Remembering Craft Beer Founding Father Fred Eckhardt

I originally wrote this for Men's Journal - The story can be found on their site here

American craft beer has its fair share of inspiring characters, from Charlie "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew" Papazian, to Sam Calagione with his boundary-smashing Dogfish Head beers. But few figures in the beer world were as definitively influential, or as beloved, as pioneering writer Fred Eckhardt. Fred passed away peacefully at his home in Portland, Oregon on Monday at 89 years old, and will deeply missed by the robust and lively community he worked so hard to build.

Fred, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, was one of America's original beer writers. He began brewing wine and beer in the 1960s amid a desolate American brewing landscape and published his first book, A Treatise on Lager Beers, in 1969. The in-depth publication on the evolution of North American lagers and homebrewing was published, notably, 10 years before the U.S. Congress legalized making beer at home. The Essentials of Beer Style, his most popular publication, came out in 1989 and is still considered indispensable reading for beer lovers and brewers.

While Fred was a great friend to thousands across the country, he will be especially missed in his hometown of Portland. An annual festival held in his honor at Hair of the Dog Brewing, Fredfest, just celebrated its 10-year anniversary this past May. The festival is a landmark event in Portland, drawing fans every year in honor and celebration of Fred's famously jolly demeanor, joyful conversation, and immense love of great beer.

Alan Sprints, founder of Hair of the Dog, counted Fred as a personal friend and mentor — even brewing a critically-acclaimed 10-percent rye beer, named Fred, in his honor. "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. His outgoing and compassionate personality, and his desire to share his knowledge with others made me a better person," says Sprints. "He inspired me to create a brewery that is not afraid to be unique and different."

You can find Fred's portrait, hung during the latest FredFest, in the Hair of the Dog's tasting room. He's smiling cheerily with his trademark handlebar mustache, offering any imbiber at the bar a reminder that great beer is worthy of your adoration. So raise a pint of your favorite ale or lager to beer luminary Fred Eckhardt. He made the craft brewing world a more colorful, daring, and delicious place.

Chris McClellan