In August the beer world lost two of the guiding lights and spiritual leaders of quality beer and brewing. Personal friends of mine, both Fred Eckhardt and Byron Burch meant the beer and brewing world to me.
In those early years of homebrewing, Fred Eckhardt, Byron Burch and I were individually exploring and discussing the directions we thought homebrewing should be going. I had made my first batch of homebrew coincidentally at the age of 21 while at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville in 1970. After graduating I moved to Colorado. I taught homebrewing classes in Boulder, Colorado from 1973 through the early 80s. I self-published my own 75 page book The Joy of Brewing. With my partner in homebrewing, Charlie Matzen we founded the American Homebrewers Association and published the first issue of Zymurgy magazine in December of 1978. American homebrewing wasn’t legal until early 1979, so all of us immersed in the homebrewing culture were renegades of a sort.
I had well used copies of both Byron’s and Fred’s early books on beer and brewing. Their American perspective was a breath of fresh air when compared to the imported British homebrew guides, that were helpful, but confusing and full of wrong information.
Driven by the growth of the community of homebrewers and beer enthusiasts in Colorado as well as my own passion for better beer I bonded as an upstart when I thought about legendary Byron Burch and Fred Eckhardt. I did wonder what they would think of our early endeavors from our view from the mountains of Colorado. I wanted them to take us seriously, though my self-confidence was yet to be developed to think that they would. One of my missions was to reach out to them.
We were all trying to float the same boat, at first unbeknownst to each other we admired and/or wondered about what other homebrewing individuals and communities were doing. Our first conversations took place while together in 1980. I suppose there was an air of caution between us – we were all entering unknown territory – taking homebrewing to a national perspective; we wondered curiously what paths we were going to pursue. We wondered about the future of homebrewing. I certainly felt deeply humbled in their presence. Coming from 1970s Boulder, Colorado, I knew many viewed us as not so serious beer oriented hippies from Boulder with a crazy magazine called Zymurgy that emphasized community and fun along with the best quality information we could mine from the disparate homebrewing community.
I met both Fred and Bryon at the Home Wine & Beer Trade Association’s Conference in 1980. It was there I lucked out and won the trade association’s homebrew competition Best of Beer Award in 1980; both Byron and Fred smilingly came forward to me and acknowledged my legitimacy. There comments meant the world to me in a time of homebrewing emergence and these new found passionate and dedicated colleagues.
Their spirit and passion inspired me from my early beer beginnings. My next two posts are my all too brief personal reflections of both Fred and Byron’s contribution to beer and brewing. Admittedly both essays barely do justice to their legacies, but I assure you I raise a toast to them every time I enjoy a beer and homebrew. To both of them I forever say thank you.
Next: In the beginning there was Fred Eckhardt