My first proper beer tasting was an evening with Michael Jackson at the Brickskeller about ten years ago. Michael Jackson, for those unfamiliar, is essentially the father of modern beer appreciation.
Jackson approached the evening as if everyone in the room was sitting ’round a fireplace drinking great beer and telling tales of adventure. Michael was, of course, the best story teller in the room, so we were all transfixed by his words (as well as by his eyebrows, which were rather robust). His plotline was never the most obviously direct route. Instead, he roamed down side roads until suddenly appearing at a surprise destination — always some place that illustrated a sublime point about appreciating the good life with beer.
Not all the side roads lead to destinations though. Some were merely entertaining explorations meant to be appreciated in their own right. He was proud of these digressions and acknowledged them as such. His general disposition projected an attitude that was as if he always found himself needing to say: “Please relax. Can’t you see we are drinking beer and telling stories here?”
My favorite quote from him, which I even cite in my book, is: “We do not digress enough in our lives.”
The last time I saw him was about a year or so ago. I had lucked into a free invitation-only private tasting with Michael in the back room of the basement at the Brickskeller. That night he digressed more than usual and occasionally lost the plot altogether. Later that night I learned that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Today’s edition of the U.K.-based Morning Advertiser reports that Michael Jackson died in his home. You can read the fruits of his thirty year beer writing career at his website and you can find his many books at bookstores everywhere. I highly suggest reading his last column, which was scheduled to be published in the next edition of All About Beer magazine. It is both hilarious and eerily preminiscent.
Tonight, my beer drinking and digressions will be in memory of Michael Jackson.