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A Tribute to Michael Jackson on the Other Michael Jackson's Birthday

Today is the King of Pop's birthday, so it’s only fitting to pay tribute to the other Michael Jackson, the King of Beer (writers). In case you have no idea who we're talking about, he's the dude who influenced your base knowledge—or your local bar's...
Photo via Brewbound

Today marks what would be the King of Pop's 56th birthday. The inimitable artist gave us the moonwalk, his signature crotch-grab, chart-topping dance hits like "Thriller" and short-lived fashion trends like the one-handed glittery glove and throwing blankets over small children. Since Michael Jackson's death in 2007, the world has yet to witness another pop icon grab the throne. So on this celebratory day of remembrance for the tastemaker, it would be wrong to forget to pay tribute to the other Michael Jackson; the humble doyen of craft beers and one of the primary influencers behind why your local bar serves shitty lager on the same menu as microbrews. Without him, we'd all be drinking swill without the right to consider quality alternatives.


In order to pay proper tribute, we must start at the very beginning. Michael Jackson was a bearded British man with a strong, burning love for beer; the kind of passion that trumped the demanding thirsts of Trappist monks and fraternity brothers combined. His fervor for the genre and research around the craft has forever changed the lives of international beer drinkers. He popularized a framework language for us to discuss and understand the brews. He helped to spur a renaissance of interest surrounding beers and breweries worldwide. This is the same reason why he's the King of Beer Writers.

Much like his musical counterpart, Mr. Jackson shared a widespread international fan base. His purpose—in his own words—was to head out "on a world tour in pursuit of exceptional beer." Contemporary beers stem from the classic beer styles of the northern part of central and western Europe. If that last sentence made you want to nod off, be thankful that Michael Jackson's book, The World Guide to Beer, published in 1977, did the dirty work involved in categorizing all of these beers into local style groups that helped to push their international distribution.

Michael Jackson—the musician—had a massive reach on his world music tours, with a fan base that freaked out when they got too close to the artist. The British Michael Jackson's Discovery Channel show, The Beer Hunter, also shared a widespread international following that spanned 15 different countries. On every episode, the beer expert would trot the globe in pursuit of beer knowledge, from knocking back tripel brews with Trappist monks to discussing the burgeoning state of American microbrews with London cab drivers. You never knew what was up next, except that every episode transported you to a place that has made beers longer than most of us were of legal age to get hammered. His main purpose for the show was for viewers to think about every beer you put to your lips. In Mr. Jackson's words, "Very often I'm just walking along . . . and somebody wants to stop and shake hands and say 'Hi, you introduced me to that really strange Belgian beer and my life's never been the same since.' Maybe the next time it will be you."


Today's birthday boy—the King of Pop—won 31 Guinness World Records including one for "Most Successful Entertainer of All Time,"13 Grammy Awards, 26 American Music Awards, and 18 World Music Awards. Meanwhile, the King of Beer Writers sold over three million copies of his books worldwide, which have been translated into eighteen different languages. If you've never read any of his books, chances are you've experienced a hangover from an IPA, a saison, Belgian, bitter, cream ale, kolsch, wheat, white, smoked, lager, lambic, or pilsner. Mr. Jackson helped us name our hangovers.

We would be fools to forget his Playboy Magazine column, "The Jackson Five," which helped educate men and boys who were busy getting acquainted with Vaseline and dirty pairs of gym socks about international beers.

Unfortunately, towards the twilight years of his life, Jackson was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, which he kept private from fans and colleagues until many people began to interpret his behavior as drunk—like his appearance on the Late Night with Conan O'Brien. He sat through the entire interview with the fly of his pants down, but that's a god-given right if your name is Michael Jackson.

That swagger has trickled into the contemporary craft beer scene—where microbreweries are slaying the international beer audience. According to a report from the Society of Independent Brewers, UK drinkers consumed 33 million more pints of locally-brewed beer in 2013 compared to 2012, while US microbrewery production has hit astounding levels (craft beer production was up 9.6 percent while overall beer production fell to 1.4 percent in 2013.)

Tragically, Michael Jackson passed away in August of 2007, but his legacy lives on in the craft beer scene. Brewers like Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin Brewing Company—who has an international cult following—haven't forgotten about Jackson's massive impact. According to Jarnit-Bjergsø, who is known for his gypsy brewing, "Michael Jackson set the international trend for drinking better beers. Today's craft brewers and drinkers have a lot to thank him for showing the way. When he started advocating for craft beer, it was a rather unknown term. You either drank swill because that's what you thought beer was, or if you lived in a quality beer place like Belgium, you drank what was available there."

Michael Jackson's friend and award-winning Dogfish Head Brewery Founder and President, Sam Calagione, imparts Jackson's influence to his success. When Calagione was initially homebrewing, he claims that Michael Jackson's early books were the main catalyst in helping him shift from an amateur to professional beer maker. According to Calagione, "Not many people today realize that no single person in history was as responsible for changing the perception of beer around the world in terms of recognizing and championing the quality, complexity, and diversity in the wide world of beer. He was a true renaissance man—as interested in talking about Charlie Parker or Raymond Carver as much as he enjoyed chatting about stouts and porters."

This evening when you're posted up at the bar, thoughtlessly peering into the foam from your third round of delicious beer with "Smooth Criminal" at full blast, pour some out for the King of Pop and the King of Beer Writers, who tirelessly worked to make your nights infinitely better, and your mornings full of regret.