Welcome to part 4 of the We Brought Beer A to Z of craft beer.
J – Jackson, Michael
The most famous beer writer of all time shares his name with the most famous singer of all time, something he found quite amusing, even occasionally donning a single white sequined glove for comic effect. Michael Jackson, often referred to as “The Beer Hunter”, a yorkshireman of Lithuanian heritage, began writing about beer in the 1970s. In the subsequent 3 decades he went on to publish several books (selling over 3 million copies in 18 languages), host a TV series called The Beer Hunter, and appear frequently around the world at beer festivals, on judging panels and on US TV. His most famous books are arguably Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion and The Great Beers of Belgium, both released in the 1990s. Jackson was fascinated by beer from across the globe, from traditionally brewed British cask ales, to spontaneously fermented beers of Belgium (he is oft credited as causing a renaissance of interest in Belgian Beer), to the ancient sahtis of Finland. He took a particular interest and pleasure in the US craft beer scene, influencing brewers and drinkers alike. Jackson’s writing is informative but down to earth. He brings his Yorkshire tone to his words and he has undoubetdly influenced many drinks writers that follow in his footsteps. A final important note on this giant of beer is made by Garrett Oliver in the Oxford Companion to Beer, in which he notes that “Jackson postulated the idea that beer could be organised, sometimes clearly, at other times loosely, into styles, and it was through these beer styles that beer’s flavour, culture and history could be understood. In putting forth this concept, Jackson formed the entire basis for our modern understanding of traditional beer.”A few extra Michael Jackson resources & links:
K – Kent
The Garden of England has played a big part in the Britain’s beer history due to it’s fertile land and gentle climate, making it ideal for hop growing. It’s believed that hops production was first introduced to Kent in the 16th century but it was in the late 19th century when hop cultivation in Kent was at it’s peak, claiming over 77,000 acres of the county. Whilst this figure has dwindled significantly due to imported hops and lower UK beer sales, Kent continues to grow many varieties of hops to this day. Traditional oast houses, used for drying hops, can be seen throughout the county and many have been converted to private residences. It was in Kent that the Fuggle hop was propogated, by Richard Fuggle, in 1875. Although not now particularly fashionable in modern ‘craft’ beer, Fuggles is undoubtedly one of the world’s more iconic varieties. Kent is also home to the UK’s oldest active brewery, Shepherd Neame in Faversham which was founded in 1698.
L – Lambic
Lambics are a family of beers that fall under something called the Traditional Specialities Guaranteed (TSG) scheme, meaning that, although they don’t have to be brewed in the historical home of the style, any brewer wanting to call their beer a Lambic, or any of its sub-styles, has to stick to some very particular brewing methods and practices. That said, you’re unlikely to find any brewery outside of the Zenne valley, Belgium, describe their beer as a Lambic, however faithful the execution of the recipe is, because it’s just not the done thing. One reason no one would ever describe their beer as being a Lambic is because these beers require spontaneous inoculation by the wild yeast and bacteria that is native to the Zenne valley. After brewing, unfermented wort is left in a large, shallow open top metal pan called a koelschip where the steam condenses on the ceiling before dropping back into the wort, bringing with it all sorts of funky bacteria and wild yeast. Yes, you can find different strains wherever you go, but like the hops in other beers and grapes in wine, these bacteria are part of the terroir. After 24 hours in a koelschip, these beers are then transferred to the oak barrels where they’ll spend anywhere up to five years developing and maturing. It’s within the confines of these oak barrels where the true nature of a Lambic becomes expressed, with the brewers and blenders giving them as much time as they need. Lactobacillus and Pediococcus produce lactic acid (yep, the acid which makes your muscles cramp) and provide the beer with it’s distinctive, sharp sourness. These are joined by the famous Brettanomyces yeast most breweries fear because of the impossibility of getting rid of it once you’ve introduced it to your kit. However, this is what produces those funky hay, horse-blanket and leather aromas that are a lambic signature and provide them with their incredible depth of flavour.