More MJ

I noted with sadness last week the passing of “beer hunter” Michael Jackson, whose writings had a tremendous impact on my appreciation of great beer–at home and in travels in Europe.

The obituary in Tuesday’s Guardian by Roger Protz is nicely done. Some excerpts (though I am leaving out a lot of good stuff!):

The enduring legacy of Michael Jackson, who has died aged 65, will be that he elevated beer from the belief that it is a simple refresher to its true status as one of the world’s great alcoholic drinks, with a long tradition and deep roots in the history and culture of many societies… He showed … that beer comes in many styles and is often made with the addition of fruit, herbs and spices alongside malt and hops. […]

Jackson was born in Wetherby, Yorkshire, and he remained proud of his Yorkshire stock, though it was a stock that had a major input from the Jewish community of Lithuania. His grandfather, Chaim Jakowitz, had emigrated to Yorkshire from Kaunas. His son, Isaac, married a gentile, Margaret, from Redcar, and they had twin sons – Michael’s brother died shortly after birth – and a daughter, Heather. Isaac Jakowitz anglicised his name to Jack Jackson […]

The young Michael quickly developed a taste for rich home cooking, inspired by Jewish and eastern European traditions. […]

However far he travelled, he always waxed lyrical about the pleasures of a pint of Taylor’s Landlord or other good Yorkshire brews. [Yummmmm—MSS…]

As a beer writer, his aim was to encourage people to treat it as being as worthy of attention as wine. In arguably his greatest book, the Beer Companion (1991), he wrote: “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 … when their mood switches from the grape to the grain, these same discerning people folk often ask simply for ‘a beer’, or perhaps name a brand, without thinking of its suitability for the mood or the moment … beer is by far the more extensively consumed, but less adequately honoured. In a small way, I want to help put right that injustice.”

He certainly did succeed in that. And, I never knew of his descent from either Yorkshire or Jewish stock, but both facts sure make a lot of sense.

Also recommended, the thoughts of Lew Bryson, who notes, “it was Michael’s sense of place that really made his writing so important to me. When MJ wrote about a beer, he wrote about where it was brewed and where people drank it, the look of the walls and the lay of the land, why the town was there and who the brewer’s father was.”

Lew further notes that Jackson believed it was “crucial to go to the place where beer or whisky is made to understand it.” Having gone to many places where beer is brewed–always with one or more of his books in hand–I most certainly agree.

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