A few years ago, while visiting the 2004 Great British Beer Festival, where I did a beer and chocolate tasting, and while renewing my friendship with Michael Jackson, he invited me to visit him the next day in his own bailiwick. We met at Ravenscourt Park Underground Station and walked nearby to a small, beautiful park on the Thames, where we had a pint at the Dove, an elegant old pub, obviously one of his favorites. He was giving me a rundown on all the area’s famous hot spots.
After that we went on to another pub and then to his “office” (next door to his house) at 23 Nasmyth. His office was even more crowded than my own. We’re talking serious clutter here: I had always held the view that no one had more cluttered work stations than my own, but here was a master! There was a work station for Michael, one for his assistant (Owen), a seat for a visitor, and books, papers, clutter, more books and papers, more clutter; beer, whisky and God only knows what glassware; yet more books, papers, and even more clutter. Only a clutter-butt like myself could appreciate this level of expertise.
He was a wonderful host, sharing his entire life history, his family and the town of Hammersmith, a borough in its own right. I wish now that I had taken notes. We had a good long talk that day. He also showed me an article about his family that he’d written for Slow Food Magazine. He had always wanted to be a writer, he told me. This, even though he, like myself, had actually never finished high school. Nevertheless, he did manage something similar to our GED test.
We left his office and walked about town while he shared a lot more about himself, as the son of a Lithuanian Jewish father and an English mother. Michael’s wife, he said, had died 30 years earlier.
Seeing him close-up, in his own environment, I could tell he was in much better physical shape than I had thought. For one thing, although his walk appeared halting, it was the result of an accident he’d had while playing rugby football in his youth. He had broken his left leg in three places and was plagued with pain from time to time, he said. His pain medications, he noted, were not always useful. (More recently, of course, he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which may well have been a factor in the heart attack that killed him on 30 August, last).
We continued on to another favorite pub, for yet another pint; (they were all rather weak, at about 4% ABV, but even so, each of those 20-ouncers is substantial). These seemed to be his favorite pubs. I was introduced to the owners or managers of each, but I didn’t even note the names of the last two places. It had really been a fun day for me. He wanted to take me to a late lunch, but I had a prior appointment. I hated to leave, especially seeing that he was being so friendly and talkative.
As it turned out, I found the piece he had done for Slow Food Magazine in 2003; I was a Slow Food member, so I had the magazine in my own library! It was a history of his family.
His grandfather, Chaim Jakowitz, left his native Lithuania at the turn of the century-before-last, at age 15. He hid himself, with the help of friends, in a hay cart crossing between Lithuania (then part of Czarist Russia) and Imperial Germany. At Hamburg he was smuggled aboard a herring trawler to Hull, England.
Chaim was an illegal immigrant with little money, so his first meal in Hull was fish and chips eaten off the traditional newspaper. His contact helped him get on a train to Leeds (Yorkshire), with its nearby Jewish community, where he eventually married his new landlord’s daughter, Rachel. They started a fish and chip shop.
They had six boys,. Michael’s father Isaac (1909-1984) joined the British army in 1940, anglicizing his name to Jack Jackson for the war against Hitler. In the army, he soon met Michael’s mom, who conceived Michael without the benefit of either Christian or Jewish sacraments. Michael had always, to my knowledge, been very proud of his beginnings, and the fact that he was Jewish. I was blessed, myself, by my friendship with him. May he rest in peace.
The Drunk Effect of Beer and Other Such Nonsense
There’s a great Canadian study out there, dating from 1973: Beer, Wine and Spirits: Beverage Differences and Public Policy in Canada (The Report of the Alcoholic Beverage Study Committee, Lancelot J Smith, Chairman). It shows that, yes, there are equal amounts of alcohol in those three very basic beverages, but the effects of that equal amount of alcohol is quite different for each. This 164-page report was commissioned by the Governors of the Brewers Association of Canada (BAC) in Ottawa. The committee of five college professors (Smith, A. Boudreau, C.I. Chappel, W.I. Gillespie and D.M.J. Quastal), was commissioned, basically, to support the BAC in proving that beer is a safer beverage, and therefore should be taxed at a lower rate than wine or spirits.
Their conclusions are based on the characteristics of alcoholic beverages and on physiological studies of the men after consumption. The real meat of this study is the examination of the effects of measured alcohol consumption (by men only—no women) over a period of time. It is worth noting that in 1973, the Blood Alcohol (BA) limit in Canada was 0.08%, as it is here in most states today.
The 26 subjects (aged 22-50 average 32; 6 heavy, 16 medium, and 4 small weighing 140-250 pounds, average 176; all light- to medium-drinkers). Each was given carefully measured drinks (three different times, one series each, of whisky, wine, and beer) based on body weight, with the BA measured every half hour by the finger prick method. These men each consumed 0.5 gram absolute alcohol per kilo of body weight; or about 4 bottles of beer, 4 glasses of wine and 4 whisky/ginger ale highballs (1:3 dilution) on different days, for a 150-lb man. It should be noted that the larger men could not drink enough beer (7.5 bottles) over the allotted time; so the effect for them was extrapolated. The decay rate caused most of the alcohol to be eliminated from the body over a 6-hour period.
The study concluded, “The… peak blood-alcohol reading… is, on average, 25% higher… (when) they consume alcohol in the form of whiskey rather than beer…” The effects of wine were about half-way between those of beer and whiskey.
Then they tested the subjects to determine impairment, which was done on a statometer, producing a squiggle graph of their body movements while standing on a small platform. The subjects were tested at 30-minute intervals both with their eyes open, and with their eyes closed. In one individual, the after-squiggle was 1.125 times larger in beer, and 1.71 times larger with the whiskey. More important, the studies showed that “the resulting differences in psychomotor performance were large and significant…. The degree of impairment… increases to a greater extent than the increase in (BA) levels.”
Furthermore, the studies on accident risks show the same “exponential relationship [that is] impairment and risk increase more than in proportion to the increase in BA level… i.e., the same individual, after 3-4 bottles of beer (Canadian beer at 5% ABV), will be less impaired than after 3-4 whiskies although both contain approximately the same amounts of alcohol.”
Did I Mention that Craft Beer is Safer!
One more little tidbit here: the lower the ratio of extract content to alcohol content, the lower the BA curve after a given amount of alcohol. In other words, it is my understanding that 5% ABV craft beer, with its higher ratio of non-fermentables to alcohol content, is far more protective to the would-be drunk than hard liquor, or even “light” or “ultra” beer, neither of which existed in those days. It’s the carbs that make it safer! The effect carries over, even to the long-term health effects as well. I would also conclude from this, that if one matches water with each alcohol drink, the effects would be very beneficial.
Incidentally, that study recommends that we males get to imbibe three drinks a day, not two; which probably means that women can go one-and-a-half drinks a day. How ’bout that?