On Fred

Until April of this year, for five and a half years I worked as editor at the Adams County Free Press in Corning, Iowa. It may have been a humble weekly newspaper in a county with a population of less than 5,000, but I had the freedom in my weekly column to write whatever the hell I wanted. About four years ago, I returned to my desk following a trip to Portland, Oregon. Though not a single one of my readers knew who he was, I felt obligated to say a few words about what it meant to be in the same room as Fred Eckhardt, who passed away yesterday. And today I feel like a re-run. RIP, Fred.

(originally published in the Adams County Free Press on August 25, 2011)

“The crazy people of this world are the most fun to spend time with.”

-Fred Eckhardt

He’s not the household name kind of living legend like Hank Aaron, Michael Jordan or Bob Dylan, but he’s a legend within the niche of my beer geek subculture.

Fred Eckhardt is an 85-year-old beer mensch, well known for his depth of knowledge within and advocacy for the brewing industry, his sparkling personality and his white handlebar mustache. Having written a number of important tomes within that realm of study, including his “The Essentials of Beer Style,” he is a beer celebrity of the finest form, honored by his enthusiastic protégés with both a beer and a charity beer festival named for him, “Fred” and “Fred Fest,” respectively.

This past weekend, I had the honor to deliver the keynote address at a Beer Bloggers Conference in Portland, Ore., following my “Diary of a Part-time Monk” project this spring, which has resulted in sturdy media coverage and the release of my first book this coming October.

The trip to “Cascadia” brought with it many high points, including brewery and hop field tours, doughnuts, stellar beers, education and camaraderie.

But no highlight, not even speaking in an honored role myself, topped being in the same room with Fred, rubbing shoulders with such an inspiring individual, hearing him share stories and wisdom. Most of us there were the age of his grandchildren, and that’s exactly the way we felt that day. We were sponges soaking it in, hoping that we might one day be able to carry his torch in a respectable fashion, to do him proud.

We, of course, often have our own grandparents, teachers and local sages handy from whom we might gain traction for a well-lived life. But we’re always attracted to pedestals of celebrities, somehow.

Where fame is concerned, those deeply interested in politics might like to shake the hand of Bill Clinton or George Bush, while economy fans might like to rub shoulders with Alan Greenspan or techies might like to pick the brain of Bill Gates; but me, I like the ones who are admittedly crazy. Like Fred. They’re more fun to spend time with.

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