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It isn't easy being a beer, or a knucklehead, but the combination is definitely awesome.

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Two Beers or Not Two Beers --

On Being Another Beer

by Fred Eckhardt

     I suppose I've had enough experience at being a beer to be able to discourse on the subtleties and nuances involved. My latest venture is as a knucklehead beer, actually an Old Knucklehead, as it were. My Merriam Webster's Dictionary refuses to define knucklehead. I don't know what to think about that. There's knuckle, "-- the rounded knob at the end of a joint, and esp. at a finger joint." There's also knuckle down and knuckle under.

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     It was the Marine Corps that originally defined my own particular knuckleheadedness in 1943. This occurred when Gunnery Sergeant Ratkinson put his face right into my own, labeled me a "freaking knucklehead" and belligerently demanded immediate correction of my whole attitude. He did this in a particularly loud and boorish manner, especially considering his close proximity to myself. The man had a voice like a Brahma bull in rut.

     In this instance, we were at the rifle range, attempting to qualify as Marine marksmen, "-- the United States then being in a state of war." (America actually declared its wars in those days.) We were down on rifle target No. 50 of a 100-target range. Our group was actually running the targets. We pulled them up and down manually. If a Marine recruit managed to miss the target completely, we waved a red flag ("Maggie's drawers") in front of said target. In that case the culprit would be hauled off, kicking and screaming, never to be seen again. If he hit anywhere on target, we indicated his score with various other flags.

     Sergeant "Ratty," as he was known behind his back, was pointing at target No. 1 and demanding that I, "a freaking knucklehead," clean and sweep all of the target tarmacs between Nos. 50 and 1. Each of them occupied an area of about 300 square feet. My crime was that I had smiled when he was chewing out another sad-sack Marine for some failed nuance of behavior. You can't smile at a sergeant in the Marine Corps; it's against MC regulations. It's right there in black and white: "Don't smile in the august presence of sergeants." I should have known.

     "Well," I allowed, "where is the broom?" I knew better than to argue -- there were still the other 50 targets that might also need sweeping down.

     Now it was Sergeant Ratty's turn to smile. "Use your toothbrush," he said.

     In the Marine Corps of that era, everyone was issued two toothbrushes. The second toothbrush was carried at all times for just such emergency applications. I got my own revenge later in the day, at about target 49 (hey, my toothbrush was small), when Sergeant Ratty came by to release me to return to my platoon.

     "Still smiling?" he asked. I smiled again. There was no way I could not smile: I was actually free! He wasn't MY personal sergeant; he was the rifle range sergeant. I was thrown back to the tender mercies of our Sergeant Rufus, who had his own devils to placate. Sweeping targets with toothbrushes was not in his area of expertise.

     This all came back to me when Karl Ockert, master brewer of Portland's BridgePort Brewing Company, called to see if I was available for this important job as Old Knucklehead No. 6, for batch No. 11. I was already employed as a beer named Fred, but the dust had settled a bit there. It seemed perfectly proper for me to accept knuckleheadship, especially since (in my humble opinion) there can't be too many beers named Fred.

     Karl attempted to allay my fears about doing duty as a knucklehead. He told me I was to be treated like a king. Then he related the story of British King Edward VII (who lived from 1841 to 1910 and ruled from 1901 to 1910, following his mother, Queen Victoria). Eddie "mashed in" a King's Ale in 1902. Karl had tasted this elderly brew at a 100-year-old ale tasting in London in 2002. That's where he got the "mashing in" idea. He told me that ancient King's Ale tasted like it actually WAS 100 years old. It turns out that proper protocols for dignitaries such as myself and the Seventh Eddie were that we should arrive at 7 a.m. to take up the mashing-in duties. I can't imagine anyone rousing a king from his bed at any such unseemly hour, but no matter: There I was at 7:15 a.m. on January 25. (I'm not too good at 7:00 a.m. appointments, but that's another story.)

     The whole BridgePort brewing crew was there, waiting for my arrival. I was led up the stairs to a large valve. After I turned the wheel, some 4,966 pounds of mixed barley malt (two-row and some dark 75-Lovibond crystal) started flowing down into the mash tun (from the grain silo via a weight measuring arrangement) to some 65 barrels (2,015 gallons) of hot (167°F) water. At the end of the dough-in, they hoped the temperature would be about 154°F.

     It sat for an hour and a half temperature rest. Then the beer wort was strained off the grains as it was transferred to the brew-kettle. There it was boiled for an hour and a half before hops were added (45 pounds of East Kent Golding pellets), and then boiled for another hour and 40 minutes with those hops, reducing the volume to about 60 barrels and a hoped-for Original Extract (OE) of 22.5° Plato/1092 (specific gravity, or sg, of 1.092).

     This was to produce the beginning of a composite blend of three brews at 22.6P, 22.5P and 22.5P, which were to be fermented at 70°F and finished out at 4.7P (beer sg 1.018). However, the beer didn't cooperate, as we can see from this e-mail written by Karl on February 1:

     "I just wanted to keep you updated on the beer. It fermented like a rock and actually finished drier and 'hotter' [higher alcohol] than I wanted. Damn stuff never behaves itself! We moved it over to the conditioning tanks and brewed a compensation brew to take the final gravity up a bit and put the alcohol back into spec. That one did as it was told and will be dropped into the main tank of beer next week to blend."

     The compensation brew was done on January 25 at OE 20.5P, finishing out at 7.25P. The final blend rounded itself out at OE 21P, with alcohol at 9.1% abv as stated on the bottle label.

     The Old Knucklehead series dates from 1988 when Karl Ockert brewed the first. He used British Thomas Hardy's Ale (now recently revived) as a model. The brew was a "barley wine-style ale." This cumbersome title stems from the U.S. government's persistence in demanding that brewers of strong ales who wish to call their beers barley wines, as is done in England, must use this longer term to describe their beers. This is so that no one will inadvertently grab one of this species and drink it out of a brown paper bag on the corner of Fifth and Stark in our fair (or anyone else's fair) city -- heaven forbid.

     The original 1988 brew was made from standard two-row malt, Scottish crystal and some black malt, and hopped with Northern Brewer and Nugget whole hops. There were four brewers and four mashes, involving twice the cost of BridgePort's original flagship ale.

     The first Old Knucklehead was one of America's earliest barley wines, since the term "barley wine" only came into wide use after World War II. The brewers selected landlord Roger Madden as the 1989-90 first Old Knucklehead. Roger is a genial fellow about my age but better looking. He is still BridgePort's landlord.


Knuckling-in Day

     This all culminated in my Knuckling-in ceremony on February 12 at BridgePort. A lot of people were gathered there, about 150 of them. Karl Ockert spoke first, welcoming everyone and then discussing the beer and its history. Then he told everyone how great I was and announced the schedule of openings and events as Old Knucklehead was to be placed in various markets. Alfa Zinkus, the outgoing Old Knucklehead (1999-2000), introduced me and passed on the "Old Knucklehead" title.

     Of course, I should mention my other beerhood, that of Hair of the Dog Fred. That was strenuous, too. After that Fred was introduced, it was quite some time before I could actually buy it in a bar. For a long time I kept getting it for free. No matter where I went, the Fred was free. It was terrible. Free beer is so hard on one's nerves.

     If I'd ever had any doubts about the rigorous requirements of knuckleheadhood, I no longer harbor such thoughts. It isn't easy being a beer, or a knucklehead, but the combination is definitely awesome. I can tell you that for certain.

Fred Eckhardt lives as TWO BEERS in Portland, Ore. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. Alan Sprints (Hair of the Dog owner) said, "Maybe someday all beer will be called Fred."

Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!

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