Otto Fredrick "Fred" Eckhardt (May 10, 1926 – August 10, 2015) was an American brewer, homebrewing advocate, and writer. Eckhardt is best remembered as a pioneer in the field of beer journalism, publishing a series of articles and books on the topic, including the seminal 1989 tome, The Essentials of Beer Style. At the time of his death in 2015, Eckhardt was memorialized as "the Dean of American beer writers."
Eckhardt was first exposed to the homebrewing of beer by his father, who produced his own low quality beverage during the years of Prohibition in the United States. Eckhardt never developed a taste for his father's brew, however, recalling many decades later that it and the other home-made beers of the Great Depression years "earned an honest reputation as abysmal." Nevertheless, this aspect of his early life would later prove to be formative when he himself became interested in the brewing art in the late 1960s.
Brewer and writer
Eckhardt experimented with beer brewing starting in 1968, when he began modifying the recipe of a Vancouver, British Columbia brew shop owner and refining his technique. Eckhardt's positive interaction with a Portland, Oregon brew shop owner on the topic of homebrewing lead Eckhardt to the publication of his first beer book in 1969, A Treatise on Lager Beers.
He wrote about brewed beverages—beer and sake, and wrote the 1989 book, The Essentials of Beer Style. He is identified as a "beer writer," a "beer historian," and as a "beer critic." He was a local celebrity in Portland, Oregon, which Eckhardt described as "the brewing capital of the world."
Eckhardt was nationally known as a "beer personality" and as a "beer guru." His success as a local character was the foundation for fame on a wider stage. A typical niche profile describes him as a "beer mensch:"
- "Fred is [an eighty-two] year old former Marine Buddhist who teaches swimming classes to children back in his native Portland, Oregon. . . . He wrote a book on how to homebrew lagers in 1969, ten years before homebrewing was relegalized. His 1989 book, The Essentials of Beer Style, has become a kind of Rosetta Stone for homebrewers and those who judge homebrew competitions. "Eckhardt (as mentioned by Ken Wells of The Wall Street Journal) is a soft-spoken, diminutive, roundish man with blue twinkling eyes and a white mustache and goatee. Imagine Shakespeare's Puck reborn as a beer mensch."
Eckhardt considered himself as an educator.
Eckhardt developed a national reputation as someone knowledgeable about American homebrewed beer. He was a featured lecturer and competition judge at "The Dixie Cup" in Houston, Texas. This annual event is the final competition in the series that determines
- the Lone Star Circuit Homebrewer of the Year
- the Lone Star Circuit Homebrew Team of the Year
- the Lone Star Circuit Homebrew Club of the Year.
The Dixie Cup is one of the Qualifying Events for the Masters Championship of Amateur Brewing.
Fred was a National judge in the Beer Judge Certification Program.
Eckhardt was an advocate and publicist for American sake. Drawing on his experience in beer competitions, he created a set of guidelines for sake tasting competitions. He published a sake newsletter several times each year; and he authored Sake (U.S.A.): A Complete Guide to American Sake, Sake Breweries and Homebrewed Sake. While the rest of the world may be drinking more sake and the quality of sake has been increasing, sake production has been declining in Japan since the mid-1970s. The increase in American production for domestic consumption and export has been, in part, affected by the lower cost of rice compared with Japan; but other more difficult-to-analyze factors are important.
At present, sake homebrewing is not allowed under Japanese law. Eckhardt foresees that his book, which spells out how homebrewing might reinvigorate sake consumption in Japan. His optimism is informed in part by the unanticipated expansion of micro-breweries in Oregon since the state law prohibiting them was repealed in 1985.
Death and legacy
Fred Eckhardt died August 10, 2015 of congestive heart failure at his home in Portland, Oregon.
Eckhardt's meticulously collected papers, consisting of 30 boxes of published articles, drafts, photographs, and correspondence, are housed at the Special Collections and Archives Research Center at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, where they are part of the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives (OHBA). Included in the collection are physical copies which Eckhardt made of all his email correspondence. Also part of Eckhardt's papers were extensive runs of the pioneer home brewing journals Celebrator Beer News, All About Beer, and Zymurgy.
- Abram Goldman-Armstrong, "In Memoriam: Fred Eckhardt, 1926-2015," Northwest Brewing News, Oct.-Nov. 2015, pg. 9.
- Merrill, Jessica. "In Oregon, It's a Brew Pub World," New York Times. January 13, 2006.
- "Henry Weinhard's Classic Dark seasonal produced," Modern Brewery Age. November 7, 2005.
- About "Dixie Cup" competition
- "Portland Dominates Craft Brewing Boom," CBS News. May 7, 2006.
- Jones, Andrew. "Craft Brewing Defines Oregon as U.S. 'Beer Capital'," National Geographic News. August 10, 2001.
- Brand, William. "This old Dog doesn't need any new tricks," The Oakland Tribune" (California). January 3, 2007.
- Wells, Ken. (2002). Travels with Barley, p. 191.
- Welzel, Karin. "Specialty publications fill niche for every nosh," Tribune-Review (Pittsburgh). December 7, 2003.
- Frank, Robert. "Firms Brew a U.S. Interest in the 'Drink of the Gods'," International Herald Tribune. February 20, 1995.
- Gauntner, John. (2002). The Sake Handbook, p. 78.
- Sam Wheeler, "OSU Gains Archives of the Dean of American Beer Writers," Oregon Beer Growler, vol. 4, no. 10 (April 2016), pg. 17.
- A Treatise on Lager Beers: How to Make Good Beer at Home. Portland, OR: Fred Eckhardt Communications, 1969; reissued 1983.
- The Essentials of Beer Style: A Catalog of Classic Beer Styles for Brewers & Beer Enthusiasts. Portland, OR: Fred Eckhardt Communications, 1989.
- Sake (U.S.A.): A Complete Guide to American Sake, Sake Breweries and Homebrewed Sake. Portland, OR: Fred Eckhardt Communications, 1993.
- Anne Marie Chake, "Lift Your Glass and Let Us Drink To the Future of Good Old Fred," Wall Street Journal. February 2, 1998.
- Robert Frank, "Firms Brew a U.S. Interest in the 'Drink of the Gods'," International Herald Tribune. February 20, 1995.
- Ken Wells, Travels with Barley: A Journey Through Beer Culture in America. New York: Simon and Schuster. 2004.