A Good Beer Blog

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Have you read The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer - A Rant in Nine Acts by Alan and Max yet? It's out on Kindle as well as Lulu.

Maureen Ogle said this about the book: "... immensely readable, sometimes slightly surreal rumination on beer in general and craft beer in particular. Funny, witty, but most important: Smart. The beer geeks will likely get all cranky about it, but Alan and Max are the masters of cranky..."

Ron Pattinson said: "I'm in a rather odd situation. Because I appear in the book. A fictional version of me. It's a weird feeling."


Comments

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Nick -

Not being a beer aficionado myself, and with a quick scan of your opening sentence, "I have no real skin in this question", I assumed this post was about a less famous MJ, a musician who recently passed away. I knew Michael had missed some major styles (folk, punk, metal, come to mind) but it's interesting to learn that he also missed out on "Burton, AK, Double Brown" and also learn about his "books of tasting notes." Little known facts those.

RIP Mr. Jackson.

Jim -

That is not the first time that Pattison has been dismissive of Jackson for having glossed over Burton as a style. I think Pattison's complaint is specifically telling. It is a tribute to the high esteem that Jackson is still held in most circles in regard to his knowledge of the beer world that throughout his career, including the 2.5 years since he passed, if he failed to write on a style, that style simply does not exist.

No one except Pattison himself has dared question that Jackson got it wrong. Most just presume that Burton is just an English pale and that Double Brown is really just a brown etc. That's what Jackson's omission must mean and that question is as in the grave as the writer himself. (I recognize that the "no one" above is certainly hyperbole. I was an English BA as well).

Nevertheless, since no one has cropped up in Jackson's absence to really talk about beer culture in the way that Jackson did, both in English Pub and in the Beer Hunter PBS series, he is still the reigning master, the source of the shadow that other beer writers are struggling to free themselves of. I can imagine Charles Bamforth stepping up his game in a few years to fill the gap. I say "a few years not because he needs more practice as a writer, but because he's very busy with the sciene stuff at the moment. Randy Mosher is almost certainly capable and well-known enough to do it (stateside at least). Pete Brown and a few others too are all ready to take on that mantle-and Pattison even.

But when they do, they will owe their success in large part to Jackson himself who prepared them as observers of beer and beer culture and who prepared the audience for their arrival--the cry in the wilderness and all that. If there's one thing that academics has taught me is that people disagreeing with you is the surest sign that you've made it. The fact that Jackson's most solid critiques are arriving now is proof that he was definitely here when he was here.

Zythophile -

The irony was, I believe, that The English Pub, great book though it is, was a piece of hackwork Michael was hired to write, and on the success of that his publisher asked him if he'd like to do one on beer next … his greatness, I think, lay in the fact that he believed that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing very well. The World Guide to Beer, therefore, was an in-depth look at the subject in a way I don't think had ever been done before. He took his job seriously, and he defied you to not take it seriously too. As a result he encouraged us all to take seriously a subject that he became a passionate enthusiast for, and to explore beer styles, hop varieties, fermentation methods and the rest in a way that, again, had never been done before in such depth and with such rigour: and if he was not quite right sometimes, eg about "dry Irish stout", well, he was getting his information from people - brewers - who, quite rightly, were practical operatives rather than historians and or could or should we expect them to have had in-depth knowledge of what their predecessors had been up to 100 years or more earlier. How differently beer writing would have developed without him I don't know, but my feeling is that it would be less rigorous and less professional, and less influential, as far as it goes.

Alan -

Protzean perhaps? I don't mean to be unkind but I do have to admit, Martyn, that is the first word that popped into my mind when I read that last sentence. Not less professional but maybe less elemental. A different profession: not just journalism but Aristotelian in the sense of a surveyor of the natural science of brewing. But I do not think he is a direct precursor to Hornsey or even yourself. There is too much taxonomy in Jackson for that. Yet in his focus on classification he foreshadowed the appropriateness of other analytical approaches to brewing.

