Beer Birthday: Michael Jackson

Today would have been Michael Jackson’s 75th birthday. I first met Michael in the early 1990s, shortly after my first beer book was published. He is all but single-handedly responsible for the culture of better beer that exists today. He began writing about good beer in the 1960s and 70s and his writing has influenced (and continues to influence) generations of homebrewers and commercial brewers, many of whom were inspired to start their own breweries by his words. There are few others, if any, that have been so doggedly persistent and passionate about spreading the word about great beer. I know some of my earliest knowledge and appreciation of beer, and especially its history and heritage, came from Michael’s writings. Michael passed away in August 2007, ten years ago. I still miss him, and I suspect I’m not the only one. A few years ago, J.R. Richards’ new documentary film about Michael Jackson, Beer Hunter: The Movie, debuted, which I helped a tiny bit with as a pioneer sponsor.

I did an article a few years ago for Beer Connoisseur, for their Innovator’s Series, entitled Michael Jackson: The King of Beer Writers, A personal look back at the man who made hunting for beer a career. I reached out to a number of people who also knew Michael for their remembrances as well as my own, and as a result I’m pretty pleased with the results (although the original draft was almost twice as long).

I’ll again be playing some jazz and having a pint of something yummy in his honor, which has become my tradition for March 27, which I’ve also started declaring to be “Beer Writers Day.” Join me in drinking a toast to Michael Jackson, the most influential modern beer writer who’s ever lived.

At the Great Divide Brewing’s media party in Denver over fifteen years ago.

On stage accepting the first beer writing awards from the Brewers Association with Jim Cline, GM of Rogue, Stan Hieronymus, who writes Real Beer’s Beer Therapy among much else, and Ray Daniels, formerly of the Brewers Association.

At GABF in 2006, still wearing the same glasses. But my, oh my, have I changed. Sheesh.

With Carolyn Smagalski receiving an award at Pilsner Urquell.


  1. says

    Ditto on the early knowledge of beer coming from this guy. I still love to go back and read his stuff. By the way, it is a real shame that when you say Michael Jackson and beer in the same sentence that people still automatically think of the pervert pop singer. I’ll be drinking a beer in the real Michael Jackson’s memory. Oh yeah! I just thought of something he said one time that made me laugh. I remember him writing somewhere that he wish to publish a book that related to him having Parkinson’s disease and assuring people that he was not shaking because he was drunk, but because of the disease. What a sense of humour (note the British spelling).

  2. says

    Had the rare pleasure to be Michael’s guide in Chicago in 2005 when we kicked off the Herold Brewery’s beer there. I was associated through his Rare Beer Club. That night at the hotel, he asked if I would like to see something special. We met at the bar for a scotch, and he had in his hands the first hardbound copy of his new whisky book. You’d have thought it was the first thing he’d ever published. Pulling out something very special tonight for sure.

  3. Karl (BeerJunkie) Mende says

    Thanks for the reminder Jay. Michael was the main reason that we have the depth of beers that we now have available to us here in America. He was truly a pioneer in the beer world. In 1996 I picked him up at the Algonquin Hotel in NY so that he could visit my new brewery (Climax) before I drove him down to a dinner that he was giving at the Rathskeller in DC. What a great ride, we talked for hours as he imparted his wisdom to me. He is surely missed. Tonight I will drink something special in his honor. Cheers!

  4. beerman49 says

    We toast him all the time when we drink great beer & great whiskey! He was an incredible raconteur who more than accomplished his missions to educate the public about beer & whiskey! His “Beer Hunter” series will live forever – too bad he didn’t live long enough to do the same with whiskey.

  5. Gary Gillman says

    Thanks for this heartfelt and amply justified tribute to a great figure in modern beer history. There will never be another like him, nor can anyone have his single and focused influence due to the world, especially publishing and technology, changing so much since his passing. I was privileged to know him and travelled with him on beery expeditions in Toronto, Lille (France) and Cincinnati. He had huge reserves of unsuspected knowledge, I recall being surprised to hear him chat very serviceably in French for example with brewers from Pas-de-Calais in French Flanders. I recall he told me that was his first visit to the area (this was early 1990’s) which astonished me because his famous World Guide To Beer, written almost 15 years earlier, disclosed a seemingly intimate and assured knowledge of a rather hidden corner of Europe, and not just in relation to beer.

    He was evidently and bright guy and absorbed volumes one might say. I still believe that despite the continuing development of beer styles since his passing, he basically invented the way we look beer today, his beer style categories such as Imperial Russian Stout and American Pale Ale are not just unearthings of old or recent brewing and business history but a kind of fusion of that and his own creativity or vision.

    Thanks for this remembrance and it’s good to learn of this biographical film, hopefully it will be available soon to his fans as a DVD.



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