Goodbye, Michael

Genoa, August 31 2007

Michael Jackson, who died yesterday, was my maestro but above all, he was the putative father of everyone who fought, on their own individual battleground of competence, to promote and disseminate healthy beer culture and by extension, healthy food culture in general.

He was a friend of mine and I shall never forget the regard he showed me. Michael asked me to write the chapter on Italian beers for his last book about beers from around the world, Eyewitness Companion Guide to Beer (published by Dorling Kindersley, in bookshops in October).

It was such an honour for me that I couldn’t sleep at night, and when the publisher had me sign a contract agreeing on a payment of £620 I must admit I was rather embarrassed – I would have paid to write for the maestro!

Farsighted journalist that he was, Michael soon became aware of Italy’s emerging movement for traditional products. ‘The fastest growing micro-brewery market, he called us, granting us six whole pages compared to the few lines (in the chapter on the Mediterranean) we had in the original, late-Seventies edition of his book.

Michael was a friend and supporter of Slow Food and its philosophy. All his writings and his appearances at the Salone del Gusto and other events attracted a great deal of interest and packed, enthusiastic attendances.

His ironic, typically British sense of humour made every meeting unforgettable. He was an inexhaustible source of anecdotes, both personal and acquired during his continuous journeys to the four corners of the world. His wide-eyed, calm-voiced telling of them made a hypnotic, surreal performance that will remain indelibly impressed on the memory of his fortunate audiences.

He was a friend of our brewers, especially Teo Musso: Michael not only admired the quality of his beers but also his personality, charisma and innovative ideas. Only Michael could succeed in dragging a reluctant (to speak English) Teo to London for a joint presentation of his creations!

Although his considerable fame subjected him to the assaults of hordes of ‘torturers’ at every public appearance, he was always friendly and willing to help everyone, agreeing to be photographed and sign autographs which would later become venerable items to be displayed in bars or shown to friends and colleagues.

In recent years he was tested hard by his illness but in no way spared himself or avoided public appearances. It was practically impossible to walk and talk with him without the continual interruptions of dozens of fans who took advantage of his legendary patience without any sense of restraint.

I remember when we were both judges at the World Beer Cup in San Diego in 2004. Michael had some tiresome circulation problems in one leg and kept telling me to ‘Hide me, hide me!’ to protect him from the onslaught of all the members of the sector attending the big event hosted by that splendid resort.

I will leave it to others to record your biographical details, talk about your books and documentaries, your writings about whisky and your countless awards for journalism.

I prefer to remember you at the Salone del Gusto three years ago, when you sneaked into the room reserved for my kriek workshop. It was a reflex reaction for me to announce your presence, setting off a round of applause as spontaneous, clamorous and interminable as the beers we loved so much.

It was automatic too to invite you up onto the stage and assign you the role of gentle leader you so enjoyed and which will be so greatly missed.

Kuaska is the nome de plume of Lorenzo Dabove, journalst, writer and beer export.

Adapted by Ailsa Wood

Photo: Michael Jackson with Teo Musso

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