Aug 11 2015

Fred Eckhardt, legendary craft beer writer, brewing enthusiast and good friend to McMenamins, passed away on August 10th at the age of 89. He was one of the (if not the) most influential person in Oregon craft brewing. He self-published A Treatise on Lager Beers: A Handbook for Americans and Canadians on Lager Beer in 1969-70, long before anyone else was writing about home brewing and before it was even legal. The book went through several reprints and still remains a bible to those who home brew. One online review said: "When my friends want to know how to understand the beer they are drinking, this is the book I recommend. Note that I do NOT lend them my copy; I would not want to be without it." Fred wrote several other books on brewing into the mid-‘90s, including one on the art of sake brewing.

Below are some quotes from Fred during his tenure as the Dean of Beer Writing, rounding out with a few lines from one of his favorite songs. And this lovely new painting by artist Olivia Behm will grace the Fred Eckhardt room at the Anderson School in Bothell. It is just one of many murals and panels and orbs that have or will have Fred's jovial, waxed-moustached face on them for years to come.

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Read this excerpt from Fred's first article with The Oregonian, 4/25/1984:

"A good beer, like a good cheese, wine or coffee, is one with taste. One may not even like that particular style of beer, but taste will be there, and it will be distinctive.... Unfortunately for Americans, most beers with real taste are imports, and that is the main thrust of this exploration."

This 1984 Oregonian article effectively dropped a bomb on the American beer-drinking community - even the title of the article ("Most American Beers Lack One Thing: Taste") was designed to catch attention and get people riled up. The article was henceforth referred to as "the shot heard ‘round the world," the one that called out America's most beloved beers - Budweiser, Miller, etc. - as entirely inferior. It may be considered a benchmark moment in U.S. brewing history. The article also included a list of 20 Fred-approved beers (both domestic and international) to try, including such bottles as Rainier, Pilsner Urquel and Henry Weinhard's Special Reserve.

Now, read this excerpt from Fred's first article with the Seattle Times, published nearly three years earlier on 10/4/1981:

"As far as I am concerned, a good beer, like a good cheese or a good wine, is one with taste. I may not like that particular style or taste, but it will be there, and it will be distinctive.... That will be the nature of this column."

Sounds familiar, yes? The article also listed 20 beers to try, including such bottles as (yep, you guessed it) Rainier, Pilsner Urquel and Henry Weinhard's Special Reserve. So it turns out that the momentous, history-making "shot heard ‘round the world" published in the Oregonian was actually a reprisal of something Fred had pronounced three years before - except Seattlites weren't listening at the time.

When Tim Hills, beer journalist John Foyston and Tiah Edmunson-Morton, director of the Oregon Hops & Brewing Archives, interviewed Fred last year, even they'd had no idea that Fred had begun his beer writing career in Seattle, rather than here in Portland. "Well," Fred explained, "that's because things started happening earlier in Seattle, so you go where the action is." (And if you need to recycle your own work for a more appreciative audience, we say cheers to that.)

Here are a few fun quotes from Fred about McMenamins' earliest brewing efforts:

December 1985, regarding the new Hillsdale brewpub:
"The McMenamins are working the varietal side of beer for all it's worth. Strange and un-beerlike ingredients, such as blackberries, apples, blueberries, spices and candy bars, are being added to their beer. ... The whole thing is rather unsettling to brewing traditionalists. ... Mike McMenamin says business is up 60 percent, with most of the pub's patrons trying the admittedly strange new brews."

April 1986, the first mention of Hammerhead in print:
"The Hillsdale people have gone bonkers (as usual) with Big Pink Cherry (already gone), they are now on to Ruby Tuesday raspberry beer, Old Hammerhead (strong), and Cornelius Pass ale made with genuine Irish malt extract. Brewer Conrad Santos told me he is looking for proper pears, and is preparing himself for the berry season, when they will brew with loganberries, strawberries and goodness knows what else."

Fred enjoyed a good song and most enjoyed getting groups of people to sing along with him, as he did at the packed-to-the-rafters Bagdad Theater in 2010, when Oregon brewing notables including Foyston, the McMenamins, the Ponzis, Art Larrance and Fred Bowman and many others gathered to tell their stories. Fred got the entire audience of 600-plus people going in a rousing rendition of "Rum by Gum" (author and composer unknown), one of his favorite tunes about the temperance movement and the value of sobriety, possibly dating back to the 1890s:

We're coming, we're coming,
Our brave little band.
On the right side of temperance
We now take our stand.
We don't use tobacco because we do think
That the people who use it are liable to drink.

Away away with the rum by gum
Rum by gum, rum by gum,
Away away with the rum by gum,
The song of the Starvation Army.

Boom chucka chucka boom chucka chucka boom chucka chucka boom.

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