Remembering Michael Jackson
Pioneering beer writer Michael Jackson, the “Beer Hunter,” died at his home in London on August 30. Author of numerous books on both beer and whiskey, he wrote the column “Jackson’s Journal” in this magazine for 23 years. We can’t do credit to the volume of thoughtful tributes that memorialized Michael Jackson on our website and elsewhere, but here are a few excerpts:
I think that only an Englishman could have seen beer the way that Michael did. Surely national character shaped the way he viewed the aged and sometimes primitive conditions found in English and Belgian breweries. An American would have seen the same spots as backward; a German as crude and unclean. The French don’t give a damn about beer and a Belgian might have considered them common and unremarkable. But the Englishman’s love of the authentic gave Michael his fire for the man who pours his soul into a modest but deeply rewarding beverage and drove him to seek and elevate the humble breweries that had for so long been ignored. And, like the brewers he loved most, Michael was no poser.
Ray Daniels, author
Those who knew Michael and those who met or knew of him can keep his memory and message alive among brewers and beer lovers yet to come, who now will never have the pleasure of his conversation, the honor of his evaluation of their work, or the inspiration from his magnificent digressional desultory orations.
Oh yes, that tie. The famous Michael Jackson tie. I hope they put that in a museum somewhere. It must have a bit of everyone’s beer in it. That tie could be a beer museum by itself.
Tom Pastorius, Penn Brewery
In Seattle, we have a special feeling for Michael. On his first visit, there were no local craft brewers. We now have more than 16 in greater Seattle alone, 83 in the state. He taught us about classics like IPA, porter and barley wine. All are now commonplace. Per capita consumption of craft beer here is, thanks to him, among the highest in the country. Who knew, when we asked that London operator for the number of Michael Jackson, that he would go on to change our world? Perhaps he knew, but if so, he didn’t reveal it. Michael remained humble to his dying day.
Professionally, Michael took North America’s emerging gastronomically-minded class by the scruff of its neck and said, “Here, drink this! It’s beer and it’s excellent and you’d do well to understand that.” We took heed, or at least a lot of us did, and the beer culture we enjoy today is the result.
As an Immigration Inspector, I had literally inspected hundreds of thousands of people over the years seeking entry into the United States, including dozens of “celebrities.” The beer gods did me a favor, because one evening, up walks MJ to my booth, presenting himself, along with his UK passport for admission to the United States. ”
“I started my inspection with “I know you, you are Michael Jackson, the Beer Hunter.” He smiled, and seemed a bit amused to be greeted to the United States with instant recognition. It was GABF time, and Denver, CO was his final destination, so there was no reason to ask him: “What is the purpose of your trip to the United States?”
“Just a Drinker”
We were just getting started with the Specialty Brewing Group [at Anheuser-Busch], and trying to do some craft brewing. Michael Jackson visited the brewery headquarters in St. Louis. I remember him telling AAB III and the rest of us that to really be successful in brewing craft beers, the brewers should be the ones making the decisions on what beers we should be brewing. I could have kissed the man right there!
Mitch Steele, Stone Brewing Co.
A couple of years ago in London, he and I were seated across from each other at a beer dinner hosted by Fullers…when he was asked to give a short talk. Well, no sooner had he started talking did he launch into a huge digression, which went off into another…and then another. I thought to myself, “My God, he’s so far from where he started, he’ll never get back.” And then, all of a sudden, he smoothly came around full circle and finished his talk, ending up right where he had started. It was perfect. When he sat down I said to him, “Damn, Michael, I was sure you were so far out on a limb that you’d never get home. Good job.” He smiled at me, there was a twinkle in his eye, and he said, “Well, sometimes I make it back.¨
I know this applies to a former great Chicago NBA player—and that it will probably never happen—but one day, I wanna be like Mike.
In so many ways, Michael was, to many of us, more than a writer, a critic or a friend—he was a sort of second father. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that as I’ve pursued a career in brewing with a smattering of writing, I’ve always wanted to make my “other dad” proud. Whenever I may have been tempted towards a shortcut of some sort, he was an angel on my shoulder telling me to take the one true path.
My best Michael story concerned my first judging experience at the GABF. I was placed in a group with Michael and he gave me some advice that changed my perceptions before I even got started. He said if you judge by eliminating the beers with faults you will award the gold medal to the “least bad beer” rather than the best.
Steve Parkes, Lead Instructor, American Brewers Guild
He sang to us all with his inexhaustible writing about beer, whiskey, politics, liberalism or tales of rugby league…not union. He loved people. Although he struggled with “his” Parkinson’s, contact with people filled him with adrenaline, and he was a vibrant, healthy man with each encounter. It appeared as if, simply speaking with a brewer, fellow journalist, or admirer, the breath of their life transferred into him
Carolyn Smagalski, The Beer Fox
It’s like when Jerry checked out—Jerry Garcia that is. For Beerheads, this is what Deadheads felt, what, nearly 10 years ago? I have many stories and memories that I will love to share with all who St. Michael touched, but there’s one moment that haunts me. We shared the memory of a dearly departed over a beer in NYC, and there came a moment of silent bonding, out of time with no words (I think he called it a frisson or something—he wrote about it). That’s where I’m at right now.
Tony Forder, Ale Street News
When you go home tonight, keep the Orval, Brooklyn Chocolate Stout or 120 minute IPA in the cellar. Open a can of Miller Lite or Budweiser. Only then can you remember how far this man has taken us.
John Haser, Tilted Kilt Pub
One of my favorite Michael Moments was at a dinner hosted by Fuller Brewing in London in 2005 where, when someone made some foolish remarks about American craft beer, he jumped to his feet and gave the fellow a stern dressing down in a 15 minute, perfectly organized, off-the-cuff speech that left no doubt about his feelings that this is the best beer country in the world. Then he sat back down, smiled and picked up our conversation where it had left off.
As you already know, Michael could—and regularly did—write rings around me.
You might look forward to getting All About Beer Magazine in your mailbox. I, on the other hand, knew there were going to be words from me about four beers and words from the Pope about four beers. Four visits to the principal’s office.
I don’t know why Michael didn’t smack me, any number of times. I introduced myself to him the first time while we were side-by-side in a men’s room; can the man have no privacy? I recall—vaguely, there’d been a lot of Wynkoop and martinis under the bridge by that time—seeing Michael in his seersucker at GABF in 1996, and rubbing the fabric between my fingers. “That’s nice,” I mumbled. “Yes,” he said, “and it doesn’t show wrinkles, either.” Shoulda smacked me.
But he didn’t. He gave me advice, he was a good friend (once we got that seersucker thing behind us).
Michael always had a kind word. Over the years he told audiences many nice things about me, some of them true.
I did some supporting writing for a couple of his projects, and he told people we had “collaborated.”
Once at breakfast, Michael needed more coffee. Wearing one of his ties with his likeness, he told the waitress, “The man on my tie says he’d like more coffee.” But I digress…
Jim Dorsch, American Brewer
Nobody has ever written as evocatively as Michael about the absurd magic of spontaneous fermentation, or the simple steeping of cherries in tuns of lambic to create kriek. Nor about the wood-aged brown ales of West Flanders, which he cleverly termed the Flemish Reds to catch the eye of wine drinkers and maybe, just maybe, draw them in a little closer to considering a brief detour through the land of fine beers. Joris Pattyn, the Flemish beer connoisseur and writer, and a good friend, referring to the first publication of the World Guide to Beer, once told me, “Michael reminded us in Belgium that we had a great beer heritage. Until that moment, it was as if we had forgotten.”
Tim Webb, Good Beer Guide Belgium