All About Beer Magazine - Volume 32, Issue 5
November 1, 2011 By Fred Eckhardt

Being called an expert reminds me of a story.

There was an American who had studied all he could find about bull fighting, he’d read everything and examined all the videos, so he wrote a book and declared himself an “expert” on bull fighting. Soon, he traveled off to Spain to reap the rewards of being an author and an expert. The Spanish bull fighting aficionados welcomed him with open arms, and took him to the great arena. The spectacle was an extraordinary one, the first he had actually witnessed, he was hooked, he was an author, he was an expert and he discussed it with his new friends, using all the right terms. They were proud of him and took him to a great restaurant catering to such people. At the dinner’s main course, the chef brought out a huge dish bearing the two monstrous tokens of the bull’s enormous power center. Our expert devoured them with great gusto.

The next day, his new friends took him to the same restaurant, where the chef again delivered his specialty, but this time the power centers were rather small and a bit insipid, and when our expert inquired as to why this was so, he was told: “Señor, the bool does not always lose.”

Beer is my passion, but I am often called an “expert” in this field, a label I am very leery of accepting. I actually am an expert in swimming (I know, for example that swimming is not swimming, but rather it is flying in the water, and only an expert in swimming could tell you that), yet I have problems with that title in the field of beer. I am not nearly as knowledgeable about beer and alcohol.

Don’t call me “connoisseur” (“common sewer”?) either, I’m a reformed photographer-cum-swim coach, connoisseur-manship is almost an oxymoron in the face of that. Connoisseurs are fussbudgets, moderate in their own way, but never satisfied, whereas I am in love with the beer in my hand, any beer. For me, moderation fades in the presence of chocolate and beer (or ice cream and beer) and I’ve never met a beer festival that I didn’t immediately fall in love with.

I also write about saké, but let me tell you I can never be a saké connoisseur either. On my last trip to Japan, I met Mr. Mitsugu Yamasei, of Osaka, who is a true saké connoisseur, if there ever was one. He is a registered master taster (saké sommelier), having won and placed high in many saké-tasting competitions. His exploits in this field are well documented. He told me there is an old Japanese saying: “A true saké connoisseur eats fish wombs.” Ah, well….

Oh, and spare me the epitaph Beer Guru, my halo sometimes gets lost in the crush of the grain. I’ve also been called a “leader” in the beer business, but I read somewhere that leadership is just nature’s way of ridding the work force of morons and incompetents.

But what is an expert anyway? Some would say that an expert is a person who learns more and more about less and less until finally he knows everything about nothing. In my case I seem to be going in the opposite direction. My information is getting thinner and thinner, even as it piles higher and higher on my desk. As far as that goes, there are others who might point out that an expert is an “ex-spurt,” a former spurt. As I said, my passion is beer and I think I will stick with being a Beer Enthusiast.

I don’t seem to be journalist either; what I do is not journalism. My journalism professor (at the University of Washington) was quick to inform me that I would never be a journalist (too many “I’s” and “you’s,” too many opinions, too many parenthesis, not enough facts). He was perfectly correct. I am not a journalist and never wanted to be one, I am an artist (my medium is words), and more recently a beer writer. Perhaps some of it is technical or semi-technical, but mostly it is art, an art over which I seem to have little control. My writing is very unorthodox, reflecting neither good grammar nor proper organization. Habitually I am long-winded, opinionated and long-worded, but of course that’s what essayists are supposed to be. My sole redeeming grace seems to be that my readers know I am opinionated. What I do is appreciated by a significant group of readers.

I was listening to the car radio (PBS), and heard a story about a well-known, highly regarded poet, whose name I can’t remember and whose work was considered, by critics, as “bad.” His book(s?) were popular particularly among the working class, because (according to this critic) they all figured they could do better, and would, just as soon as they got around to it.

For me this was an epiphany, I suddenly realized that was true of my beer writing! It’s bad, but the people who like my work are like that; they all know they can do better and will, just as soon as they get around to it! This is a classic example of the procrastination factor at work. I know the feeling, because it took me 40 years to get a “round tuit” myself.

There may even be those churlish individuals who would call me a public drunk. Yes, and I don’t always get the glass to my mouth, either, which was a surprise for me, the first time it happened. My old Sunday School teacher had taught us 14-year-old boys the proper names for a lot of interesting body parts and of some fascinating human activities, but he particularly warned us that no matter how much beer a man drank, he would never miss his mouth. He probably meant that as a warning against the evils of drink, but we took it as gospel. It wasn’t until years later when I discovered that not only could I miss my mouth, but I miss it quite regularly, slobbering beer all over my shirtfront and trousers on many occasions. The man had promised us that would never happen; I was completely disillusioned, my childhood dreams totally shattered.

As I said, my passion is beer and I think I will stick with being a Beer Enthusiast, but if Michael Jackson was the Beer Hunter, then maybe, just maybe, I might also be a Beer Surfer—I don’t really want it all anymore, I just want the good stuff!

Fred Eckhardt
Fred Eckhardt wasn’t paying attention recently, and somehow he became old! He claims he just wasn’t paying attention, but that he couldn’t have turned 85, although he says he is a nice person, despite the company he keeps. Indeed he thinks everybody was a nice person until they met their parents!