MICHAEL JACKSON: A Good Head for Beers
There’s another Michael Jackson. Not the Moonwalker or the KABC radio talk-show host, this Michael Jackson is an internationally recognized authority on the beers of the world. Dubbed in his native England as the Bard of Beer, his books, including “The New World Guide to Beer,” have sold more than 1 million copies in 12 different languages. Jackson, 48, also is the host of a new six-part series, “The Beer Hunter,” premiering Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on the Discovery Channel (and repeated Friday at 11:30 p.m.). Filmed in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Great Britain, the United States and Canada, “The Beer Hunter” explores the pleasures and uses of beers, which Jackson discussed with Susan King.
How did you become one of the world’s leading authorities on malt and beer?
It’s something I have been writing pretty much full-time about for 16 years now. Before that, I was a general news reporter and feature writer and current affairs TV journalist for 16 years. When I was working as a regular journalist and traveling, I would sample beers and write about them whenever I could. About 15 years ago, it took over my life.
How did beer take over your life?
It was in the United States. An editor at Harper & Row in New York and I were having lunch. He was something of an Anglophile, and he was very taken with the British pubs and thought it was worth a study. By the end of the lunch he commissioned me to write a book. When I started writing about beer there were 45 brewing companies in the U.”. Do you know how many there are now? Over 200. Do you know which state in the U.S. has the most breweries?
Yes-about 50 to 100 breweries. In general, most Americans don’t know them. If you went out in the street and said, “Name me some beers,” they would probably say Budweiser, Miller Light and Coors. Most of these new beers are only available in the immediate area where they are made. There are some that have a more widespread reputation. One would be Anchor Steam in San Francisco. There are millions of Americans who have never heard of Anchor Steam, but in the world of serious beer lovers it’s internationally famous. A brewery called Sierra Nevada in Chico I would regard as one of the world’s greatest. But there’s this huge misunderstanding in America where if it’s not big it doesn’t count. Budweiser and Pabst are well-made beers like Wonder Bread is a well-made bread. American beer lovers say beers like Budweiser are awful. They’re not awful. They’re very bland and not very interesting. A lot of people like bland beer; it’s just like lots of people like Wonder Bread. Today’s beer capital of the U.”. is Seattle or Portland. There are a very large number of brewers there. There’s a big selection of beers to be had in California, more in the north than in the south.
What was the most unusual beer you ever tasted?
Most of the Third World countries and countries which are not traditional brewers of beer produce pretty mainstream beer. Some of the most unusual beers I have tasted are in my films (the series). In the first film, I talk about beers which are made with cherries. That’s a very unusual type of beer, but it’s very traditional in Belgium. There are now several brewers in the United States making that kind of beer. The nearest one to you is in Marin County. There are very unusual types of beer in the German film. One type of beer is where they smoke the malt over beechwood fires so it almost tastes like a malt whiskey. The other is a type where they brew the beer by putting white-hot rock into the brew kettle. That has a very sort of treacle-toffee kind of taste. There are some very offbeat beers made in the United States. I know one or two that are made with green peppers.
Has “The Beer Hunter” already aired in England?
Very recently. It’s currently airing in Belgium. It took nine months to make and that is quite quick. I didn’t have to do any research. I knew all of this stuff. I have been researching beer for 15 or 16 years. I know what would work and what wouldn’t. The impact of the series surprised me. It exceeded even my wildest dreams. I had seen this as pretty much an upmarket (show), yet sort of downmarket people just came up to me in pubs and shops and started talking to me. It’s very gratifying.