Posted by Nick Bruels, 3/23/95

The following is my transcript of Michael Jackson's foreward to the program from the Oregon Brewer's Fest '94.

I found this to be an interesting read on the current state of brewing in America, and MJ's perspective on its evolution so far.


by Michael Jackson

There is a greater appreciation of fine beer today than there ever has been. There is a renaissance of characterful beers throughout the great brewing nations, and nowhere more than in North America. Within this continent, the greatest number of distinctive beers by far is produced on the west coast, from San Francisco Bay to British Columbia. The world's great beer regions now include not only Bohemia, the Rhineland, Belgium, and parts of Britain, but also the American Northwest. Portland and Seattle are America's beer capitals. It is a private competition between them (though Portland certainly has the bigger festival). No one else comes close, though Denver and the rest of Colorado are trying hard. Milwaukee is way behind, and New York is even further adrift.

The growing of barley and hops and the brewing of beer in this country originally spread from the East to the Midwest and thence to the West coast; today, the Northwest is renowned for its barley malt and is the only major hop-growing region in the country, and the West in general is the leading brewing area in both volume and diversity.

Diversity is what we are celebrating this weekend. If you simply want something cold and bland, regular beer does a more or less adequate job, but there is much more to enjoy for the adventurous drinker. A beer can be light in body, pale in color, and modest in alcohol, but still full of flavor. Or it can also offer fullness of body, color, or alcohol. These are separate elements, and there are endless permutations of them here today--so explore.

Nothing quenches the thirst like a wheat beer, or sharpens the appetite like an India pale ale. Nothing goes as well with seafood as a dry porter or stout, or accompanies chocolate like an imperial stout. Nothing soothes like a barley wine. These are just a few of the specialty styles of beer offered here. Sample and enjoy; leave the chugging for another day.

Please note that we are not talking about imports here. There is a wonderful selection of imported beers on the West Coast, and some of these have inspired home-brewers, several of whom have since turned pro...but it is their American-made beers, and those made by other U.S. brewers, that comprised this weekend's astonishing selection.


Why did this diversity come to exist? As a Briton, I will take a little early credit for my country. It was four Britons, on a fishing vacation [US: British English ;) ] in Ireland in 1971, who first mulled over the idea of a campaign against bland beers (long before "Long," "Light," and "Clear") and brewery closures in their native country.

I was not one of them, but I soon joined their Campaign for Real Ale, which has over the years captured the public imagination in Britain beyond the dreams of its founders. It has become perhaps the world's ost effective consumer campaign in any field. Influenced by the campaign, people stated opening small breweries in Britain, for the first time since the two world wars. These breweries brought new life to Britain's brewing traditions. Inspired by what was happening in Britain, I started work in 1975 on a book to be called The World Guide to Beer. Around the same time, Oregon write Fred Eckhardt was turning his attention to matters of beer style. One of the first readers of my book was a Seattleite named Charles Finkel, who has established a company called Merchant De Vin. He turned from wine to beer, and started importing some of my recommendations. Later, he established the Pike Place Brewery. Charles has been a great educator and influence in America.

In a country settled by Bohemians, Germans, Belgians, Dutch, Britons, and Irish (Recognize it? -- the good old USA), there had, before Prohibition, been a huge diversity of brewing tradition. This was not dead, but merely sleeping, like Rip Van Winkle.

After military service in Britain, an American named Jack McAuliffe started the first "boutique" or "micro" brewery in the United States, in Sonoma, California, in 1976. Being well aware of feelings between the West Coast states, I hesitate to confirm that the Northern Californians started the micro-brewery movement, but there is no denying the truth.

New micro-brewers in Oregon and Washington very quickly seized the initiative, and these states still seem to be more single-minded in their pursuit of the beer culture.

Today, the three West Coast states have about half of the 300-odd micros and brewpubs in the U.S. Some people dismiss these breweries that create the variety: there are only about a dozen or 20 old-established locals and regionals, and a mere handful of nationals.


A brewpub is a bar or restaurant that makes beer for sale on its own premises. A micro is one of the renaissance generations, and is usually smaller than even the tiniest of old-established local and regional brewers, though that distinction of scale has become blurred in recent years. In general, a brewpubs annual output may be in thousands of barrels per year and a micro's in tens of thousands, and both will probably concentrate on specialty beers. An old-established local or regional will often make hundreds of thousands of barrels, and a national millions, in each case with the emphasis on standard light lagers.

