Fred Eckhardt: Homebrew Guru
Fred Eckhardt cuts a distinctive figure in the beer world. As a beer writer, reviewer and historian, he’s rightfully regarded as royalty. In person he’s equally memorable, with his devilishly manicured mustache and undeniable joie de vivre. He recently celebrated his 80th birthday with a few gatherings at pubs around town, dubbed–what else?–Fred Fest. Eighty years means a lot of beers for Eckhardt, whose history dates back to quaffing his father’s homebrew ("pretty dreadful stuff") and to grousing over the measly six cans of lager a week he was allotted as a serviceman on Okinawa during World War II.
But it was his 1969 homebrewing handbook, A Treatise on Lager Beer, that got the beer ball rolling; a few years later he started the Oregon Brew Crew, a homebrew club that’s still going strong. Thanks to his 1989 book The Essentials of Beer Style, his services as a judge are always in demand at brew fests the world over.
Eckhardt admits to not always having been an impartial observer of the beer scene. During his ‘80s stint as the beer writer for the Oregonian, he engaged in a bit of collusion with emerging microbrewers. "I’d go around and hustle these guys," Eckhardt laughs. "I’d tell them, ‘We need another seasonal beer in this town!’ and I got them all to make seasonal beers–so I’d have something to write about." Career self-preservation thus became the mother of draft invention.
"I can’t think of a better person to name a beer after," says Hair of the Dog’s Alan Sprints.
John Harris: The Busy Brewer
Talk about an impressive résumé. Brewer John Harris began his career with Mike and Brian McMenamin in 1986, about five months after they opened for business at their Hillsdale location.
"I didn’t invent Hammerhead," he says. "But I hopped it up; it used to be milder." Apparently that little stroke did the trick, as the new and improved recipe is the company’s top seller. After two years with the McMenamins, Harris was tapped in 1988 to head up the tanks at a new operation in Bend called Deschutes Brewing–developing signature beers like Black Butte Porter, Cascade Golden Ale and an unheralded limited release that eventually became the company’s biggest hit: Mirror Pond Pale Ale.
Since 1992, he’s brewed for Full Sail, inventing new pilot beer styles–Sunspot IPA, Equinox ESB and the cheekily named Wreck the Halls are among his creations.
Harris has led the charge for regional beer respectability on another front. He was the first craft brewer to sit on the technical board of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas, a trade group formed in 1887 that seeks to advance brewing technology.
"When I joined in 1989, it was a bunch of guys in suits–and then there was me and the brewmaster from Red Hook dressed in khakis," Harris says. "And they were like, ‘Who are these guys?’ Well, we’re still growing and taking appreciable market share. Every year craft beer sales are up." Thanks in no small part to Harris’s creative collection of crafty beers.
Don Younger: Younger Publican
The first bar Don Younger ever set foot in was the Howdy Doody in Gresham. He was 17, he looked 13, and no one seemed to care. "I ordered a Blitz," he remembers. And it was love at first taste. In March 1967 he took over the operation of his first tavern, the Mad Hatter on SE Milwaukie Ave–now known as the Bear Paw Inn–and since then has owned or co-owned "14 or 15" places around town, including the Rose & Raindrop, three New Old Lompoc locations and his flagship operation, the Horse Brass on SE Belmont St, frequently a meeting spot for those in the beer business.
Speaking of beer business, that’s exactly what Younger, who describes himself as a "drinking man" rather than a businessman, has on his mind at the moment. "Wine gets everything it wants," he says. "And what do you see about beer? Bubkes. But we’re just as important. We’re Oregon jobs, we’re Oregon money, we’re using Oregon hops. That’s my mission right now."
Younger is referring to his part in the promotion of Oregon Craft Beer Month (that would be July), a grassroots movement that encourages Oregonians to reach for local brews rather than out-of-state options. It’s also a reminder to area brewers–especially the big boys–to make use of those regional ingredients. "Some of these brewers have gotten too big for their britches," Younger growls. "You’re supposed to leave the dance with the one who brought you." And Don Younger’s been to his share of dances.
"He’s a great character," Mike McMenamin says. "He’s the classic publican."