The Beer Hunter – gone but not forgotten
August 30th marks the first anniversary of the passing of Michael Jackson – ‘The Beer Hunter‘. NOT to be confused with any other Michael Jackson with other leisure preferences.
Michael was probably best know in the USA for his ‘Beer Hunter’ Television Series (on the Discovery Channel I think) and for his various books, both on the subject of Beer, and on Malt Whisky. Check your favourite online bookstore or auction site.
He was probably the person most responsible for raising awareness of the different types of beer that are available worldwide. A veritable encyclopedia of Beer and Brewing from Ale to Zymurgy, Michael was a champion of the US microbrewery movement and was a regular speaker at US Beer festivals and conventions. He used to relate a tale of a microbrewers convention in California where he was invited to taste a ‘special’ India Pale Ale, and he commented on a distinctive, but not unpleasant flavour. The hobbyist brewer explained that he’d run out of hops, but on checking his encyclopedia of plants, discovered that Marijuana is a close relative of the hop, so he’d used that!
Some observers have suggested that some more unusual brewing styles (such as Belgian ‘Lambic’ beers – which rely on ‘wild’ yeast and spontaneous fermentation) would have died out completely were it not for Michael’s informed, yet passionate support.
Michael was a journalist by profession, his first job was for a local newspaper in Tadcaster, Yorkshire. At the tutored tasting I attended, he explained that at lunchtime on his first day he was taken from the newspaper offices to the pub next door. Not just any pub, this was the ‘brewery tap’ for Samuel Smith’s famous Tadcaster brewery. He started the tasting with a pint of ‘Sammy Smiths’ explaining that this was a classic Yorkshire Bitter, and a s good as it gets.
In 1991 he famously observed “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 … beer is by far the more extensively consumed, but less adequately honoured. In a small way, I want to help put right that injustice.”
I was fortunate enough to meet Michael a few times, once a tutored tasting where he turned up with about a dozen beers for a crowd of us to taste and appreciate, and on another occasion when I visited him at home with a view to trying to preserve ‘Staropramen’ the Czech pilsner beer – that’s a story for another day.
In later years Michael suffered from Diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease and it was a source of embarrassment to him that it was Parkinson’s and not his drinking that caused his voice to slur. He died from a heart attack at home in Hammersmith, West London on August 30th 2007.
So, if you find yourself on August 30th with a beer that isn’t one of the mass produced fizzy pale lagers (and you know the brands I mean) then please raise a silent toast to the passing of the man who more than anyone else, promoted the art and craft of beer making… and drinking!