Beer authority Michael Jackson dies

Beer drinkers around the world are mourning the man who filled their glasses with the finest ales and lagers.

Michael Jackson the Beer Hunter died yesterday morning at his home in London. The cause of death has not been determined. Jackson, 65, had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

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Michael Jackson's writing and his classification of beers energized the microbrewery business, where he was a cult figure. Here, his Book and the Cook tutored tastings were very popular.

Though he was not a brewer, Jackson was responsible for more good beer than anyone. His tools were not the malt shovel and mash tun but a ballpoint pen and small notebook in which he scribbled tasting notes and interviews during four decades as a newspaperman.

Jackson's books and countless newspaper and magazine articles explored the far-reaching world of beer, from classic styles to obscure recipes.

He is primarily credited with establishing the language and identification of beer styles. Before Jackson, all beer was essentially the same; today, beer authorities recognize more than 100 major styles, defined by their cultural and technical characteristics.

Many of those styles – especially obscure varieties from Belgium – would be extinct today if not for Jackson's writing. In 1994, as thanks for almost single-handedly reviving that nation's brewing tradition, Crown Prince Philippe of Belgium gave Jackson its Mercurius Award.

For thousands of self-professed beer geeks, Jackson was a cult figure who inspired the U.S. microbrewery renaissance. They packed his lectures and surrounded him for autographs. His annual tutored tasting at the University of Pennsylvania Museum drew standing-room-only crowds and was the single most popular event for 17 consecutive years in the city's the Book and the Cook festival.

A self-educated writer from a poor family, Jackson began his career as a newspaperman in Yorkshire, then in London at the Independent and the Observer. He began writing on beer as a sideline, publishing his first beer book in 1976.

Since then, he had written a dozen books on beer and whiskey that have been translated into 20 languages, including The Pocket Guide to Beer, published in nine editions. In 2006, his book "Whisky" won a James Beard award for journalism. His Web site, www.beerhunter.com, has been a huge resource on beer, travel and breweries.

Jackson was unmarried. *

Don Russell's "Joe Sixpack" column appears on Page 60 in today's paper. Send e-mail to joesixpack@phillynews.com.