Goodbye, Michael

Michael Jackson, writer, historian, scholar and, above all, the undisputed champion of world beer criticism (and no mean whisky expert either), died yesterday morning at his home in London. The cause of death has still to be determined, but it is known that Jackson, 65, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last year. He suffered the affliction with customary irony and was planning to write a book entitled No, I’m Not Drunk.

Michael was a great friend of Slow Food. He contributed to the Slow magazine right from the earliest numbers, first with knowledgeable technical articles about beer and whisky (he was responsible single-handedly for inventing the language and description of beer styles), more recently with rambling anecdotal stories about his childhood in the north of England and his experiences as a cub reporter in the provinces. Of this latter period in his life he liked to tell the story of when, as a 16-year-old, he was ‘congratulated’ on a scoop by the chief reporter of the Batley News: ‘It’s not thee that’s so bloody good. It’s rest of ’em that are so bloody useless!’ Michael’s most recent pieces were published in the Slowfood Italian magazine.

This was work that he enjoyed: ‘Slow Journalism’ he liked to define it. He wrote with relish about his past and appreciated the opportunity Slow Food offered him to do so. ‘I recommend that you hang on to this author,’ he once joked. ‘Not only can he write a bit, he is an ace judge of beers, and very well informed. Modest, too!’ Last October, Slow Food Editore produced an anthology of his writings in Italian, Storie nel bicchiere (Stories in the Glass). ‘I am proud of the book, appreciate the encouragement afforded by Slow, and am keen to pursue our collaboration,’ wrote Michael.

This self-styled Beer Hunter and Whisky Chaser publishing his first book in 1976, after which he turned out a dozen or so others and collaborated with the world’s leading specialist magazine and journals, besides prestigious British newspapers such as the Independent and the Observer. Last year, he won a James Beard award for journalism with his comprehensive tome Whisky. Slow Food has also published Guida alle birre del mondo, the Italian translation of The Pocket Beer Book.

To promote Storie nel bicchiere, Michael made a brief tour of Italy last May, speaking and signing books at the Slow Food headquarters in Bra and at other venues in Puglia and Veneto, captivating audiences with his characteristic combination of wisdom and wit. It’s with great sadness that we recall our last farewell at the departure gate at Caselle Airport, Turin, but it’s with wry amusement that we recall his last message about an article proposal: ‘”The Unexpected Effects of Alcohol: Amnesia?” I made a mental note to have a shot at this topic, but suspect that I forgot to mail you and say so!”

Slow Food staff and members in Italy and all over the world will miss Michael Jackson greatly.

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