ATJ -

excellent post, I remember reading Michael’s books in the late 1980s and thinking I have got to so visit these places he wrote about but as a jobbing journalist I didn’t think you could make a living out of it, to me he was inspirational about beer in the way CAMRA wasn’t and still isn’t at times (though they have moved me in different ways). His pubs’ book — hackwork or not — is lovely; there’s a pic of people outside a Brakspear’s pub on a long gone Sunday and the caption is something about the Sunday lunchtime drink capping off the week. Today after a morning spent clearing a drain, digging and general veg patch work, I got down my local and silently toasted him with several pints of HSD as I thought of that picture. On the beer styles front, obviously he missed ones (Ron is doing great work), but he was the first to treat beer as more than just the pub (though there is a good 1930s beer book and Andrew Campbell’s book is a classic) and I do wonder if beer writing would have developed at all — maybe it would have just been part of a popular front of food writers, after all we never hear about bread writers, cheese writers or sausage writers And as the editor of 1001 Beers You should drink before you keel over I can heartily recommend the excellence of Randy, Pete, Stan and a quite a few others.

Alan -

Did I really write "dreary whopped together"? I think I will keep that one. I wonder what it means? Surely the highest compliment.

I wish there were more cheese writing. There was actually an excellent article about one specific cheese in Canada's Globe and Mail last week but the point is correct. We have a lot of discussion about beer and Jackson made it valid to take it seriously as opposed to, say, the Kingsley Amis point of view.

ATJ -

Re: Amis. I recall picking up a book by Auberon Waugh which said that the only time people drank beer on Christmas Day was when they were in prison…I think to the likes of Amis etc, beer was refreshment, which didn’t mean that they weren’t averse to a good pint of Brakspear or whatever. But to return to Jackson: I think he was able to give beer a voice that a lot of us then chimed along with; you could maybe argue that beer blogging is his natural successor, cause he was never an industry man as far as I could see, unless that industry produced something of worth (like Fuller’s where his wake was held).
As for cheese writing, over here it’s been dominated by the former Blur chap Alex James who has forsaken drink and gone all rural and cheese making in the Cotswolds. The problem with cheese (and bread) is that you cannot sit around all night eating the stuff, well I cannot anyway…

Alan -

Definitely. I've brewed for years and have put on plenty of weight but cope with it as being within the range of human reason.

But, during my own rural years, while still brewing I also grew a lot of my own food and even experimented with cheese making. Made the greatest cream cheese in the history of mankind on my first attempt. And it was my last attempt because I could quickly see how eating two pounds a day wouldn't be enough for me.

I need to take up fish farming. No one gets fat on trout.

ATJ -

re: trout, you might end up looking like one…

Ron Pattinson -

Jim, it was Martyn Cornell that started the Burton complaint. I can't take the credit for that.

Michael Jackson was a great inspiration for me. His World guide to Beer was the start of my education in all things beer. I carried it with me on my first European travels.

Ron Pattinson -

ATJ, what's the title of the good beer book from the 1930's?

ATJ -

Ron
A Book About Beer, A Drinker, Faber, a slim little number but it does celebrate beer.

Ron Pattinson -

ATJ, thanks. Though I'm not sure my wife will be so happy with another two books cluttering up the house.

Zythophile -

You mention Andrew Campbell's The Book of Beer from 1956, Adrian, and it's indeed very good, I've nicked large amounts of Campbell's commentary for Amber Gold and Black. But although it talks about different styles it doesn't taxonomise them in the way MJ did. Nor, of course, does it venture outside the British Isles (in fact it doesn't venture much in any great depth outside London), and it dismisses lager, as I remember, in a line.

There wasn't anything else in detail on beer in Britain until Frank Baillie's Beer Drinker's Companion in 1974, nearly 20 years later, and although that makes a useful historical record (for example on how many brewers were still making a brown ale) it's very thin indeed compared to what Michael Jackson did three years later, despite Baillie devoting a whole book to just British brewers.

Like Ron, I found Michael Jackson an absolute inspiration: I was thrilled to know to order Weissbier on a trip to Stuttgart, for example, because I had read about it in the World Guide, just as I learned about gueuze from Michael Jackson before travelling to Bruges. I was also absolutely delighted to be named and quoted in a later book he wrote (on the subject of AK, as it happens). But I don't blame him for not knowing, for example, about Burton as a beer style: I began writing about the history of beer, in a small way, around 1980, and it was 16 years before I discovered that there was this style called Burton Ale that had been popular up to my father's generation of drinkers and had then vanished - and this was despite my father, I later realised, having had a conversation with me about Burton Ale in the 1970s that I hadn't properly understood at the time.

