In the course of six revisions after his first Pocket Guide to Beer Michael Jackson elevated (and sometimes later demoted) only 20 beers to “world classic” status. He didn’t use the term casually.
As Alan fairly points out this was the opinion of but one man. One more qualified to comment than any, but just a important one who gave us an “exploration to follow.”
That’s why I keep pointing to what he wrote in the introduction to Beer (Eyewitness Companions). (He wrote the introduction a few months before he died in 2007; the book came out a few months after his death.)
“Today, neither European brewers nor most drinkers on either side of the Atlantic have yet grasped that tomorrow’s most exciting styles of beers will be American in conception.”
“The nation that makes the world’s lightest-tasting beers also produces the most assertive beers. Tomorrow’s classics will evolve from a new breed of American brewers that are categorized by their admirers as ‘Extreme Beers.’ These are the most intense-tasting beers every produced anywhere in the world. They include classic European-style stouts that are richer, toastier, and roastier than anything yet produced in Ireland; ales massively more bitterly appetizing than any in Britain; ‘wild’ beers more sharply, quenchingly sour than their Belgian counterparts; wheat beers so spicily phenolic as to make a Bavarian choke on his mid-morning weisswurst; and pilsners so aromatic as to tempt the Good Soldier Schweik the eponymous hero of Jaroslave Hasek’s comic novel.
“Sometimes the new US beers combine elements from more than one style, but with a view to achieving greater distinctiveness rather than to merge into blandness. The best example I ever experienced was the Smoked Porter of the Alaskan Brewing Company.”
Quite obviously he was not done exploring beer or celebrating the new. He didn’t find appreciating both “extreme” and “traditional” beers a contradiction.
You know, I think I’ll leave it at that rather than starting a conversation about what individual beers he would have given four stars.