By Sam Wheeler
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The personal writings and records of the late Fred Eckhardt, Oregon’s iconic craft beer aficionado, will be open to researchers and the public by spring at the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives.
Eckhardt is the godfather of American craft beer commentary. Through his writing and enthusiasm, the Pacific Northwest native popularized the culture of craft beer and helped nurture it into the flourishing multi-billion dollar industry it is today.
“There is something special about certain individuals within an industry, within a culture. I think he is unique in the documentation that he produced,” said Tiah Edmunson-Morton, archivist at Oregon State University’s Valley Library and curator for the Oregon Hops & Brewing Archives. “I don’t know if anybody can be like Fred Eckhardt.”
Eckhardt, who died August 10, 2015 of congestive heart failure inside his Portland home at the age of 89, was one of the most well-respected and beloved personalities of the craft beer industry — not only in Oregon, but around the country.
His 1969 publication “A Treatise on Lager Beers,” written a decade before homebrewing was legal in the United States, was an exceptionally well-researched analysis of the development of lagers in North America and homebrewing. It helped spark the homebrew movement in the U.S. and, arguably, the country’s craft beer industry. His second, and most popular book, “The Essentials of Beer Style,” was published in 1989. They are both quintessential pieces of literature surrounding the history and production of craft beer in the U.S. Eckhardt in 1992 also published “Sake (USA): The complete guide to American sake, sake breweries and homebrewed sake,” and wrote hundreds of columns and newsletters throughout his career spanning four decades.
Throughout his lifetime of work, Eckhardt accumulated unpublished drafts, notes, newspaper clippings, photographs, emails, periodical subscriptions and more; more than 30 boxes worth, said Edmunson-Morton. But he kept everything meticulously organized.
“He was an incredibly enthusiastic advocate, and you can tell he really, really believed in the importance of what was happening. You could tell he really took joy in it, and it was interesting to him, and he wanted to learn more, and more and more,” Edmunson-Morton said. “He wanted to write about what was happening, he wanted to support the brewers that were growing, he wanted to encourage the public to try new things. His way of doing that was just to write, to research and to experience it himself.”
Edmunson-Morton and a few others on staff at OSU’s Special Collections & Archives Research Center, which maintains OHBA, have been sifting through the Eckhardt collection since mid-December, she said.
“What I really appreciate, what comes out — there are those quirks that we all have — but what I think comes out to me is he was so incredibly dedicated to collecting the record of what was happening,” Edmunson-Morton said.
Sharing one quirk she uncovered in the process of archiving his collection — Eckhardt hated attachments inside emails. Edmunson-Morton knows this from reading over countless physical copies Eckhardt made of all his emails. Those containing attachments were promptly met with an “all caps” response demanding no further attachments be sent to him.
From those small personal quirks to well-written depictions of an industry over the course of more than 40 years, the Eckhardt collection is a one-of-a-kind account of the history of craft beer in the U.S. and a glimpse into the personal life of someone who helped shape it.
“I don’t know that we will ever get another collection that is like this. It’s possible that Ken Grossman’s papers or Charlie Papazian’s papers would be like this, but I don’t know,” Edmuson-Morton said.
She still has more than half of the material Eckhardt set aside for OHBA to sort through, and expects to acquire more of his personal photos and journal entries pre-dating his interest in craft beer.
Eckhardt grew up in Everett, Wash., coached swimming and diving and was a World War II and Korean War veteran, prior to settling in Portland with his life partner Jim Takita and becoming one of his country’s most prominent craft beer writers.
Aside from the incredible record Eckhardt’s personal papers provide about the development of the craft beer industry in the U.S., his longtime subscriptions to publications such as: Celebrator Beer News, All About Beer and Zymurgy helped fill in several of the missing issues within OHBA’s volumes, Edmunson-Morton said.
“I am excited to see how people use this collection. I am honored that we have it,” Edmunson-Morton said. “For me, the most daunting piece of it all is the level of responsibility. It feels very important. It’s really hard to not read every piece of paper.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.