In February of 2004, J.R. Richards began filming Beer Legend Michael Jackson in tasting segments for his Rare Beer Club. It wasn’t long before Richards realized that it was a good idea to let the camera roll to capture Jackson’s natural self before, after and between takes. Jackson was personable, funny and generous, and Richards’ decision recorded for posterity arguably the most influential person in today’s Beer World, and thank goodness—three and a half years later, on Aug. 20, 2007, Michael Jackson died in his London home.
“I think Michael Jackson has done more for the brewing industry than anybody since Louis Pasteur,” said Anchor Brewing Company’s Fritz Maytag in the new documentary that emerged in the wake of Michael’s passing: Beer Hunter: The Movie. Rather than scrap the hours and hours of footage he’d recorded of the beer titan, Richards launched a funding campaign to morph his work with Jackson into a fitting homage. The resulting film, now screening across the country, featured not only the Beer Hunter’s exploits, but also interviews with noted figures in the brewing industry like Maytag, himself no slouch in the Department of Influence.
Backed by breweries and Kickstarter-sourced beer lovers, the film chronicles Jackson’s beery life from his office in Hammersmith, London and his local pub, The Andover Arms, to beer destinations like San Diego, Bohemia, Philadelphia, Antwerp, Dublin and beyond.
Born in Yorkshire in 1942, Jackson started writing about beer at the age of 16 in his “This is Your Pub” column in his local newspaper. After a few years his boss suggested a shift to “Your Local Church,” but Jackson declined, moving on to carve out a career in writing about beer and his other love, whisky. His 1977 The World Guide to Beer was a landmark publication and served as the impetus for the beer culture we enjoy today.
Though Jackson was serious about beer, professional on-camera and gifted with prose, the film brought lighter moments to light, which will only serve to increase beer lovers’ affection for the noted writer. “Just tell them to fuck off,” Jackson said to David Porteous of the Herold Brewery during a tour of the B?eznice, Czech Republic brewery. Porteous had noted interest from English beer mongers in Herold’s schwarzbier, though they wanted to sell it as an ale. “You mustn’t let them call it an ale,” he warned, flashing his role as protector of truth and tradition.
“Sometimes when you’ve had a few drinks, it’s quite reassuring to have a lamppost to cling to,” Jackson said in another scene. One of my favorite Jackson quotes appears in an outtake filmed at a tasting with a roomful of Chicago journalists: “I don’t think anybody who is not a journalist fully understands the urgency that journalists feel when they want to have a beer in their hand, which is, in my experience, most of the time.”
Both fun and serious—there’s even an appropriate and appreciated pause for a beer break midway through—the film serves as a lasting tribute to one of the craft beer industry’s true heroes. Following Jackson’s passing—he’d secretly suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for years until a troubling appearance on Conan O’Brien’s show in 2006 forced him to go public—Richards conducted interviews with Jackson’s friends and colleagues, all recalling the writer’s steady pen and friendship. And influence. Time and again, interviewees noted Michael Jackson’s influence. He hunted and shared the best of beers. He educated and sparked interest in his followers. He expanded our palates and caused droves to follow in his footsteps.
If you’re new to the craft beer scene, watch this movie and learn why this man is so revered.
DISCLAIMER: I was a Kickstarter backer for this project.