The Seattle food and beverage industry recently lost a true trailblazer. Last Tuesday, Rose Ann Finkel — who co-founded the venerable Pike Brewing Co. and craft beer importer Merchant du Vin with her husband, Charles — died at the age of 73 after a battle with Myelodysplastic syndrome blood cancer.
“All she gave was love,” says Arlen Harris, longtime brewer and former executive director of the Washington Brewers Guild. “Walk into a crowd, and whether she hadn’t seen you in two years or two days, she would still give you a big hug. She cared about everyone around her.”
“She was a model of authenticity, generosity, and strength and will be sorely missed,” says Alisha Malcolm, Pike Brewing’s director of private events.
Those who knew Rose Ann professionally and personally remember her as a warm soul and a visionary, instrumental in moving the beer, wine, and culinary scene forward in Seattle. Not only did she co-found the Finkels’ numerous influential operations over the decades, but she launched a gourmet market in Laurelhurst called Truffles in the late ’70s — which Time magazine once rated one of the “top five specialty food stores” in the country — and was a champion for the “slow food” movement in Seattle, dedicated to local sourcing and a commitment to the community. Rose Ann was also a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an international organization of women leaders in the hospitality industry.
Born in New Orleans and raised in Houston, Rose Ann traveled all over the world with Charles, and the couple settled down in Seattle in the mid-’70s. The two started out in the wine business — Woodinville’s Chateau Ste. Michelle bought their company Bon-Vin in 1974 — and soon helped introduce many malty, complex European beers to the area with Merchant du Vin at a time when lighter, mass-produced beer was most prevalent. She even came up with the name Celebrator for an acclaimed German double bock.
When Pike Brewing launched in 1989 (then called Pike Place Brewery) it was among one of only a handful of independent craft breweries in the city before the big beer boom, and its devotion to food as an essential part of the brewery experience was influential. The Finkels also acquired Liberty Malt Supply, a longtime retailer for home brewers and wine makers.
“Charles got an awful lot of first-hand credit for what the Finkels did for craft beer and world beer culture in general, but Rose Ann was with him every step of the way — a fact which Charles always took great pains to point out,” says Dick Cantwell, who runs the operations at Magnolia Brewing Co. in San Francisco and used to work for the Finkels in the 90s. Cantwell remembers the two arriving to various beer events on a tandem bicycle and “working the crowd harder than anyone else in the room.”
Elysian Brewing co-founder Joe Bisacca says, “Charles and Rose Ann have been true pioneers in not just craft brewing but in how to do it with true class. Rose Ann was such a positive influence in her support for Merchant Du Vin, Pike Brewing and the industry as a whole.”
“I, like so many others in the Seattle craft beer business, got my start in one of Rose Ann and Charles’ businesses — Liberty Malt Supply,” says Manny Chao, founder of Georgetown Brewing Co. “Rose Ann always treated me with so much kindness and warmth. We will miss her smile and her grace, our matron of beer!”
Adam Robbings from Reuben’s Brews says, “Soon after we opened our doors, that’s when we first met Rose Ann — always welcoming, with a warm smile. She and Pike invited us in those early days to their events and always made us feel part of the community. While her and Charle’s accomplishments are immense and important for the brewing community as a whole, our enduring memory is how warmly she treated everyone around her She will be deeply missed and our thoughts go out to Charles and the whole Pike team for their loss.”
From Lara Zahaba, co-founder of Stoup Brewing: “At Stoup, our hearts are full of admiration and gratitude for Rose Ann and the trails that she and Charles have blazed for so many. Their support of new breweries has been unwavering and we’ve felt the warmest welcome since our own launch in 2013. Our hearts are full of sadness at the loss of the wonderful woman, partner, leader in so many things that Rose Ann Finkel was. We can only aspire to lead the life full of love, happiness and success that she and Charles mastered.”
“Rose Ann was a leader, and remains a role model, in the beer industry,” says Pike Brewing’s former director of communications Stasia Brewczynski. “Women remain sorely underrepresented in beer leadership roles, so it’s especially hard to lose such a visible figure who inspired countless folks both directly and indirectly.”
“I last saw Rose Ann when she and Charles had me over for dinner at their house in Sand Point,” recalls Cantwell. “We shared a beer, and a nice bottle of wine, and they outlined plans for the Pike 30th anniversary [in 2019], where all former Pike Place and Pike brewers would contribute to and execute a special beer. It was a nice evening, and I treasure the memory of seeing the two of them, at home and enjoying everything they always had — gardening, beer, of course, and sharing a delicious simple meal with friends.”