In case anyone misunderstands my remark about "hackwork", btw, I meant merely that the pub book was something Michael had been hired to do, the way freelance writers are frequently hired to write books that publishers feel there might be a market for - my first book, on beer memorabilia, was just such a volume. But Michael did his pubs book with typical style, verve and passion, and it is indeed one of the finest books about pubs, not least because it takes pubs seriously as a subject. (We've not talked, I think, about the fact that he was also an excellent essayist: his words can be read for pleasure just as much as for information.)

Personally I think one of the strongest contenders to step into Michael Jackson's shoes right now would be Garrett Oliver: it was no surprise to hear he'd been chosen to be the editor of the Oxford Companon to Beer. I'm not sure how many agree here, but I rated his Brewmaster's Table book very highly: written with great knowledge and huge passion. I'd be very interested to know how much Oliver is an influence on the younger generation of beer writers/bloggers (younger here meaning those not of drinking age when Michael Jackson's Beer Companion first came out in 1993, ie 35 or younger now) and whether Jackson is any influence on them at all. But to writers (and beer drinkers) over, say, 45 I'd think Michael Jackson was massively inspirational, hugely influential, and probably irreplaceable.

Alan -

Andy Crouch makes what can only be called a shocking discovery:

"...the Michael Jackson archive in Oxford is truly an impressive sight, with nearly 30 big file cabinets filled with material. Ranging from his own personal tasting notes on what seemed to be every single global brewery to his very personal research into Parkinson’s treatments, it was an illuminating few hours... I was also very surprised to learn that despite having been open for more than two years, I was the first person to actually ask to see the archive."

Does that not put some perspective into what his legacy really might be?

Gary Gillman -

Hi Alan, I hope this finds you well. I enjoy reading your blog, keep up the good work.

You have asked a good question. Jackson has had an enormous influence and it will continue but indirectly, i.e., as the years pass I think his books will be read by fewer and fewer beer fans, not because anyone will exceed him very soon, but because times change, and the young generations of drinkers will not easily learn of him and his great achievements. Also the advent of the blogosphere has changed the way people learn about beer: I am not sure published works (traditional hard copies) will have the influence they did in the past. But indirectly he will continue to influence the way craft brewers and consumers look at beer, both stylistically and (for some) culturally. This is due of course to the fact that he was read by most of the people who have to date established craft breweries, or set up the major beer festivals, or who form simply the corpus of the craft beer consumer movement. And he has been an inspiration to our beer writers of today as all have acknowledged of whom I'm aware.

It's like the waves that stretch out from the spot where a projectile hits the water, they keep on going albeit less perceptibly the farther out they spread. At the same time, any pioneer (as he once wrote of a certain whiskey in one of his books, and perhaps he was thinking of himself too) inevitably sees his efforts overtaken by others. In Michael's case he established the very way most beer fans think of and look at beer, even when he made the odd error or omission; so he certainly set the bar very high.

And indeed in my opinion he made very few missteps. It is true he did not devote a chapter to Burton Ale in his books but I think he was well aware of what it was. In The World Guide to Beer, he wrote, "Even in the 1750's the brewers of the Trent Valley had already been famous for at least 100 years, and had been mentioned in the writings of Defoe, but the emergence of pale ale as a new style gave them their chance to sparkle". (Notice the typical Jacksonian jeu de mots). Since Burton Ale was in heavy decline after the rise of pale ale brewing in Burton-on-Trent, and made no big statement in the 1970's when the World Guide was written, I think Michael set aside any intention to write about what might fairly be viewed as old history in the context of that book. He did mention Owd Roger in the section on old ale, and seemed aware it was an older-style country beer of the area. He didn't quite get old ale right - historically at any rate - but his discussion was a fair limning of the surviving group of strongish beers in the 1970's that might be so classified. And of course, he could only do so much. When he did find out about a historical beer style in later years, e.g., Gose Bier, he did everything he could to learn about and publicize it.

I was delighted to read that a film is being made of his life, hopefully that will help to keep his memory alive.

Michael (whom I was privileged to know) came along at just the right time, and was the perfect writer for the subject. We have many fine writers today working in various areas of beer journalism and beer historical studies. But I don't think anyone will ever overtake Michael's achievement. It's like jazz of a certain period, or Jimi Hendrix or The Beatles, it just doesn't happen in the same way again. When it does happen he (or she) will be someone who looks at the subject in a way we cannot necessarily foresee today. And that is because the beer market, the world, and the very beers themselves will have changed a lot by then.

Gary

N.B. I am in full agreement with you regarding his first book, The English Pub. That was a masterly work and showed the scope of which he was capable beyond strict beer confines. But all his work did, really.