Beer Birthday: Michael Jackson

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Today would have been Michael Jackson’s 72nd 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, seven years ago. I still miss him, and I suspect I’m not the only one. Last year, 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 three 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 Writer’s Day.” Join me in drinking a toast to Michael Jackson, the most influential modern beer writer who’s ever lived.

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

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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.

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

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With Carolyn Smagalski receiving an award at Pilsner Urquell.

Beer Birthday: Bill Brand

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Today would have been Bill Brand’s 76th birthday, if not for the tragic events of February 8, 2009. Bill, of course, was hit by a Muni Train that evening and passed away twelve days later, on February 20. He was a bastion of support for the local beer community for decades, and one of it’s most visible media faces. He did a staggering amount of good to help brewers throughout the Bay Area, and wrote about the beer he loved so much with an unmatched passion and zeal. His Bottoms Up blog was read by millions, the newest form of his What’s On Tap newsletter that stretched back into the early 1990s. It was my great honor to take over his column and try to continue his legacy of support for craft brewers in the Bay Area and beyond. Drink a toast to the memory and legacy of William “Bill” Brand today. Happy birthday Bill, you are most certainly missed.

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Dueling laptops; Bill and me at Magnolia on February 6 for the tapping of Napa Smith Original Albion Ale by Don Barkley. Photo by Shaun O’Sullivan.

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Bill toasting with a pitcher of Oakland’s new Linden Street Brewery. Photo by RRifkin.

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Bill taking notes at the Monk’s Blood Dinner at 21st Amendment, February 8, 2009. Photo by Jesse Friedman of Beer & Nosh.

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Drink a toast to Bill today, it’s how he would have wanted to be remembered.

For The Next Session, Write About Writing

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For our 86th Session, our host is Heather Vandenengel, the Beer Hobo. For her topic, she’s chosen Beer Journalism, in other words using your words to write about writing … beer writing, that is. She writes. “It’s time for a session of navel-gazing: I’d like to turn a critical eye on how the media cover the beer industry. And, for a broad definition, I’ll define media as newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, TV, books and radio.” Here’s what she’s looking for:

What role do beer writers play in the culture and growth of craft beer? Are we advocates, critics, or storytellers? What stories are not getting told and what ones would you like to never hear about again? What’s your beer media diet? i.e. what publications/blogs/sites do you read to learn about industry? Are all beer journalists subhumans? Is beer journalism a tepid affair and/or a moribund endeavor? And if so, what can be done about it?

In the spirit of tipping the hat when someone gets it right, please also share a piece of beer writing or media you love–it doesn’t have to be recent, and it could be an article, podcast, video, book or ebook–and explain a bit about what makes it great. I’ll include links to those articles as well in my roundup for easy access reading.

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Here’s her instructions for participating:

  1. Write a blog and post it on or by Friday, April 4.
  2. Leave a comment [t]here with a link to your post.
  3. Check back on Monday, April 7 for a roundup of all the blog posts.

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Some of the earliest writing about beer, c. 3000-3100 BCE.

Jane Austen, Brewer

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I suspect I’m not the only man in the world whose wife loves Jane Austen. And I further would not be surprised to learn that I’m not alone in not feeling quite the same level of joy at every new film or television adaptation of one of her works. (Is that enough “nots” in one sentence?) Oh, I’ve enjoyed a few of the costume dramas, I confess. I thought “Clueless” was quite enjoyable. So I don’t want you to think I’m an irredeemable boor. I’ve suffered through — ahem, I mean seen — most of them, and it’s not been as horrible as, say, “Dallas” or “Knot’s Landing” or any of a number of similar dreck.

But my interest in Jane Austen just shot up 99%, thanks to an article posted by BBC Magazine yesterday, Beer: The Women Taking Over the World of Brewing. It’s a great article all on it’s own, one of the few to treat the subject of women in beer with a decent amount of respect, for a change. But what caught my attention was a sidebar about Jane Austen by alcohol historian Jane Peyton.

It is a truth that should be universally acknowledged — Jane Austen not only drank beer but brewed it too.

As a teenager she would have learned how to make beer by helping her mother in the Hampshire vicarage where she grew up.

Brewing was part of household duties and even the women of genteel 18th Century families such as the Austens would know how to do it, even if the chores were sometimes delegated to domestic staff.

In a letter to her sister Cassandra, Jane wrote “and I that have the great cask, for we are brewing spruce beer again….”

As in most houses small beer (low alcohol) was served at the Austen dining table as a safe source of drinking water for all members of the family — children too — so Jane would certainly have tasted the results of her labour.

