Sunday 27 March is Michael Jackson’s birthday. When he died in 2007, he’d been suffering Parkinson’s for over 10 years, so now the international whiskey community pays tribute to Michael with International Whisk(e)y Day on his birthday, raising a dram and some money for Parkinson’s.
It’s entirely possible that we wouldn’t have become beer makers and commentators, and now distillers and whiskey importers, without Michael Jackson.
Way back in the dark ages before craft beer was a thing, Michael Jackson was already out there traveling the globe, systematically tasting and cataloging breweries, beer styles and specific beers.
Imagine us in California in 1985, standing in the supermarket Imported Beer section, and discovering a 6-pack of Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. We were ecstatic, because we had seen the label in Michael Jackson’s “The Pocket Guide to Beer.” As young uni students, the price would have been eye-watering, but we had to try it. Michael Jackson had rated it the best stout in the world. We had to know.
In 1991 when we finally made it to Europe together, our itinerary included Yorkshire, Munich, Prague and Vienna, and that wasn’t for the fine cathedrals. By then, we were drinking fine craft beer in pubs at home, but our world of great beer was still defined by that pocket guide. There were no interwebs yet, so books were indispensable, and this one man’s opinions and experiences presented the most complete view available of the beer universe. We were making pilgrimage of another sort.
A few years later we saw him in person at the Great American Beer Festival, where his shaggy beard and oversized glasses were instantly recognisable. He was talking to people like a normal guy, but we were too awestruck to approach.
Although he was a proponent of the Real Ale preservation movement in the UK, by the time he created his Great Beer Guide in 2000, heaps of micro-breweries, including a few New Zealand ones, had made it onto his top 500 list. He traveled to NZ a couple of times, and made an impact on this burgeoning beer scene in its early days.
We imagine that if he were still around, he would be thrilled to see new beer styles being invented faster than they can be documented. His eyes would sparkle to see his beloved Belgians being brewed in the far corners of New Zealand. We imagine him proud to see modern women drinking IPAs that would have knocked his socks off.
As part of his birthday celebrations, we’d love to collect any stories you have of being influenced by a Michael Jackson review or adventure. Leave a comment or send us a tweet (@NZDistiller) and we’ll compile them into a tribute column.