The Writer That Saved a Style

Eno Sarris, March 29, 2016

Sunday was the birthday of English beer writer Michael Jackson, who passed away in 2007. In his memory, Jay Brooks tweeted this quote.

It's impressive because this quote is timeless. Just these few past years, we've heard Colin McDonnell of Hen House say "freshness breeds community," and we've seen the battle over locally made fresh beer that's  brewing... and yet this quote stays above the fray, and with class. 

What Jackson has become known for, though, is getting involved in beer. 

Bryan Roth made reference in his writeup of Saison Dupont.

Oddly enough, the beer might not have reached its iconic status without a little luck. Writer Michael Jackson, who called Saison Dupont “a down-to-earth classic of the style,” came to love the zesty, herbal brew while traveling through Belgium in the 1970s. At Jackson’s urging, Feinberg and Littlefield looked at a partnership with Brasserie Dupont and began importing Saison Dupont in the late 1980s through their company, Vanberg & DeWulf. At the time, the beer represented just 2 percent of Brasserie Dupont’s sales and was being considered for discontinuation. It was easily eclipsed by the brewery’s strong pale ale, Moinette.

Saison Dupont was the reason I got back into craft beer. After drinking too many lagers with my bredren in London -- I couldn't dig on the cask ales at the time, they were too warm and flat -- Dupont came at me like looking like a lager but packing way more punch in the taste category. If there were a beer that I would attempt to save now, it would be this one. 

Of course, Jackson did it with his typical lyrical flare. Here's a passage from his trip to Belgium and Brasserie Dupont that does what the best travel and beer writing does: takes you to a place and sits you in it. 

When he opened a bottle for me to taste, the cork flew through the air. No sooner had one bottle appeared than another would be fetched. "Taste this," M. Rosier would suggest, every time I sought to probe the secrets of his beer.

"In your view, just how should a Saison taste?" I would demand. "It must be a good, honest beer. It should have character. It is essential that it has soul," he would reply, with Gallic imprecision. "Here ... try this one." In their house character, Dupont's beers are full of life. with a rocky, creamy, head; a sharp, refreshing, attack; a restrained fruitiness; and a long, very dry, finish.

Of course, we might make too much of this. That seminal piece is oft-cited and fairly strident for a piece of beer writing that otherwise reads more like a travel and review. In the beginning he says that "The integrity of several Belgian beer styles is in danger and some could vanish. Perhaps the most endangered is the Saison" and he ends with "Perhaps these breweries will in the future have a crack at a classic Saison. The style needs all the help it can get." 

And yet the only other article on his site tagged for 'saison' is a description of the style -- "Despite their typical strengths, Saisons usually have a citric, peppery, quenching, quality, due variously to hard water, heavy hopping, spicing or deliberate souring. They are usually amber to orange in colour, and often very quite dry" -- that doesn't spend a ton of time advocating for the beer. That's it! His guide to the best beers of Belgium didn't include mention of the saison as a style

He was plying his trade in the mid-90s and so the internet is not great at finding all of his pieces. He would have had to go back in and paste in his pieces later, probably, so maybe he didn't feel his other works on the saison were worthy. Hard to believe there wasn't anything in between Canon and Style Description, but there we are. His Great Beer Guide had two saisons in it. 

Anyway. He helped make the connection that brought Dupont to this country, and he wrote a piece urging the world to drink more saisons. That's enough to raise a glass of a great saison to him -- just a few days after his birthday, in true beery style -- and say a hearty thank you to the Beer Hunter.