Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

I wrote the post below last year on my other (now my professional) blog, Reid All About It. I mentioned yesterday that today would have been Michael Jackson’s 68th birthday so I wanted to bring this post over here where it belongs.

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Today, March 27, would have been Michael Jackson’s 67th birthday. Whenever I mention his name, I get a confused look from people who can’t imagine why I’m going on about “the gloved one.” No, the Michael Jackson that I paid homage to tonight with a glass of one of my last Sierra Nevada 2008 Celebration Ales, was my professor of craft beer.

I’m not sure which of his books I read first. It was either The New World Guide to Beer or Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion, and more books followed. I started reading him in the early 90’s, and if not for him, I don’t think I would have ever thought to go to Belgium a few years later. That was a trip of incredible sensory experiences – the beautiful art of the Northern Renaissance and art nouveau periods and the glorious variety of beer styles.

Michael Jackson wrote about the brewing process, its history, the many different styles of beer, and the men and women who brewed them, all accompanied by beautiful photos of brewers and breweries, some sadly no longer with us.

The tales he told in his books captivated me. His passion for the craft of brewing and for the people in the industry came across in his writing — a respect for heritage and styles, but an excitement about innovation too. He loved the American craft beer scene, it was obvious. There was no hoity-toity English superiority in this guy when it came to our great beer.

I was lucky enough to hear him speak several times, and a few of my homebrewing friends had many an interesting tale to tell about him. They served as his driver and host when he came to speak in Washington DC, which he often did since our beer community was well established. I saw him at festivals or beer dinners in his rumpled jackets, tossled gray hair and beard, sometimes looking a bit of a wreck. But we hung on his every word, he was a brilliant witty speaker, had great stories, an amazing palate, and was the one man responsible for inspiring countless people to brew, to taste, to write, to learn and to share their passion with others.

Michael Jackson, I raise my glass to you tonight, sir. Thank you.

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