This never-before-published story about The Book & The Cook 2000
was originally written for
American Brewer.

Good Times Abound
When Michael Comes to Town

Ten Years On, Michael Jackson's Annual Philadelphia Book Cook Visit Brings Together Brewing Luminaries, Fosters Historic All-Lambic Dinner

By Jack Curtin

Somewhere, in an alternate universe, Michael Jackson has been pulled over and is taking a roadside sobriety test: They asked him how much he had to drink. "Nothing," he said. "I was just driving bad."

They put him through every test they could think of, but he passed them all with flying colors. He did particularly well on the one where you close your eyes and touch your nose. "What form," they said. "Such grace. He's some kind of dancer. I've never seen anything like it."

Just for the fun of it, he walked the straight line backwards with his hands in his pocket. Then he held his left foot and hopped a straight line on his left one, with his eyes closed. "See what I mean?" he said.

Michael did a handstand and held it for three full minutes. And then he did one with one hand in his pocket. He was surprising even himself. "Good Lord, am I sober," he thought, walking a perfect figure eight on the fingertips of one hand.

They didn't know what to say. He didn't know what to say either. He just stood there in front of his car and nodded as a crowd, having gathered, began to applaud. "Thank you," he said, "thank you."

Michael then shot straight up into the air and disappeared.

When he came back down, they said, "we're taking you in."

That whimsical vision is an excerpt from a short story ("written in Raymond Carver's style and presented at Michael's expense") offered by Sam Calagione of the Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware as part of the "Michael Jackson Roast" at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia on March 3.

An all-star crowd gathered at the Museum to ostensibly roast the man who has become internationally famous for both chronicling and consuming their efforts, but the glossy roster of brewing luminaries ended up treating Jackson with more reverence than ridicule, sentimentality rather than sarcasm and acclaim in lieu of acid remarks. Roasted? The world's best known beer writer was barely singed.

The roast acknowledged Jackson's tenth straight appearance at the Museum as part of Philadelphia's annual The Book & The Cook Festival, a ten-day celebration of food and drink that draws world-class chefs and writers to the city every March. For the last decade, he has conducted a series of tutored beer tastings at the Museum on the final Saturday of B&C and, since the second year, also hosted a dinner there the night before where world-class beers are usually, but not always, the focus (scotch was the beverage of choice in 1998). Jackson's appearances are routinely the top drawing event of the 80 or so B&C activities, attracting 1,200-plus attendees each year (a fact studiously ignored in most B&C promotional material).

 This year, as last, Jackson topped off the weekend at Monk's Café in center city on Sunday night, hosting, together with Monk's Tom Peters and Fergus Carey, an all-lambic ale dinner which featured an even dozen lambics, nine of them Cantillon brews served on draft (two for the first time ever). "I doubt that there's ever been a beer dinner like this anywhere in the world; I doubt there's ever been nine lambic beers on draft at one time anywhere before," said Jackson, who joined Peters in terming the evening "historic."

At the Friday evening roast, most speakers devoted their time to acknowledging Jackson's contributions to the brewing industry worldwide, using personal anecdotes and experiences to bolster their arguments. Fritz Maytag, for example, talked of the importance to him of Jackson's support for his efforts in the early days at Anchor and noted that Jackson's successful "Beer Hunter" television series had "confused our enemies" by treating brewing with dignity and seriousness. Porter House's Oliver Hughes told of Dublin journalists being somewhat bemused when he introduced oyster stout in Ireland's first brewpub and how Jackson's visit and subsequent writing about his pub helped clarify what he was doing. Carol Stoudt recalled how a Jackson visit and subsequent praise early one inspired her brewery "to go beyond the three basic lagers we were then brewing" to other styles.

American Brewer's Bill Owens recounted how an April Fool's story about a mythical Trappist brewery in Indiana which ran in these very pages mushroomed out of control and almost ensnared Jackson, whose American hosts wanted to take him to visit the place. Tony Forder of Ale Street News, noting that they had taken to calling Jackson "Saint Michael" around his offices, presented the roastee with "a pair of genuine St. Michael undershorts flown over from England [since] we all can appreciate the importance of sturdy, durable underwear in Michael's line of work." Malt Advocate's John Hansell took a backhanded swipe at Jackson's wardrobe (an easy target throughout the evening), notably his famously garish neckwear: "I'd like to thank Bruce Nichols [of Museum Catering Co.] for making this a black tie event." On a more serious note, All About Beer's Dan Bradford pointed out that "Michael created the vocabulary and content of beer writing. We can all only follow in his footsteps."

