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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Memories of Mr. Eckhardt

The tributes to Fred Eckhardt are pouring in today, a day after we lost one of the more iconic figures of the craft beer era. I don't really have a lot to add. I knew him only vaguely. You'll be best off reading things written by John Foyston, Lisa Morrison or Jeff Alworth.

My first encounter with Mr. Eckhardt occurred on a warm Friday afternoon at the Oregon Brewers Festival. The year is uncertain. Late 1990s, I think. Fred was walking the grounds, tasting beers and taking notes. I knew who he was and asked him how he was doing. I don't remember his exact words, but it was along the lines of,  "Isn't this is a great place to be today?" Sure was.

Except for occasional sightings, I did not speak to him again until I started writing about beer in 2011. I have a very pleasant memory of a town hall-type presentation Mr. Eckhardt and John Foyston gave at the Beer Bloggers Conference here in Portland. They were at the top of their games and the talk was funny, interesting, informative. Bill Night has posted some memorable quotes here.

A year or so later, I was fortunate to spend a half hour or so talking to Fred about his experiences in the Marine Corps. This was prior to an event at the Mission Theater. I can't even remember the particulars of the conversation, but I do remember that he knew how to tell a story with depth and humor.

I attempted to interview Fred as part of the research for Portland Beer in early 2013. Art Larrance had let him know what I was working on and told him it was okay to talk to me. When I finally did connect with him, he begged off. He said his memory of the old days wasn't very good and suggested I speak to someone who might have more accurate recollections.

Most of the Eckhardt quotes I eventually did use in my book were lifted from a 2010 History Pub program sponsored by McMenamin's at the Bagdad Theater. Mr. Eckhardt was in fine form that evening, offering his thoughts on prohibition homebrew and much more. There are only a few private copies of that low budget video out there. But it's worth seeing.

One of the most dependable resources for me, as I looked back on the early craft period here, were the columns written by Mr. Eckhardt for The Oregonian starting in 1984. Those columns are rich in detail and insight. For many years, they provided a sort of guide to what was happening for beer fans and brewers. They can be searched online via the Multnomah County Library.

When you consider everything this man did to help push the development of the craft beer industry in Oregon and beyond, you can't help wondering where we go from here. Fortunately, Mr. Eckhardt's efforts helped launch a generation of beer writers and authors. It goes without saying that none of us possess the style, the wit and the depth of character he did. How could we?

Prior to this year's FredFest, someone suggested to me that this might be the last one due to Fred's declining health. Of course, that will not be the case. FredFest will carry on as a way to honor this great man and what he meant to so many. A 2016 date has already been set.

To those who were closest to this man, especially to Lisa Morrison, John Foyston and Alan Sprints, I offer my heartfelt condolences. What you have lost cannot be replaced. It will now be your job to make sure Mr. Eckhardt's contributions aren't forgotten on your watch.

Good night, sweet prince.

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