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It certainly makes sense, though I’d never really stopped to think about it before. Austen apparently mentioned her brewing efforts in letters to her sister Cassandra. In one of them she mentions small beer while in two others she talks about her spruce beer.

Austen also mentions spruce beer in her 1815 novel, “Emma.”

“But one morning — I forget exactly the day — but perhaps it was the Tuesday or Wednesday before that evening, he wanted to make a memorandum in his pocket-book: it was about spruce-beer. Mr. Knightley had been telling him something about brewing spruce-beer, and he wanted to put it down….”

And according to “Cooking with Jane Austen,” when the Austen family lived at Stoneleigh, her mother wrote about the “mansions ‘strong beer’ and ‘small beer’ cellars.” And Mrs. Austen also “brewed beer at Steventon in the last years of the eighteenth century and at Chawton cottage many years later.”

It almost makes me want to read her again … nah. Still, she’s now a bit more interesting.

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Beer At The Thanksgiving Table

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Thirty years ago, in November 1983, Michael Jackson wrote an article for the Washington Post entitled “Beer at the Thanksgiving Table.” It was subtitled “Wine is acceptable for this annual feast, but what if you prefer beer?” It was apparently one of his first pieces on the topic of pairing beer and food.

The article contains one of my favorite quotes by Michael:

To give thanks is a matter of joy; should that be confined by excessive sobriety? Better still, Thanksgiving is an annual opportunity to refresh old friendships and make new ones, in which matter both the ritual and effect of a shared glass is the best tie.

When you consider this was written when Sierra Nevada was still a very small brewery, New Albion had just closed and Mendocino Brewing had only been founded the same year, it’s a remarkable time piece. Nobody was even thinking about pairing beer with food yet. Now we take it for granted. But back then most people still needed convincing. This is great reminder of how far we’ve come and how much of debt of thanks we owe to Michael.

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Here’s Michael’s suggested general pairing suggestions from thirty years ago:

As an aperitif: Dry, hoppy beers with some bitterness. Try New Amsterdam (from New York) or Anchor Steam (San Francisco).

With fish: Pilsners. Almost all of the well-known American beers are loosely of this style. So are the best-known imported brands, like Heineken and Carlsberg. Czech and German Pilsners tend to be drier, and therefore go especially well with the more oily varieties of fish.

Shellfish: Dry stouts or porters.

Smoked meats, sausages: If you can find it, the smoked Rauchbier of Bamberg, Germany. Or a German altbier or weizenbeier.

Pasta: The less spicy pasta dishes of Northern Italy go quite well with the Munich Dark type of beer. It is, after all, commonly served with the admittedly-heavier noodle dishes of Germany.

Fowl: Munich Light with turkey; perhaps the slightly less sweet Dortmunder style might go better with chicken.

Red Meat: English Pale Ale.

Game: Scottish ale, which is heavier.

But take the time to go back and read the entire article. And give thanks that nobody looks at you funny when you bring beer to the Thanksgiving meal. As is my personal tradition, I’m enjoying some Anchor Christmas Ale with my meal, something I’ve been doing for roughly twenty-five years. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Time To Enter Our Beer Writing Contest

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If you write about beer in print or online or broadcast, please consider joining over 100 of your colleagues in the newly reformed North American Guild of Beer Writers. Even if I can’t persuade you to join, if you’ve written something you’re proud of between July of last year and June 30 of this year, you should enter it in our NAGBW Writing Contest, which is open to non-members as well as guild members. Our goal is to raise the level of beer writing by rewarding the best efforts of our colleagues. “NAGBW’s awards honor the best beer and brewing industry coverage in seven categories. Journalism, feature writing, freelance authors, blogs and broadcast or published in print or online are eligible.” Don’t delay, because the deadline is coming up fast; it’s August 26.

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The seven categories are for Best Book, Magazine Writing, Newspaper (Paid Circulation) Writing, Brewspaper/Free Zine Writing, Beer Blog, Beer and Food Writing, and Broadcast/Podcast. The cost to compete is $30 per entry (but only $15 for members — see, you should join).

Submit your entry or entries online through our partner Submittable by next Monday, August 26. Again, that’s for work published or broadcast between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013. Online submissions are accepted at submittable.com, and print books may be mailed to: Lucy Saunders, Attn: NAGBW Awards, 4230 N. Oakland Ave. #178, Shorewood, WI 53211.

If you have any questions, contact www.nagbw.org via our website, drop me a line, or simply comment here. Award winners will be announced during GABF, date and time to be announced shortly. Perhaps I’ll see you there?