Preserving a Beer Legacy
Library Houses Life Collections of Beer Writer Michael Jackson
Jackson once said that he would pull folders out of his filing cabinet with the intent of weeding old, obviously out-of-date material. Then he’d return the files intact, fearing he’d need a particular item for historical reference. In fact, he was never going to run out of things to write about. He had several projects in progress when he died, including a book about dealing with Parkinson’s.
In 2005, he began assembling articles and essays for an anthology. Slow Food, the organization formed in Italy in the 1980s to promote traditional cuisine and whose magazines Jackson wrote for often, published an Italian version in 2006 titled Storie nel bicchiere di birra, di whisky, di vita, but Jackson wanted to see it appear in English.
“It was very important to him,” said executor Hopkins, who is also his stepdaughter. “We want to make sure we do right by his wish.” Making it available has taken far longer than she and Gunningham, her mother, expected. However, in June they expected they’d be able to release it relatively soon, first as an Amazon Kindle book.
The anthology includes scores of pieces about beer, whisky and various digressions, some written specifically for it. It draws from more than a dozen publications, and the diversity will surprise readers who know Jackson mostly through his books. They are a reminder he wrote about beer and he wrote about people, but he also wrote about where they intersect.
One of the stories he chose was called “The Pub Door” when it appeared in Slow, Slow Food’s journal. Jackson retitled it “The Whiff of Wickedness” for the anthology. The Beer Hunter as beer expert appears only briefly, well into the story to provide a quick introduction to Brettanomyces, a so-called wild yeast that can add positive or negative qualities to a beer. “Today it is part of my job to taste beer professionally,” Jackson wrote. “A colleague will sometimes ask: ‘Do you get Brett in this one?’ From a scientific viewpoint that conclusion might be sufficient.”
The story began with his mother picking up the pace each time they neared a pub in the town where they lived. “I was four years old,” he wrote. “My legs could scarcely keep up the pace. I felt as though my feet would leave the ground. Had I been in a cartoon, they would have done. I would have been dragged horizontally. I doubt my mother would not have noticed.”
He later asked her what people did in the pubs, and she said only that she did not know. “Whatever was going on in there my mother seemed to deem worthy of Dante,” he wrote. “If it was that bad, it must be good,” I concluded. She pulled me away, but it was too late. Every time a pub door opened, I had noticed a distinct aroma. I had smelled the whiff of wickedness.”
The first time he knowingly smelled Brett, the aroma was exactly the same. He wrote: “I have not yet managed to summarize in a tasting note the images that are triggered when I smell Brett: neither the big picture, the rise and fall of British industrial might, nor the cameo, the alienation experienced by my mother.
“If I could distill her story and mine, they would not be experiences shared and understood by every reader. We each have our own repertoire of memories and emotions triggered by smells and flavors. The most personal I can hint at, but little more. The more general I hope stimulate the senses.”
His usually did.
Stan Hieronymus, a contributor to All About Beer Magazine for 20 years, is the author of several books on beer and brewing. The most recent, For the Love of Hops (Brewers Publications), deals with all aspects of one of one of beer’s essential ingredients.