft and community.

Have you been to Pike Brewing Company or had their beers? Please share your experiences in the comments below!


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Becky Garrison

Since moving to the Pacific Northwest in 2014, Becky Garrison has been covering this region's craft culture including food, beer, wine, spirits, cider, coffee, and cannabis/CBD, as well as the regional festival scene, and the rise of secular spiritual communities. Along with publishing eight books, she has contributed to publications like The Daily Beast, The Dirty Spoon, Fodor's Travel, and The Grapevine Magazine.

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