Fred Eckhardt passed away on August 10, 2015. In remembrance of our friend and former columnist, we are putting some of his older articles online for the very first time. The article below initially appeared in our Nov. 1997 issue.
There’s a new Fred in Portland. It’s a beer. Portland (Oregon’s) Hair of the Dog brewery recently introduced Fred. The H.O.T.Dog guys, partners Alan Sprints and Doug Henderson, specialize in bottle-conditioned, high-gravity, strong ales. Portland, OR, may be one of the very few cities in the world where a brewery could concentrate on such a small segment of the market, and get away with it.
The brewery’s flagship brand is Adam, patterned after the famously potent 19th century Dortmunder Adambier, which is reputed to have put Prussian King Frederick William IV under the table for a whole day, one hot summer, in that city. That story may or may not be true, but it’s fun to recount, and gives credence to the beer’s strength.
Hair’s Adam has been given good reviews by beer critics, who have sampled it. Malt Advocate magazine, which specializes in beer and whiskey, named it the best domestic beer for the year 1995. The beer does indeed merit praise.
I became involved originally by helping Sprints and Henderson experiment with a prototype beer while they were still homebrewers. I was interested because the beer is mentioned in several historical accounts, including Bickerdyke’s 1889 Curiosities of Ale and Beer, Wahl-Henius’ 1908 American Handybook of Malting and Brewing, and Jackson’s 1988 New World Guide. How would such a beer taste, I wondered. Even Jackson didn’t seem to know, and a trip to Dortmund brought me no closer to finding out. It’s possible that it may not be currently produced in Germany. We could only speculate on what would go into such a brew.
H.O.T.Dog’s Adam is strong enough to satisfy the purists. Even though it does not use an altbier yeast strain, it is cold conditioned in the alt style, but bottle fermented in the British fashion. The company features numbered batches on the label. The first batch was brewed in 1994, the current batch is No. 27.
Adam has 22.9 percent fermentables in its original gravity (OG 22.9 Plato/British 1094) with a brilliant garnet color from the Munich, chocolate, black patent, and Scottish peated malts used in the formula; 10.3 percent alcohol by volume (abv), and bitterness at 65 International Bittering Units (IBU), from generous amounts of Northern Brewer and Tettnang hops. Adam is brewed with London Ale Yeast from WyEast labs in Troutdale, OR.
Meanwhile, Hair also markets Golden Rose, a very drinkable Belgian style tripel (OG 18 Plato/British 1074, and 8.5 percent abv), which won gold at the World Beer Championships in 1996. And last year they introduced a kegged Small Beer (second run Adam, OG 13 Plato/British 1052, 5.3 percent abv, and 40 IBU) to take care of the local tavern crowd. They don’t know whether to bottle it or not. (Would anyone buy a small beer from a heavy beer company? And what would a “weak” beer do for their strong image?)
Whence the Fred?
The Fred started as a plaything after a lot of talk. Something, almost tongue-in-cheek, to attract the real heavy beer drinkers: the barley wine imbibers, who only come out in winter. This beer does that, and it does it in the summer time, too. Fred is a joy to drink, to behold, and yes, you jealous people, it is very flattering to have a beer named after you. But it isn’t a barley wine, this is not OLD Fred. This company does other things with their beer. They call it simply “a golden strong ale.” It tastes like a quadruple to me.
We started talking about Fred last fall. They wanted to brew a very strong beer and name it after me, so I was invited to some of the planning sessions, mostly to drink beer and discuss what I might think about the idea. I was quite charmed with the project, but it wasn’t until this April that an actual beer was concocted and brewed.
That first batch (April 28, 1997, 115-gallons) weighed in at OG 24.8 Plato/British 1104, from a pale malt base, plus Belgian aromatic malts (medium color at 17 Lovibond), 10 percent light rye malt, and dark Belgian candy sugar set the tone for this brew. The ferment, after a two-hour wort boil, came from a Scottish yeast strain, producing a rather strong (11 percent abv) but paler brew than one might have expected (11 SRM).
Those Hairy guys went whole-dog in the hop department, using 10 different hop strains (Progress, First Gold, Crystal, Fuggles, Northern Brewer, Willamettes, and Tettnang for bittering, and Chinook, Spalt, Saaz, and Strisselspalt for aromatics) from five countries (United States, Great Britain, Germany, Czech Republic, and France). Some of those were hops I’d never heard of, and I try to keep current on these things.
That elegant array produces a serious hop level of 65 IBU’s. I first sampled the beer May 31, a day before Michael Jackson, who is said to have liked it, too. They released it, on draft, June 13 at only four Portland pubs. It lasted a little over a week in one place.
The second brew is now on sale, as I write this, with 88 IBU’s and a bit more color at about 12 to 13 SRM. The beer’s popularity seems to be holding nicely.
If all goes well, the label will gain government approval showing Rozwell Barker, the company’s mythical dog, with a handle-bar mustache, accoutered in a German WWI spiked helmet that sports my crossed swim fins in place of the Hohenzollern double eagle. The handsome label has a good piece about what a nice guy I am, but I already knew that. It should appear, bottle conditioned in 12-ounce bottles, near many of you about the time this magazine shows up in your mailbox, unless I buy the whole batch to give to my friends.
Heavy on the fun
I asked the partners why they chose to specialize only in heavy beers. The answer was “fun.” That and the fact that they thought it should be done. The small company brewed 600 barrels, 18,600 gallons, 700 hectoliters last year, and project 1,000 this year. This, in tiny 125-gallon batches. It’s a hard life for small brewers.
The brewery has had a good reception for its beers, but production is complicated and expensive, bottling is labor intensive (by the use of dedicated volunteers), and drinking a six-pack while watching football is out of the question. It’s a tough market, and summertime is especially tough: you can’t drink a six-pack while watching baseball either, and you need a six-pack for that.
The beers have to make up for this limited appeal by widespread cross-country marketing management. H.O.T.Dog has a cult appeal wherever it appears, but it remains to be seen whether that will be enough. Can a small brewery in Portland, OR, ship enough beer to the great population centers of America to survive?
Pray for them. And if you get a chance, buy some of the beer; they need the money. If you’d like to visit them (they love visitors), remember to call first. Hair of the Dog bottled beers are distributed in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho in the West; and in the eastern US: Illinois, Minnesota, Maryland, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, DC, and Massachusetts.
Fred Eckhardt was a homebrewer, beer writer and longtime columnist at All About Beer Magazine.