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Beer Hunter, Whisky Chaser

Introduction by Ian Buxton

De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est.
Chilon of Sparta

The news of Michael Jackson's untimely death spread rapidly through the worlds of whisky and beer. Amongst those who knew him there was a sense of shock, but scarcely of surprise: his illness, borne with stoic dignity for so long, had visibly progressed. The deterioration of his health was painfully obvious and, on several occasions prior to his death, he had seemed gravely ill. I first met Michael in February 1984 when we spent a week touring Czech breweries. For more than 20 years we met intermittently at whisky events " conferences, tastings and distillery and industry functions. Our last encounter was memorable even before its significance became clear. In the course of a long conversation at Craigellachie's Highlander Inn during the 2007 Speyside Whisky Festival, he chose to reminisce about that trip behind the Iron Curtain, recalling with astonishing clarity incidents and fellow travellers that I had long forgotten. Later he spoke of moving to the United States; of making Ďa fresh start' " from what, I could not discern.
  

In retrospect, it was a curious conversation: typical of Michael in its elliptical form, rambling, diffuse but warm and deeply humane, always illuminated by his abiding interest in people and his restless curiosity. Yet even at the time it struck me as having an elegiac quality and afterwards I was vaguely troubled by his apparently effortless recall of distant, trivial events.

So news of his death was a shock, but not a surprise. Within an hour the plan for this book had formed, yet I did not act for some while on the initial impulse. There were others more qualified, I reasoned, others who knew Michael better, others with greater resources. I knew also that there would be other plans: a Memorial Service, perhaps, and commemorative bottling of his favourite beers or whiskies. It seemed crass and, even in some ill-defined way, opportunistic to push the merits of this modest proposal.


   But though other projects crowded forward I remained convinced that something permanent was required. A Memorial Service is ephemeral and reaches only a limited audience, however satisfying for the participants (and I do not mean to decry its importance). By its very nature it excludes many and the memory of it inevitably fades with time. So too, with the finest of commemorative bottles (and again I applaud the initiative): once opened and drunk their glories are fleeting and transitory, yet Michael would hardly have welcomed them becoming mere trophies for collectors. And Michael was not a brewer or distiller. He was a journalist and writer. Above all, what he stood for and cared about, even more passionately than rugby league or jazz or, yes, whisky or beer (and he cared deeply about these fine and worthy things) was honest writing.

So it seemed most appropriate to remember him with words. But not, I reasoned, a collection of personal essays on what Michael meant to various luminaries. This seemed to me likely to pall very rapidly, to become repetitive and, possibly a worse horror for a Yorkshireman, to descend into the sentimental and maudlin. Moreover, anyone buying this book would, in all probability, have their own memories of Michael Jackson, their own stories, their own tributes. Yet, whatever their merit or personal significance, not all of these stories can be told whilst the process of selection itself seemed to me demeaning, implying greater worth or interest in one memory over another.

What is more, given the inevitable delay in compiling, editing and printing a volume such as this, it seemed better to honour his name by looking forward rather than with recollection. The time for obituaries is now past, I argued, and those who walk in Michael's shadow should attempt something that would have engaged and intrigued him, not simply an exercise in selfindulgent and morbid flattery. Let us honour Michael with words, fresh and new writing on beer and whisky that he would have enjoyed reading; that he would have respected; that he might even have wished to have written himself.

Or so I argued to a small group of other beer and whisky writers. And, to my considerable surprise and even more considerable pleasure, it seemed they agreed. I determined that this collection of essays should be evenly balanced: six of the best writers on each subject would be recruited to contribute a new essay, on a subject of their choosing.

I made only two stipulations: there were to be no personal reminiscences or anecdotes about Michael, for the reasons outlined above; and the material was to be new. And a third, final but critical thing: the author was to be proud of what they had written. (Oh, and there was no fee!).

Proceeds from the publication of Beer Hunter, Whisky Chaser will be donated to the Parkinsonís Disease Society of the UK. Visit classicexpressions.co.uk to purchase a copy at £12.99
  
  

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