What does it take to make an interesting beer? First, that has to be your intention. Sounds obvious, I suppose, but look at it this way: if you try to cook a distinctive meal, there is at least a chance that you might succeed; if you set out to make a hamburger, that is all you will achieve, however good. Most big brewers, in both Europe and the Americas, are looking for volume, so they are making the beer world's equivalent to hamburgers, however good in their own right.


Brewing is a form of cooking, but more difficult (because the yeast necessary to fermentation is a living organism, with a mind of its own). Americans wanting to start new breweries always had a better chance in the West, because the wine industry is here. If you want to learn about fermentation, talk to the people who service the wine and beer industries at he University of California in Davis. Had this not been a "wine college" it would never have had a beer department; they are linked by yeast and fermentation.

When someone in this part of the world goes to his bank manager seeking a loan to start a micro-brewery, he may well be talking to a man who has already helped small wineries; the conversation might be less promising if it were taking place in, say, Nebraska or Arkansas.

Likewise, the interest in wine (and, therefore, food) means that people here are not embarrassed to discuss flavors (try that in rural Illinois, or in Buffalo, New York).

The younger, more prosperous West Coast also has an openness of mind, and a culture of leisure, that encourages such indulgences. This has also encouraged a new generation of home-brewers. Forget images of Uncle Hiram making bottles explode during Prohibition; some of the new American home-brewers produce specialty beers of superb quality. many of the most active homebrew clubs are on the coast, and their national organization is elsewhere in the West--in Boulder, Colorado, under the direction of Charlie Papazian, another of America's great educators on beer.

Like chefs, some brewers have studied the subject exhaustively, while others are more instinctive, and perhaps the best have both attributes. Some of the outstanding beers in America are made by brewers with very little formal training. Others, equally fine, are made by highly qualified brewers.

Both types of brewer can be found in the micro world; the regionals and nationals go for trained and qualified people. It follows that the characterful beers made by the micros can equally be produced by the regionals and nationals; the technical skills are there. A brewery with small batch sizes has a key advantage, though: it can afford to make distinctive beers that may find only a connoisseur market.

Nor is it necessarily tempted to make penny-pinching economies. For example, to cut back on barley malt in favor of rice or corn is, in the handling alone, more trouble than it is worth for a tiny brewery.

For a regional or national brewer, the odd penny saved on grains becomes a massive economy when it is applied to hundreds of thousands, or millions of barrels.


Before the micro movement, the production of characterful beers was an almost forgotten art among local, regional, and national brewers. The only brewery doing it was Anchor, of San Francisco. Once the renaissance began, it was only a matter of time before some of the established breweries took note.

The first local or regional brewer to respond anywhere in America was Blitz-Weinhard, in Portland. Blitz decided to make a specialty beer. The brewer at the time, a self-effacing man by the boozy name of Jack Daniel, created several interesting potions before the company rather timorously settled upon a lager that was relatively conventional except that it had more malt and hops than most.

I was approached in 1978 to present some radio commercials for the beer, which was to be called Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve. I was hesitant. Would I be asked to make any extravagant claims? No, the commercials were to convey information about barley and hops, and to do so in a disarmingly gentle way -- and I could have a hand in writing them. Would even a relatively casual endorsement compromise my reputation, such as it was? I judged, I think rightly, that Americans realize that even writers have to earn a dollar (Europeans end to be more puritanical). I also welcomed the opportunity to talk to radio listeners about the qualities of beer, and perhaps lure them away from regarding it as a commodity. I thought I might also gain a new audience for my books, and I soon discovered that was true. My work for Henry Weinhard's also entailed frequent visits to this city, during which time I was able to see at first hand the brief incarnation of the Cartwright Brewery, and the more enduring, richly deserved success of Widmer, Bridgeport, and Portland Brewing, among others.

I no longer need any excuse to visit Portland. The problem lies in finding the time to come as often as the beers justify. For that reason, I am delighted to be here this weekend. I hope you share my pleasure in this world-ranking beer region.