Alcoholic beverages were not a part of my upbringing. There was no prohibition or religious objection—it just wasn’t a daily part of our lives. We had the tiny glass of concord grape wine with our weekly Sabbath dinner, and my parents hosted the occasional cocktail party. In retrospect, I would seem an unlikely candidate to be part of this industry. But somehow it intrigued me. I was initially drawn to the romance of wine and pursued jobs at wine shops, which led to my first real job with Seagram’s Wine Co.
In 1989, a former Seagram’s colleague asked me to join Pete’s Brewing Co. as its first sales manager. We were a small group, as these were still the early days of craft beer. Two of the handful of people at the company—Pete Slosberg himself along with our marketing director, Virginia MacLean—would become lifelong friends.
In 1995, my beer career took an exciting turn when I joined Merchant du Vin in Seattle. My work at MdV took me to England, Belgium, Scotland and Germany. I was captivated on my first visits to our multi-generation family brewers in 1997. I realized that I wasn’t simply selling and representing great beer—I was in fact representing families, history and, quite often it seemed, the very core of their local community. It had never occurred to me that beer has a soul. It was an unexpected emotional connection. I wondered if the day might come when I could make a similar connection with my own work.
That day arrived far too soon.
In April of 2003, I was in my ninth month of running my new beer and cider importing company, SBS Imports. One Saturday afternoon my phone rang, and it was my friend Virginia MacLean, whom I first met at Pete’s Brewing. It was hardly unusual to receive a call from Virginia— we spoke often.
But that day’s call was shockingly different. She phoned to tell me she had been diagnosed with something called multiple myeloma, a form of bone cancer that attacks the plasma. There was no cure, just a life expectancy of three to five years. Nine years later, the mere thought of that call still brings a tear to my eye.
Alan Shapiro is founder and president of SBS Imports in Seattle and a founding partner in REUNION Beer. Previously, he was national sales manager for Merchant du Vin Corp. and Pete’s Brewing Co.