John Foyston's picture

Goodbye Fred Eckhardt

“It's important to remember that Fred was a voice alone in a sea of boring beer," says Alan Sprints of Hair of the Dog. “When breweries were closing or consolidating and beer was becoming more bland, Fred urged people to look for beer with real flavor. He was the spark that helped ignite the craft-beer revolution."

“Fred will be missed by both all of us fortunate enough to have known him," said Carl Singmaster of the pioneering Portland bottle shop, Belmont Station, “and by those who never were so lucky, but who benefited from his championing what has come to be called craft beer.”

Karl Ockert was the first brewmaster at BridgePort Brewing and made his  first home brew from a recipe out of Fred's book. “When we were preparing the BridgePort brewery in 1984 Fred came over to check us out,” said Ockert, who's now with Deschutes Brewery. “I was awestruck to meet him. He was so kind and disarming you could not help but embrace him. Once we got the brewery running he came by with an old golf bag carrying his camera gear and in between liberal beer sampling, proceeded to shoot the BridgePort brewhouse in its primitive glory. I remember him wobbling out the door later that afternoon, cautioning Matt Sage and I about the dangers of working in a brewery and over imbibing on the job. We were in our twenties and indestructible but I was scared to death he wouldn’t make it home.

Fred as mentor and inspiration is part of his outsized influence.

“It's such a loss that words seem irrelevant at best," said Mike McMenamin. “Fred was the complete package and a very funny one at that. As beginning brewers, he wanted to know what we were doing and most importantly why we were doing it. He was willing to taste whatever we were into whether it be spirits, wine, beer etc. and find something positive to say about it even if there might not have been much to merit it. Fred was a great friend and mentor to us, along with his partner Jim Takita, who together were one of the world's great treasures. Fare thee well!"

Kurt Widmer of Widmer Brothers Brewing credits one of Fred's beer columns in The Oregonian for inspiring him to become a brewer. “Fred was always an enthusiastic member of the brewing community, Widmer said. “Whenever he wrote for local or national publications he invariably found positive things to say. I don't recall Fred ever writing an unkind review of any craft brewer, and that was so helpful to us in the earliest days, when we were so desperately striving for awareness and credibility among local beer drinkers.

“On a personal note, it was one of Fred's columns in The Oregonian, that inspired me to take up home brewing 36 years ago. Fred also continued to be a fan of our Altbier even though it seemed a bit much for local beer drinkers. He was a great guy to have a beer with and I will miss him."

The Widmer brothers repaid the favor:  in his wallet, Fred Eckhardt carried the only “free Widmer beer for life” card that ever was or ever will be issued.

In 1997, Alan Sprints began brewing a beer called Fred in honor of his mentor. “Fred has been a big influence on my life, both in the beer world and as an example of how to be a good person," said Sprints. “His outgoing and compassionate personality, his desire to share his knowledge with others, has made me a little better person. He inspired me to brew Adam (the first Hair of the Dog beer and based on a historical recipe Eckhardt found) and to create a brewery that is not afraid to be unique and different. I will miss his stories, his ability to wander through related subjects and still come back to the point, but most of all, I'll miss his smile. Cheers to you, Otto"

Sprints brings up a salient point. Fred was a Buddhist at heart, and he lived perhaps the most joyful life of any I've ever been privileged to know. He was happy, exuberant, irreverent, interested in everything, humble and above all, kind; and that's the legacy for us to perpetuate.

"Yesterday's news about Fred's passing brought me much sadness," said Chip Walton who did a fine interview with Fred for Brewing TV, “but also a great night remembering how awesome Fred was and how important he was and still is to the homebrewing/craft brewing world. My heart breaks for you, Fred's family and friends, Portland and all of American craft beer for our collective loss. May we hear Fred's laughter with every beer we enjoy."

Fred the Buddhist would want that; he'd want us to laugh with friends and enjoy the bounties of this beautiful world; and good beer, good friends, good stories, heartfelt laughter and a good long life well lived are chief among those bounties. Which is why Fred Eckhardt will remain an inspiration to all who knew him. Maybe we can even aspire to live in Fred's world, Tom Dalldorf says.

“I've pretty much given up on giving Fred assignments," Dalldorf said several years before Fred's death, “because he writes on whatever interests him and ignores the tedious requests of unenlightened editors. That's why we call his column ‘Fred's World.' He's comfortable in it, and you can only hope that someday he invites you in as well. It's a pretty cool place to be."