Renowned writer and international advocate for beer, Michael Jackson, died at his home in London on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. He was 65 and had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease, but the cause of death is believed to be a heart attack.
Simply put, Mr Jackson did for beer what fellow Englishman Hugh Johnson did for wine – provide a sense of appreciation and respect for the history of the various styles of the beverage and its place in civilized society. Perhaps more of a challenge than for Johnson, Mr Jackson elevated beer, the drink of the common man, to the status of a craft product with all of the finesse and elegance of wine.
Originally a news reporter, Mr Jackson first came to notoriety in the 1970s with the publication of his second book, World Guide to Beer. Others may know of him from Discovery Channel series, The Beer Hunter. Mr Jackson became a prolific author, not only on beers of the world but other drinks such as malt whiskeys.
All About Beer magazine is compiling a thread of honors and remembrances of the beloved writer and ambassador for beers and ales. The magazine now has on their frontpage the last column he wrote for them on 22 August, one that speaks with wistful human about his experiences with Parkinson’s. This one paragraph is particularly prescient:
My favorite exponent of subjective reporting was Whitney Balliett, jazz critic of The New Yorker. He recently died, and I am wondering how he is coping with being offered a position Upstairs when all decent jazz clubs (not to mention drinking dens) are in the Other Place. There is also the question as to the choice of beers Downstairs. One might expect a decent Hell, Helles or Heller, depending on the grammar of the label, but what is on offer for darker days? For the moment I shall not pursue this investigation any further, for fear that I should find out soon enough.
Despite our frequent sharing of GPS coordinates at the annual Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver, I regretfully never had the pleasure of meeting Mr Jackson personally. But I feel that my deep appreciation of great beer was due in part to his writings and stately enthusiasm.
Of those who have met him, Tina Fox posted the following on the All About Beer thread:
He was both straight-forward and humorous – and his humor was simultaneously down to earth, sharply perceptive and erudite. His enthusiasm for good beer was infectious, and he was extremely knowledgeable on beer, scotch, other drink types, as well as food, history and all manner of related subjects. (My own curiosity is fascinated with many interconnecting paths, so I really enjoyed his interest in the whole picture.) He was clever and funny as a speaker or when chatting one-on-one. He was quite human, unaffected and warm to talk with, and a kind and gracious gentleman to all. Certainly he seemed the furthest thing from cool or arrogant, and never formal, class-conscious or a stuffed shirt. After his talks, he patiently endured snapshots, still had enthusiasm and patience for chats with everyone, and signed a stack of books for me. When he spoke with someone, there were no egotistical needs in the way – so it was natural and easy to feel a person-to-person communication flow. He looked directly at you and chatted with you-the-person, regardless of distractions and whether you were an enthused consumer or expert brew master; he seemed to truly enjoy everyone.
Stan Hieronymus of the Beer Therapy blog has a crosspost at Michael’s Beer Hunter blog about Mr Jackson likening his documenting the tradition of Belgian beers to American folk historian Alan Lomax’s efforts to record aging blues musicians before they died.
I could go on about Michael Jackson but many others will at length, especially those blessed to have called him a friend.
So, tonight, I am instead lifting an Ayinger Celebrator Dopplebock to the memory of a man who brought great happiness to the world. You have left us a great legacy, Mr Jackson.
Addendum: Adam Bernstein at the Washington Post prepared this obituary.
A National Toast to Michael Jackson has been planned for 30 September with proceeds to benefit the National Parkinson Foundation.