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On to the Beer Hunter national toast

Back from a couple of days in the woods – civilized unless you consider cell coverage, a wireless connection and electricity essential – and trying to figure out if anybody on the Internet considers Labor Day a holiday. It is elsewhere. A Labor Day baseball game was under way by 8 o’clock yesterday morning in Red River (N.M.).

Just a few newer links related to the life of Michael Jackson I think you should read, then back to other topics. I’ll still be adding plenty of links and information at The Beer Hunter and the related blog. Tom Peters of Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia and Sam Calagione of Dog Fish Head Craft Brewery have moved swiftly to organize a national toast to Jackson, and The Beer Hunter site will be a clearinghouse for information.

So bookmark the site or grab the rss feed.

– Roger Protz writes “He broke beer free from the narrow concepts of ale and lager and became its champion” in The Guardian obituary.

– Shelton Brothers has posted a clip from an Aug. 7 conversation with Jackson at YouTube. Powerful. Dan Shelton spent four hours with Jackson that day, so look more more excerpts.

– The obituary in The Huddersfiled Daily Examiner, his hometown newspaper and first employer.

Michael Jackson: Journalist

TypewriterYesterday I wrote: “and I’m sure that news stories and tributes will appear soon enough elsewhere on the Internet.”

Only a bit of an understatement. I have no idea how many billion kilobytes went winging about the Internet yesterday – in blogs, on discussion boards, via e-mail – in which people shared their memories and paid tribute to Michael Jackson. I was going to compile a list of links, to make sure you didn’t miss the best, but it grew far too long. (Head to really simple BEER syndication to be overwhelmed.)

Instead a story as promised, mostly in Michael’s own words, that made me almost smile yesterday.

When he kept his Beer Hunter website active one of my jobs was to add his updates (edit him? silly thought). Sometimes he would send other stories just to amuse me, ones that might or might not make it into print elsewhere. One mentioned the secret pleasures of working for a morning newspaper, putting the paper to bed and heading for the pub having already seen the next day’s news.

The exchange that followed digressed a bit:

“When I was 17 or 18, I worked as a sub-editor (rewrite?) on a small town afternoon paper, The Huddersfield Examiner, in Yorkshire. Being a daily, it followed the usual practice of mixing local stories by its own reporters with national and world news from AP, Reuter, etc. Given the short time available to distribute an afternoon daily, it did not go much beyond the city limits. After publication each day all the national and world stories were dissed, but the local items were kept in metal galleys. They were re-composed on Friday into a weekly paper for the surrounding countryside. So Friday was a long day: first the usual afternoon paper, then the weekly. In stories with the word ‘today’ that had to be replaced by ‘this week’ and everything had to be cut and fitted to new layouts,with new headlines. The chief sub-editor would urge me on: ‘Hurry, lad, you (ie the paper) will miss the milk train’ (which dropped off the bundles at village stations as it headed off towards Manchester in the early hours).

“After that, we walked through the Linotype room, past metal ‘stones’ full of page formes, exuding the smell of hot metal and oil. The building was already rumbling to the roll of the presses. At the far end of the room, a door led directly into the pub, The Prince Albert.”

Later I described the back shop of the first paper I worked at, that the floors were cobblestone and sometimes when a printer would get an assembled page rolling too fast and it would hit a bump and go flying. Metal type went everywhere, but had to somehow be reassembled.

Had we been in a pub we would have laughed mightily and ordered another pint.

A few days later an e-mail arrived about a post he wanted to amend:

“I’m sending you a slight revision in the next half hour. Don’t slip on the cobbles and drop it.

“A compositor at the Huddersfield Examiner once pied the splash story, on deadline for the first edition. Picking himself up, he calmly slid a suspiciously-dusty galley from a drawer. ‘We’ll pop this in for the first edition,’ he reassured me. On taking a look, I saw that it was a story announcing the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb. It had been in the drawer since the 1930s. I pointed out that it was old news, by several decades. ‘Aye, but it fits,’ he grunted, stretching a length of his apron alongside the galley to gauge its length.

“I had better stop these reminiscences before I turn into Mark Twain.”

More than a moment of silence for Michael Jackson

There’ll be no blogging here today.

Consider it a symbolic moment of silence to honor the memory of Michael Jackson, simply the best writer about beer there ever has been.

His death was reported this morning and I’m sure that news stories and tributes will appear soon enough elsewhere on the Internet.

You don’t need details from me and I don’t much feel like writing.

When I do I promise to pass along a story or two about him that will help us regain our smiles.

Added late in the morning: All About Beer Magazine has posted the last column he wrote for the publication, which was due to appear next month: Did I Cheat Mort Subite?

10 Reasons Craft Beers Sales Are Hot

A post at Beerdata.org conjectures about why craft beer sales are up 11% so far this year.

