Nestled underneath Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market, in the LaSalle Hotel on Western Avenue, Charles and Rose Ann Finkel opened the city’s third microbrewery on Oct. 17, 1989. Thirty years and thousands of beers later, Pike Brewing Co. is stronger than ever, and its legacy cemented in time among the cobbled streets of Pike Place Market and fish mongers.
In the late ’80s when Pike jumped on the scene, craft beer as we know it today did not exist. Most beer consumed in the U.S. was mass-produced light beer. The Finkels fell in love with the more complex beers of Europe on a trip and began a lifelong quest to bring those flavors back home to Seattle.
Pike introduced its first India pale ale in 1990, at the hands of then head brewer Fal Allen, who recently returned to Pike for the brew of the Pike Reunion IPA. But back when that first IPA was being crafted, hardly anyone in the area was used to a beer with such a dominating hop flavor. The next few years proved successful for the brewery and that IPA. After winning numerous awards from the Great American Beer Festival and others, the Finkels decided Pike was outgrowing its space so they moved up the hill to its current location, where it occupies three stories on First Avenue in Downtown Seattle.
President and co-owner Drew Gillespie started at Pike more than 20 years ago, not long after Pike moved up the hill to its current location and opened The Pike Pub, and not long after the Finkels decided to sell Pike to retire.
“We call that time when I got hired the dark ages,” Gillespie says, noting how the couple returned to Pike in 2006 because “they’re not the kind of people who retire… Pike has always been their baby, they had an opportunity to come back and they jumped on it.”
From there, Gillespie says the state of The Pike Pub was not up to par with where they knew it could be. “The pub had been languishing and the locals didn’t like it as much as they used to,” he says. “We worked really hard to turn the pub around and I was proud to get recognition for it.”
The Pike Pub won Seattle Magazine’s Best Rebirth award in 2007. “We dropped all our national products and replaced them with local versions,” Gillespie says. As general manager of the pub, he worked along the Finkels to revamp the pub, including giving it the all new “beer museum,” which showcases 9,000 years of beer history and beer memorabilia.
Since 2006, the brewery has seen a massive expansion in its production as well as branching beyond the burgers and fries of The Pike Pub and into the fine dining industry with Tankard & Tun, its upstairs gastropub and oyster bar. Gillespie also helped with the expansion of Pike’s cellar, which like the entire brewing system, is a feat of engineering.
“The cellar is above the dining room and each tank weighs 20,000 pounds and there are five of them,” Gillespie says. “Getting it to safely connect to the brewery two floors below was a lot of fun… The cellar tanks had to be custom designed to be craned in through a window off of Post Alley.”
Pike is celebrating its 30thh anniversary in style with a party at the pub on Thursday, Oct. 17, in honor of the three decades. Beers will be available at the original price of $2.50, with special original Pike recipes brewed and will be available, coupled with live music.
As the company looks back on its history, Gillespie says they also continue to look into the future. Pike has made several developments in its brewing program, from switching from bottles to cans, to expanding the barrel aging program and constantly creating new beers — like a mimosa IPA and Belgian quad aged in gin barrels.
“In the beer industry, if you’re not innovating, you’re going to get left behind pretty quickly,” Gillespie says. “To stay relevant after 30 years it takes hard work, determination and self-reflection. That goes beyond the owners and into everyone that works here.”