Wall Street Journal

Lift Your Glass and Let Us Drink To the Future of Good Old Fred


You've heard about Bud, the beer touted to taste best within 110 days of bottling. Now meet Fred, the beer you're not even supposed to crack open until the millennium.

Brewed by Hair of the Dog Brewing Co. in Portland, Ore., Fred is said to taste better as it ages, much like a fine wine. The beer is "bottle-conditioned," designed to finish its last few stages of fermenting in the bottle itself, which contains live yeast. Other beers are generally fermented in large vessels, where the yeast is eventually filtered out.

Fred is now sold only in Portland, on draft (keg-conditioned) at four restaurants and a bar, and by the bottle in grocery stores. The first batch of the brew sold out in less than an hour in November.

Richard Briggs, who stood in line for 45 minutes for the privilege of paying $60 for a case, sees Fred as "the latest thing. It's what everyone is talking about. If you've had some, you're part of the hip beer crowd."

To others, however, the very notion of old beer seems flat. In fact, Anheuser-Busch organized an ad campaign to promote just the opposite: fresh beer. About a year ago, a bottling date, or "born on date," began appearing on Budweiser to let drinkers know that Bud tastes best when consumed within 110 days.

Brewer Alan Sprints, a co-owner of Hair of the Dog Brewing, admits that Fred will never be as ubiquitous as Bud. While his brewery produces 500 barrels (15,000 gallons) of beer a year, just one of Anheuser-Busch's breweries can easily crank out that much in an hour.

"We're a niche market," says Doug Henderson, Hair of the Dog's other co-owner, explaining that Fred "appeals to the kind of people who want the finest things in life."

Dave Dronkowski, a member of the Oregon Brew Crew, a home brewers' club, reports that talk of buying futures in Fred is astir among members.

"I want to see in the year 2000 how much different it's going to taste," Mr. Dronkowski says. As a basis of comparison, he says he has already drunk four bottles.

At $2.20 to $3 a 12-ounce bottle, Fred is about three times as expensive as a typical beer. And with 11.5% alcohol, it's also about three times as strong.

"It's an acquired taste, not a six-pack kind of beer," says Fred's namesake, author and beer critic Fred Eckhardt. "It's a sipping beer. If you drank a six-pack of it you'd be on the floor.''

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