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Throughout his lifetime of work, Eckhardt accumulated unpublished drafts, notes, newspaper clippings, photographs, emails, periodical subscriptions and more; more than 30 boxes worth, said Edmunson-Morton.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.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In today’s fast-paced industry, it’s easy to forget that the modern craft beer revolution hasn’t even hit middle age yet. At Oregon State University, the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives (OHBA), the first brewing archive in the U.S., saves and shares the story of hop production and the craft brewing movement in Oregon.
“We do this by collecting historical materials, conducting oral histories, sharing best practices for maintaining records and assisting with historical research,” explains Tiah Edmunson-Morton, main curator for OHBA (she also blogs about her work at thebrewstorian.tumblr.com). “In line with OSU's land-grant mission, this archive focuses on local agricultural, business and heritage communities, connecting OSU to the much larger story of brewing and hop growing in our region.”
Located on the fifth floor of The Valley Library at OSU, OHBA began in summer 2013 as part of the OSU Libraries & Press’ Special Collections and Archives Research Center. Edmunson-Morton works closely with staff in OSU Special Collections and Archives, the digital production unit and library administration. A student worker aids with research and a graphic design student recently designed a beer history board game.
Edmunson-Morton has collected oral histories from notable figures such as McMenamins’ historian Tim Hills along with beer writers John Foyston and the late Fred Eckhardt. Current projects include scanning brew sheets for the first 2,000 brews at McMenamins Hillsdale, Cornelius Pass Roadhouse and Fulton breweries. Portland Brewing’s Fred Bowman granted access to news clippings about the early years of Portland Brewing, as well as photos showing the remodel of the building at the original Northwest Flanders Street location in advance of the brewery’s opening in 1986. OHBA is also collaborating with the Multnomah County Library on “Portland Brew History,” a digital exhibit featuring materials from 15 breweries.
“I feel so lucky to be working on something so fun and culturally/scientifically significant,” says Edmunson-Morton.
University, Industry Are Key Partners
It’s only natural that OHBA is part of OSU. The Corvallis public university is renowned for its hops breeding, brewing research and Fermentation Science program. Edmunson-Morton works closely with all of them, as well as the beer and cider sessions staff in Professional and Continuing Education to discover and procure new materials and stories.
In addition to oral histories with hop growers, OHBA has records from the Oregon Hop Growers Association and the Hop Research Council and is reviewing hops industry photos and research reports from the 1920s-1950s. Edmunson-Morton has collaborated with the Benton County Historical Society to convert tapes of oral histories with pickers and growers from the early 1980s. “We also scanned a set of questionnaires from that same oral history project,” she says. “That give a really interesting insight into the conditions in the fields in the 1930s.”
OHBA also sources documents and histories through newspapers and other periodicals, such as Zymurgy and The Amateur Brewer, as well as newspapers. “I’d like to continue to collect research files, pictures and publications from beer writers,” says Edmunson-Morton. “We are also looking at expanding the archive to more actively highlight and collect materials related to barley. Who knows? This may lead to a name change if we include yeast too.”
The Art of Beer
Rep. Peter DeFazio and OSU President Ed Ray were among the first to come to OHBA’s opening day for “The Art of Beer: What’s on the Outside.” Celebrating the work of brewers and artists in Oregon through beer labels, the public walk-through exhibition was planned to be open during April and May 2015, but instead closed at the end of July.
With items dating back to the early 1980s, The Art of Beer showed that labels are more than just marketing or advertising. “While the range of art on labels and coasters itself was important,” says Edmunson-Morton, “I also wanted to look at identity, branding, the process of creating art and the simple artistry that goes into … such a small bit of visual real estate.”
Beer labels are a snapshot, she explains: telling customers about the company, the taste or style of beer, the experience you are likely to have. “They are also connecting with consumers as artists, creating something beautiful and evocative,” says Edmunson-Morton. “When you saw the bottles on store shelves or labels on tap handles you were picking up clues about the beer, the brewery, etc. But when you saw those labels enlarged on a wall, they turned into something much more: art.”
However, a sort of meta-exhibition was also at work. Archivists and curators “make choices about what you see, labeling items to categorize them, grouping them with other items, and asking the viewer to consider and examine them in a constructed way,” says Edmunson-Morton. “Advertisers work in the same way by inviting you to draw a quick meaning and conclusions based on what is on the outside, and then asking you to make a decision and interpretation about what’s inside.”
A Community-Based Archive
While of interest to brewing hobbyists, professionals and academics, the archive is also part of the public’s awareness about the history of a vibrant modern industry. “People don't know how interesting and important what they have is, or think the posters they produced three years ago aren't historic,” says Edmunson-Morton. “With an archive like this, three years ago is certainly history!”
OHBA is actively asking the public, brewing industry, and homebrewing community to contribute new materials, such as photographs, news clippings, publications, books, recipes, coasters, taplists, menus, and/or any records for breweries and hop growing operations.
