Michael Jackson was known as the Bard of Beer for his keen wit and eloquent prose when discussing the beers of the world. Jackson made a career out of writing about beer worldwide, as well as popularizing the idea that beer should be designated to distinct styles based on geographic origin, ingredients, and unique production processes. His seminal work, The World Guide to Beer, published in 1977, was the first book dedicated to a mass survey of beer across the globe. Acitelli, in The Audacity of Hops writes of Jackson’s work; “Beer in the twentieth century had its piper. Never again would budding brewers, critics, and connoisseurs be without a roadmap.” The book elevated beer journalism as a subject; pioneering wine and ale merchant Charles Finkel, who first began importing eclectic European ales to America in 1978, claimed that the World Guide “was to me like a heathen discovering the Bible.” In the 255 page book, a scant 14 pages are dedicated to the United States; Belgium, Germany, and the British Isles all have over twice the coverage in his book. While the United States was the greatest producer of beer by volume in the world at the time, clearly we were not as noteworthy as the historic brewing nations of the world. As an outside observer of brewing and beer consumption in America, Jackson had this to say about our countries brewing heritage;
Biggest can also mean fewest. For all its great output, the United States has little more than 50 brewing companies… Some of these breweries use a great many labels, but few of them produce more than three or four beers. Nor is biggest necessarily best. In the matter of beer, the citizens of America accept this caveat almost too readily… The differences between American beers might be better appreciated if, instead of being frozen into tastelessness, they were served at a more civilized temperature.
Jackson refers to the tendency of American beer to be served at temperatures well below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, where any particular flavors of a beer would be lost. The chapter on America covers four centuries of brewing history, to the status of homogeneity in production and consumption practices that dominated by the 1970s. As American beer went from a low point to an eventual revival, Jackson’s commentary placed the industry in a historic and global perspective. His work raised a culinary consciousness about beer in America, giving the beverage respectability in the gastronomic cultural field. His writing on breweries throughout the world was among the most comprehensive and begun placing brewing in America on par with the category of wine in terms of discriminating consumption. He ends his section on American brewing on an optimistic note; he tells the story of San Francisco’s Anchor Brewery, illustrated by a photo of Anchor in 1906. Jackson was aware that something special had taken place in the small brewery in San Francisco.
Eric Ortega, “The Golden State of Brewing; California’s Economic and Cultural Influence in the American Brewing Industry” (Master’s thesis, California State University, Fullerton, 2015), 66-67.