Finally, introducing Jackson at evening's end, Dalldorf made as if to present him with one of the Museum's rare Sumarian cuneiform tablets (the beneficiary of the roast was the Museum's Sumerian Dictionary Project and the institution holds some of the oldest references to beer in the world, including the Sumarian tablets and beer-related artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia) and, only to drop and break it. "Well, they said they had several of them," Dalldorf shrugged.

 Jackson, for his part, expressed his appreciation for the gentle treatment, noting that "I have had some very, very embarrassing experiences at the hands of people in this room, but not necessarily tonight," and talked about his career, including the recent "tasteless beers" controversy he created during a visit to Australia. He closed with comments on the all-important wardrobe issue: "People do give me clothes, you know, and I don't mean that in a St. Vincent de Paul kind of way…I'm afraid I have very bad news on that front--I've just been given another tie."

Beers served during the roast were Oregon Golden Ale, Duvel, Dock Street Illuminator Double Bock, Anchor Porter, Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and Dogfish Head Braggot (brewed especially for the occasion).

At Saturday's tasting sessions, Jackson recounted, as is his wont, his first visit to the Museum, when the tastings were set up in tents outside the building and, expecting balmy weather, he showed up in a seersucker suit. That day turned into a horror show, cold, windy and rainy. Making things worse, the sound system broke down and Jackson's comments were frequently drowned out by helicopters landing at nearby University of Pennsylvania Hospital. "I went back to Bruce Nichols' house afterwards and needed a whole bottle of cabernet and a thick steak just to get blood flowing again," he recalled, explaining that, while things have improved markedly, the tastings are still the day he works hardest each year. "There are well over 300 people here right now and after we are finished with the beers, I'll sit down and sign books for a bit, get a brief rest and then do this all over again. And after that, I'll do it again."

Ten beers were served at each session, presented with Jackson's comments. The theme this year was "Beers of the World" and the lineup included Hoepfner Krausenbier, Black Forest Brewery, Germany; Mortimer, Meteor Brewing Company, France; Ebulum Elderberry Ale, Craigmill Brewery, Scotland; Millennium Ale, St. Peter's Brewery, England; Don De Dieu, Unibroue, Canada; Melbourne Bros. Apricot, All Saint's Brewery, England; Cuvee Fou Foune Pure Apricot Lambic, Cantillon Brewery, Belgium; Oyster Stout, Porter House Brewing Company, Ireland; Benediction, Australis Brewing Company, New Zealand, and World Wide Stout, Dogfish Head Brewery. Alaskan Smoked Porter '99 was substituted for Benediction in the first session because the latter beer had not yet arrived. Echigo Special 2000 (described to me as "a Belgian-style white beer from Japan" by someone who was there), which apparently was also originally scheduled and late arriving, was a bonus 11th entry in the later sessions. Afterwards, attendees enjoyed a two-hour general tasting of 100-plus beers from a variety of breweries, distributors and restaurants.

Things were a lot more laid back at Monk's Sunday night. Jackson spoke about the event and the beers at some length early on and then, presumably, got to sit down and enjoy the evening like us regular folks. I say "presumably" because the press tables were in the bar's wonderful back room and we couldn't see the speaker, only hear him over a speaker system. Last year, I was fortunate enough to be seated next to Jackson, and if he ever needs a witness that, all the joking aside, this man who "drinks beer for a living" actually does work extremely hard, I'm his man. Between jumping up to speak (at the '99 dinner, he addressed the beers as they were being served over the course of the meal), signing books, greeting old friends and making new ones and our attempts to chat about beer and writing and the wonders and dark side of each, he really never got settled. At evening's end, most of his food and an array of still half-filled beer glasses remained in front of his usually empty chair.

The nine Cantillon lambics on tap at Monk's included Iris Lambic and Vigneronne (both making their world draft debut), Unblended Acid Lambic, Apricot Lambic, Grad Cru Unblended Lambic, Rose de Gambrinus, Gueuze, Unblended Kriek and Unblended Framboise. The other beers served were Hanssens Gueuze and Strawberry Lambic and Lindemans Cuvee Renee Gueuze.

Copyright Jack Curtin 2000

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