Michael Jackson died in August 2007, the month I began homebrewing. Honestly, the first I heard of him was in the multitude of threads that popped up on the homebrewing forum I had joined so I could figure out what the hell I was doing with this bucket and airlock. I learned that we had our own Michael Jackson, that he was a prolific beer writer, that he loved Belgian beer. It’s impossible to be in this industry and not know of him, I’d wager, but even now I didn’t know too much more.
I was disappointed, then, that I couldn’t make the screening of Beer Hunter: The Movie, a documentary about Jackson, during Buffalo Beer Week. What can I say? Owning a brewery is fun, but occasionally it’s less glamor and more keg washing. (Well, keg washing can lend itself to one-man Daft Punk dance parties, so that’s pretty glamorous) Luckily Ethan was able to get the DVD, which he lent to me.
I settled in that night with a bottle of Stone 12.12.12, which was really all my anemic cellar had to offer, and which was the closest thing to a Belgian I had that wasn’t property of the Risk Legacy crew. It was also “big” enough that by the end I’d be communing with beer. Was it too big? Well, we’d see.
The beer’s spices were almost pumpkin like, which was topical considering the season (and my plan to throw myself headfirst into loving fall this year, as that seems like a fun thing to do). There was quite a lot of clove, which continued into the flavor alongside cinnamon. The spice was almost chili pepper-like in intensity at times, which I was okay with, though it was never actually spicy. The flavor was dark chocolate, very dark, with lots of malt backing it up.
I really enjoyed this: the vertical epics have been hit or miss for me, especially when young, though this of course had been cellared for nearly 10 months. I had started buying two or three of each bottle in 2008, but as part of my drifting away from beer culture I only picked up one bottle of this, months after its release. “Oh,” I had said, standing in a Consumer’s for one reason or another. “Right. The 12.12.12.”
As I sat and sipped, finding it get even better as it warmed, I watched the movie.
Michael Jackson seems like a man who’s passionate to the point of eccentricity. The sort where I see him and wish it was who I was (which I also did in the first act of A Beautiful Mind, unaware of what awaited John Nash). His office, stacked high with piles of papers and books. His interactions with people, making a cab driver wait while he rummaged around for several bottles of beer to give him for no reason beyond he thought the driver would enjoy them.
He embodies all we want to be. He shows us why we do this. So much knowledge, so much passion and love. The sort of person who says something and captures what you feel so perfectly, even things you weren’t consciously aware of believing. If you want to know what we mean by Embeering, watch this movie. It’s him, exactly.
Beer is everywhere in this film. Omnipresent, simultaneously special and mundane, which is special in its own way. When you have one pint it’s given a unique weight: I’m only having one, let’s make it count. When you’re shown a new beer every minute and a half in the movie it just becomes beer, the platonic ideal, special for being such a wonderful drink instead of for any of the composite parts. Hoppy, malty, dark, light, it’s all beer.
Here is a man who has tasted thousands of beers. If anyone were to be immune to hype, to advertising, it would be him. When he enjoys Tomme Arthur’s Pizza Port beers it’s not because Pizza Port (and now Lost Abbey) is so highly regarded or because the Cuvee de Tomme is rare and special. It’s because it’s clearly a damn good beer.
This movie makes me want to travel, to experience. I’ve taken two international trips: to Scotland in 2007, just months before I discovered a love of beer, and St Martin this past summer, where there really wasn’t any beer at all. I want to head back to the UK, now that I can order a “bitter” and know what that actually is. I won’t take the pint the bartender suggested back to my table and sip it, shrugging about its relative lack of bitterness.
This is an inspiring, energizing experience for me. I want to travel, I want to drink, I want to write, I want to laugh with friends.
There’s a sadness that creeps in as his health deteriorates. I came in at the end of this story, so I knew what was coming. His death is not the end of the movie, though: the end is a montage of brewers and beer luminaries raising a glass to his memory, expressing what he meant to them. Michael Jackson is a beer luminary, a vibrant and accomplished author, but more than that he is a man with a legacy.
It’s not often that you see so clearly an example of the person you want to be.