Friday, August 31, 2007

The Steve Harrison Fund

In late 1998, I had begun transitioning from brewing to beer sales, but I hadn't quite realized it.

I had recently left my position at the Local Brewing Company and was sending out quite a few resumes. In the cover letters, I would answer the question, asked or unasked, "Why do you want to brew?"

Beer was a calling for me, I wrote, both the liquid itself, and the social message for which it could be an avatar. Brewpubs and breweries should assist in revitalizing bereft urban areas, by providing employment, social glue, and physical beauty. Needless to say, I received few positive responses.

Nearly 10 years later, I've seen a lot of that force for positive change —which was almost messianic in the beginning of the craft beer movement— become spent or become unmasked as simply business for avarice sake.

I personally haven't surrendered ... yet. Beer remains to me not merely a "product", or as one wholesaler put it: "boxes". Rather, beer —in its "nobility", as the late great Michael Jackson put it— can and should be a locus for good.

But now in 2007, I understand in more lucid fashion that it is the people who of beer who define beer's nobility. There are many brewers who ply their craft in tempered semi-obscurity. There are others on the sales side, who can do the same. Let me acknowledge one: Steve Harrison.

Steve Harrison was the Director of Sales for the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. He died in mid-August. Harrison, in fact, was the very first employee of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, itself the original surviving brewery of the craft beer movement. In his influential position, he helped shepherd the nascent fad into a mature business. He truly was one of craft beer's pioneers. I only met him once —at the Brickskeller in Washington, D.C.— but I definitely knew of him. Many outside of the beer business did not.

From a business standpoint alone, many of us can learn from his work:

Steve’s role evolved from sales to a role blending the sales department with operations and production planning.

Steve was the first to put together a national craft beer distribution network, the first to study and understand the crazy patchwork of state alcohol laws in all 50 states. Craft brewers have followed, but not to the scale of Sierra Nevada under his stewardship.

But there was also something wonderful and crucial that I hadn't known about Steve:
He was intensely interested in politics, and was committed to progressive causes related to social justice, environmental sustainability, smart growth, economic opportunity, and universal health care.
Steve enriched the lives of all those with whom he shared himself, worked, and biked. His good humor, companionship, helpfulness to others, and social commitment will be greatly missed.

I mentioned this to someone in the beer business, who whispered back to me of "rumors".

How utterly he had missed the point: the powerful example of Steve's life.
Donations in his honor may be made to the Steve Harrison Fund, which will be used to promote environmental sustainability and alternative energy projects. Donations may be sent to Newton-Bracewell Chico Funeral Home of Chico, which is handling arrangements.

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