Beer geeks know him as the world's leading author of beer-related prose, the Bard of Beer Journalism. Unfortunately for Michael Jackson, there are less-knowing types who still mistake him for the King of Crotch-Grabbing Pop, the gloved wonder of cosmetic surgery. Jackson, whose numerous tomes serve as bibles for beer- and spirits-lovers around the world, has a retort for such shenanigans. "My name is Michael Jackson," he says, repeating his standard reply, "but I don't sing or dance. At least, not until I have had more to drink than I have today. So far I have sampled seven or eight beers. It's been a quiet beer day."
$30 in advance, $36 at the door, $120 all-session pass
When Jackson comes to town for this week's Great American Beer Festival, his intake will increase. Sure, the event has been scaled back a little this time because of its shift from Currigan Hall to the smaller Colorado Convention Center, but GABF 2000 will still be pouring close to 1,500 beers from nearly 300 mega and craft brewers -- plenty for Jackson and the rest of us to swirl under our noses and slip across our palates.
Jackson will taste several hundred of these offerings in his capacity as a judge for the GABF's medals competition, and also for his own beer research. (And you thought you had a dream job?) He admits that his writing gig -- a role he pioneered decades ago as a journalist in his homeland of England -- does have its perks. "I love writing, beer, whisky and near-solvency," he notes with a deadly sense of deadpan humor camouflaged behind a rumpled appearance and soft-spoken demeanor. But the job has drawbacks, too. For instance, tasting alcoholic beverages throughout the day while trying to write is a trying task. And along with the occasional DWWAI -- deadline writing while alcohol impaired -- there are health issues. It's tough, Jackson says, "visiting my doctor and admitting that all the damage was self-inflicted."
Speaking intelligently while signing his name can be equally tough, and during the GABF, Jackson, whose Denver trip is sponsored in part by Real Beer and its beer-to-your-door service, Real Beer Tour, will have his hands full in that regard. He'll be celebrating the release of The Great Beer Guideand the seventh edition of his travel classic, Pocket Guide to Beer. Visitors who purchase The Great Beer Guide will receive a signed copy from Jackson and a month's membership in Real Beer Tour.
While in Denver, Jackson will also have to face the temptation of being in one of his favorite U.S. beer burgs. (Others include Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Austin, Philadelphia and Boston.) And what qualifies it as such? "A great beer city needs to be big enough to create a market but sufficiently small to have a genuine local pride in its beers," he says. It also needs breweries "run by true beer-lovers who understand their products and single-mindedly persist with them." The Front Range hosts many of these artisans and their art, Jackson says. His list of area favorites includes Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout, Oasis Zoser Stout, Great Divide's St. Brigid's Porter and the bourbon-barrel-conditioned stout from the Denver ChopHouse. He's also a fan of such Americanized, Belgian-style beers as Coors/Blue Moon's White beer and New Belgium's 1554 Brussels Black Ale and its new, small-batch specialty beer. "Thus far, my beer of the year is New Belgium's La Folie," Jackson says of that company's aged-in-wood product.
The suds maven also extends props to some of the state's best brewpubs and bars in the Mile High City -- the Wynkoop, Pints Pub and the Falling Rock Taphouse -- for giving this sports town its more highly regarded status as a beer mecca. "It qualifies on all counts," Jackson says of Denver. "Plus it has the extraordinary bonus of hosting the world's best beer festival." A thriller, indeed.