Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Beer Hunter, Whisky Chaser

Hello, my name is Michael Jackson. No, not that Michael Jackson, but I am on a world tour. My tour is in pursuit of exceptional beer. That’s why they call me the Beer Hunter.

"Beer Hunter, Whisky Chaser"

That other Michael Jackson (1942-2007) died nine years ago, today, of complications related to the neurological Parkinson's Disease. Of his legacy, Gavin D. Smith, a Scottish author on whisk(e)y and beer, wrote this, in a thirteen-writer tribute book, Beer Hunter, Whisky Chaser (2009):
The World Guide To Beer was written by Michael Jackson [in 1977]. Almost immediately, the volume earned him a place as one of the most influential drinks writers around. He was to confirm that position during the succeeding years with a plethora of important titles on the subjects of beer and subsequently whisky. [...] The modern theory of beer 'style' was largely developed by Jackson and expounded in this book, with beer classification being formalized into three essential categories of 'bottom-fermented,' 'wheat beer' (also 'bottom-fermented'), and 'top-fermented,' with many sub-division in each classification.

As well as its categorization-based approach, one of the factors that made Jackson's study of beer highly unusual at the time was a passionate attachment to the locale and the manner in which [beer] was drunk, the food it accompanied, and the heritage of the brewing operations in question. [..] To borrow a phrase from the poet WH Auden, he helped [beers] to become 'like some valley cheese, local, but prized elsewhere.'

In the nine years since Jackson's death, and prior, beer scholarship has advanced much, history researched more at original sources, and 'facts' redacted or debunked, but the kernel of what Jackson planted remains, and the tree has grown fruitful. Here's Portland-based beer writer Jeff Alworth, writing recently at his blog Beervana, re-defining Jackson's legacy:
Jackson was fundamentally an ethnographer. He wasn't a brewer and he wasn't an historian. He called himself a journalist, but his biggest contribution was understanding beer in the context of the culture in which it was brewed. He might have approached beer from the sensory perspective, as much wine writing does, or he could have gone out to breweries and described the beer they made, like a simple journalist. Instead [...] Jackson situated beer in a place. He demonstrated how it was an expression of the culture of the people who made it.

The thing that fueled the American brewing revival was how people fell in love with beer, and Jackson's culture-rich writing was one of the main vectors of that romance.

Worth looking for, and looking at, is The Beer Hunter, a four-part video series written and hosted by Jackson, and broadcast in the United States in 1989 by the Discovery Channel. It's a VHS(!) snapshot, now nearly thirty years past, of beer appreciating its nobility but reveling in its common-man freshness (the latter, a joy, that, these days, often seems to be 'experted' and curated away). Jackson provides wit and pith, limning the players, but, as in his books, never upstaging them.

The Beer Hunter VHS (03)

The logical beauty of Jackson's writing remains vibrant even today, when it can still outshine a lot of current writing in praise of 'craft' beer, so fanciful and jargon-draped. Take this Jackson gem, for example, composed on British beer, his first and true love.
Before British beer can be enjoyed, experience is required, but the same could be said for sex. In both cases, mistakes are inevitably made, but the triumphs make the disasters worthwhile.

Beer goggles were never so clear.


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