“The way an archive grows is by adding materials, but the way we save a history is by sharing it and telling its story,” says Edmunson-Morton. “I want this to be a community-based archive, which means that we collect materials that tell the story of the cultural and industrial communities, but also the story by the communities. It's not just my story to tell.”
Questions, donations and contributions:
Tiah Edmunson-Morton, OHBA Curator
541-737-7387 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit the Archives:
Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Valley Library Fifth Floor, Oregon State University
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
“I’m just trying to keep the past alive as best I can,” Dave Wills said while hovering over a blender inside his brewery.
That was one of the more monumental tasks on his list in what shaped up to be a busy day. While tending to business at Oregon Trail in downtown Corvallis one Saturday afternoon, Wills also had a scheduled tour leading the Oregon Brew Crew through the uniquely configured three-story facility. Like an enthusiastic professor, he peppered his lecture with vivid anecdotes and quizzed the listeners on the style of each beer they were served from his taps. When the lesson ended, there were only momentary lulls in activity as friends and neighbors popped in through the always-open back door. Wills had a greeting for everyone, pausing while answering interview questions to make a little time for each individual. But there was still salsa to be made. Rising above the hum of the blender stuffed with tomato, diced jalapeno and bunches of cilantro was his laughter sparked by decades-old memories. It was then it became evident that every day Wills is at Oregon Trail, he’s fulfilling his stated goal — keeping the past alive.
Wills never set out to be leading a brewery, but to those who know him it’s no surprise he’s ended up in that role. They describe him as someone who can motivate others and his energy level is like a brew kettle boiling over. It may seem a bit incongruous that the man who’s served as mentor to many now-established brewers once tossed a batch of homebrew for fear of something akin to food poisoning if he actually drank his own concoction. But Wills’ start in making beer came at a time when President Jimmy Carter had just legalized the activity and ingredients were often of questionable quality.
Wills’ first exposure to good beer actually all began with a woman. When he was 20 years old, his girlfriend surprised him by announcing she was going to London. That motivated Wills to go, too, a couple of months later. It was the late 1970s, so the variety of any beer that might have been considered craft was limited to Anchor and Henry Weinhard's. So seven weeks abroad and a Eurail pass provided Wills with a much-needed crash course in the world of beer. Following the whirlwind trip, Wills transferred to Oregon State University for the agriculture program. He’d already done two years of study in the field at a junior college in his home state of California. The move north exposed him not only to his first live hop plant, it’s also where he stumbled across a sign outside of a natural food store reading “Homebrewing Class.” Wills said to himself, ‘Now I think I’m gonna take that,’ and he did. Two women ran the instructional session, which was unique for the era. It was held in one of their homes and that’s where Wills realized how good a do-it-yourself brew could taste.
Around the same time, Wills took his own field trip to a nearby U.S. Department of Agriculture hop research farm because he wanted to grow his own. The difference between what was coming from the dirt and what was offered by many supply shops was striking. “And they broke out these beautiful green hops that were just — beautiful! Bright green,” Wills described. “And the hops I was buying from the grocery store, which just had the hops on the — you know, hops should really be kept refrigerated or frozen to keep ‘em nice. But what was being huckstered off on the homebrewer back then was just these old, stale hops.”
Experience with hops the color and consistency of yellowing, aged newspaper led to a business idea. As a recent graduate of OSU at this point, Wills began thinking about homebrewers across the country, most of whom were not living in hop-growing states like Oregon. He figured there must be an opportunity to sell fresher cones to these markets. A local hop breeder suggested that Wills get things started by talking to the Colemans, a hop farm family that still operates out of the Woodburn area. They put Wills to work on the property during harvest season. “And after that month, I drove off with my little Datsun pickup full of hops and put a little $14 classified ad in the Zymurgy magazine,” Wills said.
With one little ad, the orders started pouring in. Wills had himself a business. To keep the hops chilled, he bought a mini walk-in cooler for the basement of his rental home. Fulfilling customer requests simply meant packing the hops in plastic, resealable bags and then mailing them off. That was in 1982. And Freshops is still going strong with Wills at the helm.
Some of Wills’ product was sold in the Old World Deli, which in addition to soups, salads and sandwiches, was one of a few outlets that provided the town with homebrew ingredients. It also served as the site that brought together Wills; Ted Cox, owner of the deli; and Jerry Shadomy, who founded Oregon Trail in a corner of the building. All three were members of the Heart of the Valley Homebrewers club. The first meeting took place at Cox’s house before they put an ad in the paper advertising the next event at the deli. Shadomy, who had been winning a lot of awards for his homebrew, ended up gathering enough people who wanted to invest in a local brewery and started Oregon Trail after acquiring a 7-barrel system from Hart Brewing (later known as Pyramid). Wills describes himself as a hired hand back then who helped scrap parts together since there were no major equipment manufacturers, particularly for a smaller-scale brewery at that time. He characterized Shadomy as extraordinarily intelligent and somewhat eccentric person. But brewing the same beer over and over became dull to someone who needed new stimuli. Ultimately, Shadomy wasn’t able to maintain the business. That’s when Wills stepped in.
