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Ask Michael

Half a dozen questions put by Marty Jones, a writer on the Denver weekly "Westword" - and the answers, unedited and uncut

Q. What are the top five beer cities in the US, and what makes for a great brew town?

A. Can I please have seven?

They would be, from West to East: Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Denver, Austin, Philadelphia, Boston. The qualifications are a selection of good brewpubs, plus multi taps featuring local beers. Of my Magnificent Seven, Austin leans more toward brewpubs and Philly seems to specialise in Belgian bars, but all of these cities are outstanding places in which to drink beer. 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. Another contender would be Baltimore. Among bigger cities, New York and Chicago might qualify, but Los Angeles would not.

Q. What makes Denver one of them?

A. It qualifies on all counts - plus it has the extraordinary bonus of the world's best beer festival.

Q. Do you think the Denver/Boulder area has a certain style of beer one could associate with the state? What are your favorite breweries in the area?

A. The local beers and breweries are very diverse in their offerings, so I don't see a single local style. Colorado has been to the forefront with Belgian styles. Thus far, my beer of the year is New Belgium's La Folie. I enjoyed their Brussels Black, too. At the opposite end of the scale in size, you have Coors with their Blue Moon White Beer. Let's emphasise, though, that -- while the styles are Belgian-accented -- the beers are American. There are also some great Porters and Stouts. I am thinking of Breckenridge Oatmeal, Chop House Bourbon Stout, Great Divide Porter, Oasis Zoser, Phanton Canyon Zebulon. Favorite breweries would have to include Wynkoop, Odell's and Left Hand/Tabernash. Let's mention a couple of bars, too: Falling Rock and Pints.

Q. What's your outloook on the future of craft beer in the US?

A. After the crazy growth, I hope things have settled down. Any small town of, say, 150,000 people should be able to support a brewpub, perhaps even two or three. Any city of a million people should also be able to support a micro or two. These rule-of-thumb measures are exceeded by Boulder and Fort Collins among small towns, Denver among big cities. Breweries can succeed if they are run by true beer-lovers who understand their products and single-mindedly persist with them.

Such brewers instinctively understand the people who drink their beers. Breweries that fail are usually the victims of the unrealistic expectations and short-term strategies of financial and marketing wizards.

Q. What are the pros and cons of being a professional writer on beer and whisky?

Cons: Schlepping bottles of beer. Trying to taste them at 5.0 in the morning, before coffee or breakfast, so that I can be sufficiently unencumbered to get on the first flight, changing at O'Hare and Atlanta, en route to the Succotash Steam Brewery and Barbecue Pit. Eating too many cookies at airports. Drinking too much coffee. Missing proper meals. Eating on planes. Drinking on planes. Sampling too many beers. Trying afterwards to sign my name and make intelligent comments in books for the very nice people who buy them. Signing coasters for people who have had more beers than me, didn't buy a book, bark their name at me, and don't say please or thank you. Eating brewpub barbecue at 11.0 at night in places like Succotash, Ga. Meeting deadlines at the keyboard at midnight in the Motel 6, High Krausen, Minn. Visiting my doctor and admitting that all the damage was self-inflicted. Getting home and remembering that my girlfriend doesn't live there any more.

Pros: I love writing, beer, whisky and near-solvency.

Q. Is your name a problem?

A. A mixed blessing. I try to keep my temper with people who think I have never heard their vaguely racist jokes before. I suppose I handle it by pre-empting it: My name is Michael Jackson, but I don't sing or least, not until I have had more to drink than I have today. So far I have sampled only seven or eight beers. It's been a quiet beer day." And so on.... I've dropped the bit about little boys. A user of my website emailed to say it was a bit unfair to the other Michael Jackson after all this time. I thought that was a good point.

Published: OCT 26, 2000
In: Beer Hunter Online

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