Sunday, August 30, 2015

Reflecting on beer and life, and Michael Jackson.

The great beer writer Michael Jackson died today in 2007, at the age of 65. During his career, Jackson, a journalist by trade, 'beer-hunted' the world, bringing its attention to Belgian beer, telling the birthing stories of America's beer renaissance, writing on malt whisky, and single-handedly promulgating the concept of 'beer styles' when there had been no such thing.

In the September 2013 issue of All About Beer Magazine, past editor Julie Johnson selected her ten favorite columns written by Jackson for that magazine.



  • Calagione”: September 1999, Vol. 20, No. 4.
    Long before Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and founder Sam Calagione gained national fame, Jackson spent a day with Sam in Delaware, talking literature and tasting what he called “extraordinarily adventurous beers.”



  • Finally, the Kiss of Magic Malt”: January 2000, Vol. 21, No. 1.
    This tour of Moravia is a perfect example of Jackson on the road—part history, part travelogue, with brewery visits and brief but tempting tasting notes.



  • Tasting Beer Under the Sea”: November 2000, Vol. 21, No. 6.
    In a PR exercise to promote his Great Beer Guide to a group of booksellers, Jackson hosts an all-day beer tasting on a train as it travels from London, under the Channel and on to Belgium.



  • Just Words”: January 2001, Vol. 22, No. 1.
    A playful exploration of the origins of words used in brewing, with the help of a friendly priest.



  • Blue Collar Brews”: May 2001, Vol. 22, No. 3.
    Jackson recalls his immigrant background and working-class roots, and the English beer styles formulated to slake the thirst of laboring men.



  • Celebrating a Great 21st … But This is not Kansas City”: September 2002, Vol. 23, No. 5.
    At the 21st Great American Beer Festival in Denver, he recalls the visit of its founder, Charlie Papazian, to the Great British Beer Festival years earlier and the role of that meeting in launching the GABF.



  • Farewell, Father … It’s Beer War”: November 2002, Vol. 23, No. 6.
    Readers love lists, but woe betide the writer who omits a favorite beer from one titled The Ten Best Belgians.



  • My Tribute to The Coach” July 2005, Vol. 26, No. 4.
    A touching remembrance of a favorite publican in a portrait of the pub he tended and the community that gathered there.



  • The Silence of the Ram”: September 2006, Vol. 27, No. 5.
    A rare flash of anger over the closing of a venerable brewery.



  • Did I Cheat Mort Subite?”: September 2007, Vol. 28, No. 5.
    Jackson’s final essay for All About Beer, published after his death.
In that same 2013 issue, Stan Hieronymous —a writer on beer, excellent in his own right— wrote about the Michael Jackson Collection at the Oxford Brookes University library: an archive of 1,800 books, the contents of 29 filing cabinets, and countless handwritten notes.

Michael Jackson, 28 March 1995.

Jackson's spoken voice was a Yorkshire tang delivered sotto voce, punctuated by an oft-repeated "but I digress," after many would sit entranced by yet another wonderful story.

What did Jackson's written voice sound like?

Here he is, from "A Twist on Tradition: The Right Beer, Dish by Dish," a 1983 Washington Post byline (his first for that paper) on choosing beer, not wine, for the American tradition of the Thanksgiving meal.
The most dismal Thanksgiving I can imagine is the one detailed by Dale Brown in his definitive work "American Cooking": "A glass of spring water stood at each place. No wine here, not ever - except perhaps when the men drank it in the barn." So what should it be next week: A little Seawright Spring Water, from the Blue Ridge Mountains? Or, to be moderately more chic, a glass of Perrier - while the men drink Zinfandel in the garage?

Water taken in moderation cannot hurt anybody, as Mark Twain observed. Those watery celebrants, however, were guilty of what Twain termed "intemperate temperance." There is an idea, whose time has surely gone, that, because they were Puritans, the Pilgrims did not drink alcohol. I have heard of poor souls in New England who, in glorification of this myth, affect to enjoy glasses of cranberry juice with their Thanksgiving meal.

To give thanks is a matter of joy; should that be confined by excessive sobriety? Better still, Thanksgiving is an annual opportunity to refresh old friendships and make new ones, in which matter both the ritual and effect of a shared glass is the best tie.

Wine should be more than acceptable at this feast, for even the most ordinary meal without the grape is, proverbially, like a day denied sunshine. Unless, of course, you prefer beer.

Eight years ago, Michael Jackson died of complications related to Parkinson's Disease. Today, consider contributing to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, in Jackson's name. Or, at no cost, link your PC or Mac into Folding@Home, a distributed computing campaign run by Stanford University: a network of thousands of home computers working to find a cure to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and many cancers.

Tonight, to the man who described himself as "sometimes the quiet, courteous, friendly Lithuanian Jewish Yorkshire Englishman," I say, in fractured Lithuanian: "Labanaktis, Ponas Jackson." (Good night, Mr. Jackson.)

-----more-----

  • The Beer Hunter —Jackson's nom de beer— is a website maintained to this day on Jackson and his writing: here.
  • An obituary of Michael Jackson from fellow British beer writer Roger Protz: here.
  • The Amazon page for Mr. Jackson: here.
  • What I've written on Mr. Jackson and his legacy: here.
  • Thanks to Joseph Marunowski —past Director of Brewing Operations for Heavy Seas Beer (Baltimore, Maryland), among other breweries in his career— for pointing me to this collection of Jackson essays.

  • For more from YFGF:

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