Michael Jackson


He liberated beer from the narrow confines of ale and lager, becoming its champion.

The lasting legacy of Michael Jackson, who passed away at the age of 65, is that he elevated beer from a mere refresher to its rightful status as one of the world’s great alcoholic beverages, steeped in history and culture across many societies. A prolific writer and lecturer, Jackson demonstrated to millions through his books, talks, TV shows, and videos that beer comes in a wide array of styles, often incorporating fruit, herbs, and spices alongside malt and hops. He expanded the perception of beer beyond ale and lager, showcasing diverse varieties such as Belgium’s lambic beers and Finland’s sati beers, some of which might have vanished without his enthusiastic advocacy.

Born in Wetherby, Yorkshire, Jackson was proud of his Yorkshire heritage, which included significant influence from the Lithuanian Jewish community. His grandfather, Chaim Jakowitz, emigrated from Kaunas to Yorkshire. Jackson’s father, Isaac, married a gentile named Margaret from Redcar. They had twin sons—Michael and his brother, who died shortly after birth—and a daughter, Heather. Isaac anglicized his name to Jack Jackson, not realizing that a well-known bandleader and radio DJ shared the same name.

Jack continued the musical connection by naming his son Michael Jackson, a name that would later cause amusement with the emergence of the American singer. Jackson used this to his advantage, starting his TV series, The Beer Hunter, with a humorous piece where he, wearing one white glove, said he was called Michael Jackson but didn’t sing, drink Pepsi, or write about beer.

The Jackson family moved to Leeds during the tough postwar years, living above a fish and chip shop briefly before moving to a council house and later buying their own home as Jack worked as a truck driver. Young Michael developed a taste for rich home cooking inspired by Jewish and Eastern European traditions, which he later integrated into his books that paired beer with food and recommended beers for various dishes. He attended King James grammar school in Almondbury before becoming a trainee reporter at the Huddersfield Examiner.

Jackson’s writing style, influenced by his early journalism experience, was characterized by concise, unembellished sentences. His devotion to good beer was shaped by the hard-working and hard-drinking newspaper environment. No matter how far he traveled, he always praised the pleasures of a pint of Taylor’s Landlord or other fine Yorkshire brews.

In London, Jackson worked at the Daily Herald and then transformed a small publication, World’s Press News, into Campaign, a prominent weekly paper on advertising and marketing. In 1976, when another writer failed to deliver a manuscript, Jackson wrote The English Pub, igniting his passion for beer writing. The following year, he published The World Guide to Beer, the book that established his reputation.

Those who previously thought Britain brewed only ale, the Irish made stout, and the rest of the world produced lager had to reconsider their views. Jackson’s book highlighted beers brewed by Trappist monks, sour red beers, spiced wheat beers, and lambic and gueuze beers made through spontaneous fermentation, putting Belgium on the beer map.

Jackson never abandoned this theme. His book The Great Beers of Belgium had five editions, the last published in 2006. The success of The World Guide to Beer led Jackson to become a full-time beer writer. He launched the first of seven editions of his Pocket Beer Book, providing detailed tasting notes for the best brews in each beer-producing country.

Jackson’s vivid descriptions elevated beer from the mundane, informing readers that malt could be biscuity, juicy, and roasty with hints of toffee and butterscotch, while hops could add citrus, perfumy, spicy, and peppery notes alongside bitterness.

His reputation led to numerous invitations to the United States, where he championed the new wave of American beers, conducting beer tastings across the country. In 1990, he reached a new audience with his TV series The Beer Hunter, which explored the beers of the world’s great brewing countries and has been repeatedly broadcast worldwide.

After mastering beer, Jackson turned to malt whisky, inspired by the fact that whisky is a distilled form of ale without hops. He achieved even greater recognition as a whisky writer, with his Malt Whisky Companion (1989) becoming the bestselling book on the subject. His other works included Guide to Single Malt Scotch and Scotland and its Whiskies (2001). His last book, Whisky (2005), won five international awards.

Jackson received numerous honors, including the Glenfiddich trophy, five Glenfiddich awards, the André Simon award, the literary medal of the German Academy of Gastronomy, and the Belgian Mercurius award for services to Belgian breweries, presented by Crown Prince Philippe.

Jackson remained a prolific journalist, contributing to a wide range of magazines and newspapers, including Playboy, the Washington Post, All About Beer, Whisky Magazine, Slow Food, and Zymurgy.

As a beer writer, Jackson aimed to encourage people to appreciate beer as much as wine. In his acclaimed 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 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 honored. In a small way, I want to help put right that injustice.” He succeeded, in no small way.

Michael Jackson had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for 10 years. He died at his home in Hammersmith, West London. His first wife, Maggie O’Connor, died in 1980 after 13 years of marriage.

error: Content is protected !!