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.
I imagine most everyone who reads All About Beer Magazine has somehow been touched by cancer. When this happens, I think most of us simply want to feel like we’re doing something to help. On another Saturday afternoon almost four years later, the answer came to me: beer.
I am no great scientist, but I realized that what I could do was bring a beer to market to generate awareness of this disease and raise funds for The Institute for Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research, as its director was treating Virginia.
She loved the idea, and we decided to base it on our work for Pete’s. We invited him to join the project, and he was thrilled. We called the beer REUNION-A Beer for Hope. With the help of many in the industry, most notably our brewing partner Bison Organic Brewery in Berkeley, CA, we launched the beer during the 2007 San Francisco Beer Week. We each donated our time, expenses and 100 percent of the gross profits.
This wasn’t a charity beer for Virginia. It was about Virginia wanting to bring hope to others suffering from this disease, as she knew her time was drawing to a close. The beer was enthusiastically received and inspired donations to IMBCR along with beer profits in excess of $100,000 in our first year.
I would love to report that a miracle happened, but sadly I cannot. Virginia passed away on June 4, 2007, at the age of 44. She was thrilled by the success of that first REUNION beer and made me promise that we would continue our efforts to raise funds for IMBCR and bring hope to others. We have done our best to honor Virginia’s wishes.
As you read this, we will be preparing to release our sixth REUNION beer with our close friends and brewing partners Shmaltz Brewing and Terrapin Beer. Pete and I remain incredibly grateful to this community for your past support and hope you will continue to make donations—and perhaps raise a toast to Virginia.
Together we can make a difference.