“I just kept it alive because I wasn’t going to just let this place go to auction after all of that love and sweat and everything that went into it,” he explained. “The space is awesome. It’s very well engineered and designed — and gravity flow — and it’s just a cool thing.”
His bookkeeper Rita Whitted added, “Dave is the reason it’s still here and not a past-tense thing.”
The space is certainly something special. Not all of it is pretty. The brewery is cramped. Three stories means lugging bags of grain up a lot of steep stairs. Some of the walls are just suggestions — beams with wiring that lays bare instead of normally being covered by Sheetrock. But after more than a century of wear and tear on the building, these signs of aging are like a historical record — proof that hard work was done here and people found purpose in this structure. In fact, that section of real estate has now been home to three breweries, according to deli owner Cox. He spoke breathlessly and passionately about the history, as if he couldn’t get the words out fast enough. The two earlier brewhouses operated in the 1870s and 1880s. One went out of business during a rough economic patch and the other burned down, as described by Cox. Oregon Trail, then, continues a legacy, a tradition, in downtown Corvallis.
Oregon Trail’s influence also extends to breweries across the state. Because of its proximity to OSU, plenty of fermentation science students have practiced making beer in that location. That application and Wills’ guidance have proved invaluable for many who’ve either opened their own breweries or gotten jobs at larger operations. John Marliave, co-owner of Corvallis’ Flat Tail Brewing, was one of those who benefitted from the hands-on involvement at Oregon Trail. “Yeah, I owe Dave a lot of where I am today because that experience isn’t something you get,” he noted.
Wills, whose father was a teacher, said he has some of that same urge to guide others in his genes. Bookkeeper Whitted agreed. “And the best teacher. Not the easiest teacher.” Wills was mentoring long before Oregon Trail, according to Mary Shannon O’Boyle, a former president of Heart of the Valley Homebrewers. She recounted that after meeting him in the 1980s, shortly after he helped start the club, he was very encouraging. “He convinced me to do my first beer and it was a pale ale. And we entered it in the county fair, the first county fair that allowed beer to be entered — 1984. And he helped me with it and it won a blue ribbon!”
Additionally, Wills recalled that he wished he’d gotten more time in the field while he was in college and that inspired him to take on students at the brewery. “We hardly went outside, so I wanted to see OSU fermentation science kids get the opportunity to do this. And I was hoping maybe one of them would stick around,” Wills said. “But that hasn’t happened yet.”
And that’s where the reward of teaching conflicts with the realities of running a business. Wills guesses he’s had 20 or so brewers come and go. “So having them turnover like that, that has made it impossible for us to grow,” he said. “You can’t have a new brewer every 12 to 18 months.” Wills continues to search for somebody who wants to help be an owner and invest in the brewery. Ultimately, he doesn’t want to sell it. In the meantime, he’s got a new brewer who has been on board since March. Whitted praised his beer making and attention to detail.
When asked why he sticks with the brewery despite the ups and downs, Wills’ friends are quick to answer: He doesn’t give up. He’s hardworking. He’s determined. He always looks for the next challenge. The liveliness in Wills’ eyes reveals another reason: he is a man who is constantly in motion and thoroughly enjoys connecting with others through his work. “He knows what he’s doing and he established a group of people throughout the entire region,” O’Boyle said, “and I know that sounds like I’m a fan. But as a friend, I’ve watched him bail people out who’ve needed help and also be respected for the fact that he knows what he’s doing.”
Beyond stabilizing the brewery, Wills wants to intensify his commitment to sustainability. He currently sells beer out of the adorably shaped party pig dispensers because they’re reusable and fit within the brewery’s footprint better than a bottling line. Of course, growlers are also welcome. Wills would like to see an overall consumption shift — less focus on obtaining beer bottles from across the country or world and more commitment to drinking local beer much in the way we would source milk from area farms. And in staying with the spirit of the brewery’s name, he has another wish: “I hope I see our beer getting delivered by covered wagon in my lifetime in the local community.”
In 2043, the original Oregon Trail will mark its 200th anniversary. Wills says he’ll be here. “Not sure what I’ll be doing. I’ll be drinking beer, I think, I hope, if my liver will make it that far,” he laughs. “I’d love to be there for the 200th anniversary and seeing this whole Oregon Trail thing will be an awesome visit to the past. I think it’d be awesome to see that kind of history all tied in. A lot’s going to change in the next 28 years.”
But rest assured, he’ll continue to keep the past alive — and kicking.
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