| The Legacy of Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson, best known as the "Bard of Beer" and the world's leading authority on
beer and whisky, died at his home in London in the early morning of August 30, 2007.
As we approach the 5th anniversary of his passing due to heart failure it's only
appropriate that we remember his contribution to craft beer. He was the first journalist
to take the subject of beer to an art form. His early work rhapsodized the pub culture
found in the great beer bars of England and heralded the existence of the classic beers
of the world. These works and many more to come during his prolific life leave an
It was Michael's mission to raise beer to its true status as one of the world's great
alcoholic drinks, with a long tradition and deep roots in the history and culture of many
societies. He showed to the millions who read his books, heard his talks or watched
his television programmes and videos that beer comes in many styles and is often
made with the addition of fruit, herbs and spices alongside malt and hops. He broke
beer free from the narrow concepts of ale and lager and revealed the myriad varieties
available, some - such as the lambic beers of Belgium or the sati beers of Finland - so
obscure they might have disappeared but for his enthusiastic support.
Before Michael most people naively thought that Britain brewed ale, the Irish made
stout, while the rest of the world produced lager. Now we were forced to rethink our
ideas. He was a particular devotee of Belgian brews for their “idiosyncratic” array of
winy, sour, spicy, chocolaty and other flavors. He enlightened million on the beers
brewed by Trappist monks, sour red beers, spiced wheat beers and lambic and gueuze
beers made by spontaneous fermentation that put Belgium on the map.
His book The Great Beers of Belgium ran to five editions, the last published in 2006.
The success of the World Guide turned Jackson into a full-time beer writer. He launched
what proved to be the first of seven editions of his Pocket Beer Book, which divided the
world into beer-producing countries and then gave detailed tasting notes of the best
brews within each country.
Readers were regaled by descriptions that lifted beer from the mundane and informed
them that malt could be biscuity, juicy and roasty and have hints of toffee and
butterscotch, while hops added citrus, perfumy, spicy and peppery notes as well as
bitterness. The vocabulary of countless beer reviews and description can be traced
back to him.
Jackson's reputation led to many invitations to visit the United States, where he
discovered a new world of beer. He became a champion of the new wave of American
beers and made many tours of the country to conduct beer tastings. In 1990 he reached
a new audience with his TV series The Beer Hunter, six programs that described the
beers of the world's great brewing countries. Shown first in Britain and then in the US, it
has been endlessly repeated worldwide and sold many thousands of videos.
As a champion of beer his aim was to encourage people to treat it as being as worthy
of attention as wine. In arguably his greatest book, the Beer Companion (1991), he
wrote: "No one goes into a restaurant and requests 'a plate of food, please'. People do
not simply ask for 'a glass of wine', without specifying, at the very least, whether they
fancy red or white, dry or sweet, perhaps sparkling or still ... when their mood switches
from the grape to the grain, these same discerning people folk often ask simply for 'a
beer', or perhaps name a brand, without thinking of its suitability for the mood or the
moment ... beer is by far the more extensively consumed, but less adequately honoured.
In a small way, I want to help put right that injustice." He succeeded beyond his
He said he wanted his work “to elevate the understanding, the diversity and the nobility
of beer.” His devotion to improving beer coverage was considered unique and
unwavering. His goal was, he said, to create a new era where “newspaper men talked
beer, drank beer and wrote about wine.”
Jackson – bearded and bespectacled, with the expanding tell-tale belly of his
consuming interest – was a familiar sight in university lecture halls from Oxford to
Cornell. He also appeared in small bar settings and was a guest on late-night talk
shows. Inevitably, he was asked to name his favorite brew. He always demurred,
saying it depended on his mood and the location. He once wrote a column about the
“perfect pint” without naming it. “If I find it, I will be unemployed,” he said.
He was also often asked if he ever drank wine. He memorably said: "when people ask
me, as though beer were a prison rather than a playground. A day may pass when I do
not drink wine, but never a week. Whatever is argued about other pleasures, it is not
necessary to be monogamous in the choice of drink."
Having conquered beer, Jackson turned his attention to malt whisky, inspired by the fact
that whisky is a distillation of ale without hops. He rapidly achieved even greater
recognition as a whisky writer. His Malt Whisky Companion (1989) is the bestselling
book on the subject and has been accompanied by the Guide to Single Malt Scotch
and Scotland and its Whiskies (2001). His last book, called simply Whisky, was
published in 2005 and has already won five international awards.
Jackson received many honors. They include the Glenfiddich trophy and five Glenfiddich
awards, the André Simon award, the literary medal of the German Academy of
Gastronomy and in 1994 the Belgian Mercurius award for service to Belgian breweries,
presented by Crown Prince Philippe.
Much has been said and will be said about the legacy of Michael Jackson but his real
legacy is in your hand every time you drink a great beer. As August 30 approaches I
hope you join me and raise a glass in his memory.
Cheers and thanks, Michael!