Brendan Picha gives a lot of credit to imported beers, starting the with UK icon Samuel Smith. Yes it’s true that dam was opened in this order:

– Michael Jackson wrote the World Guide to Beer.

– Charles Finkel read the World Guide and called Jackson in London to praise the book. They quickly became friends, and soon Finkel’s company – Merchant du Vin – was importing beers Finkel had read about in the World Guide, including Samuel Smith. Imports were an inspiration for American brewers and an introduction to classic flavors for American drinkers.

Anyway, Picha then outlines what he summarizes this way: “This is a short snowball effect theory that I think may be responsible for craft’s current marketplace presence and demand.” Give it a read.

That got me thinking. The result is “10 Reasons Craft Beers Sales Are Hot.” (Disclaimer: This is a list is not the top 10 – and order is random after the first two).

1. These beers have more flavor.

2. Michael Jackson. The reasons listed above are just a start. The next list should be 10 Ways Michael Jackson Saved The World From Bad Beer. He’s shown here with Jeff Bagby and Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing/Lost Abbey.

Michael Jackson

3. Hops. OK, zealously defending hops has been known to get me in trouble. It’s just that innovative use of hops helped set American craft brewers apart from the start. (Before you send that e-mail, innovative use of hops does not mean using enough to take the chrome off the back of your pick-up truck. Firestone Walker innovative will do.)

4. Brewpubs. When craft sales were up 9% in 2005, brewpub sales grew less than 3%. That’s not the point – they put the roots in grassroots, because they are still the place many people are introduced to flavorful beer. Some of the most innovative (there’s that word again) beers, which literally inspired new styles, were and are first made in brewpubs.

5. Cult producers. When you look at the numbers, “accessible” beers that lots of people drink are driving growth. But extreme beers generate excitement.

6. The Internet. News travels quickly these days and the online communities are huge.

7. Importers. The sale of imports also remained strong in the first half of 2006, but IRI mostly measures beers sold in grocery stores – such at Heineken and Corona. I’m talking about the smaller importers, the ones who continue to find new and exciting beers (see Nos. 5 and 6).

8. What goes around comes around. A few months ago in England I had a wonderful 4% abv cask-conditioned bitter spiced with American Amarillo hops. Innovation is a two-way street. Some American brewer is going to taste a beer like that and say: “Hey, we can do that at home.”

9. Great retailers. Meaning bars/taverns/pubs as well as stores (both independents and the likes of Whole Foods – just think about when Costco starts to offer beer that rivals its range of wines).

10. Niches are good. In the mid-90s megabrewers invested in smaller breweries and experimented with specialty styles. Interest that waned then seems to be returning, but no matter how good of beer they decide to make there are some things they will never choose to do. That leaves an opportunity for those willing to do a little bit more.

Consider what Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing has to say about his beers that may spend a year aging in wood before they are ready to sell: “These beers reflect a slower pace of life. Americans are so into ‘I want it all and I want it now.’ That’s why I don’t think many brewers will get into aging. They aren’t going to commit the time or the space.”

Your own personal beer aromas

A couple of months back I wrote about how our beer drinking experiences may improve as we develop a better vocabulary to discuss what we are tasting.

A paper delivered by a wine expert last month shows it is never that simple.

Decanter reports:

Clues to understanding why we all perceive wines differently were unveiled by an American scientist at the Masters of Wine Symposium in Napa.

Speaking at the June gathering of MWs, which takes place every four years, Dr Charles Wysocki, of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, an organisation devoted to taste and smell, said wine is “tasted” principally by smell.

Humans have only a few hundred stimuli for taste, but can distinguish thousands of different smells. Wine aromas, however, are not the same for everyone and quite possibly as unique to each individual as a fingerprint.

No surprise that context turns out to be very important. For instance, you may forever react to a particular aroma based upon your experiences the first time you smelled it.

You may also form an opinion based on how it is presented.

Wysocki also demonstrated, using an audience of wine professionals from around the world, that putting the same aroma in differently labelled bottles produced radically different perceptions.

If a pungent, mouldy cheese-like aroma was labelled “food,” the audience tended to rate it as pleasant. If it was labelled “body,” it was considered unattractive.

But back to to aroma/taste and how it might fit in with previous experiences. Donavan Hall touched on this in writing about the character of Orval, which changes over time.

One of my friends described it as “wet saddle blanket,” but I have to say I have no idea what these people are talking about. I grew up on a working farm. I had a horse for a pet. I know what horse and leather smells like. I had my nose in my fair share of wet saddle blankets and Orval reminds me of none of the experiences.

Personally, Michael Jackson’s use of “hop sack” (he also included “fresh leather”) in describing Orval left the aroma of that beer and the term hop sack so closely connected in my mind that if you said “hop sack” I would imagine the aroma of Orval first. If you handed me wet burlap that once held a bail of hops and it smelled different I would think, “This is not what hop sack should smell like.”

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