The making of "Beer Hunter: The Movie"

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Brewery History Journal edition dedicated to Michael

Not too long back the British magazine "Brewery History Journal" got in touch and asked me to write an article to be included in a special edition devoted to Michael. I was shocked, honored, and intimidated, about in that order. To be included in the illustrious company of some of the world's most talented and prolific beer writers, was, quite honestly, somewhat absurd. While I graduated from college with a writing degree and published a few things over the years, I wasn't exactly a renowned author, especially on the vast subject of beer. At any rate, my mission was to write about the documentary, and what it was like to travel and film with the Beer Hunter. So, after about one hundred awkward attempts, I finally just gave in and wrote from memory and heart. I hope I was able to convey what a pleasure it was to travel and work with such an humble, generous, and knowledgeable individual.

I was also grateful for the opportunity to write about Michael. Up to that point I had only been able to edit him. Michael was incredibly articulate, and he spoke much like he wrote. But it is difficult to edit Michael. He can digress for more than a few minutes, and his digressions were always relevant and fascinating. But in these day of whip-zooms and MTV pacing, these rambling interviews were subject to ruthless application of the razor tool. In writing, however, I could transcribe his conversations in full, without worrying about snappy edits and matching up an appropriate sound track. There were no hard drive crashes, no video formatting issues, and very straight-forward media management. I could set up the context, talk about events leading up to the shoot, and cover topics that would be impossible (not to mention insufferable) through voice over.

Hopefully this collection of articles paint a more complete picture of a complex, wonderful person who literally changed the world in which we are immersed. I encourage anyone to purchase a copy of this special Brewery History edition. A great deal of labor and love went into it. Hats off to the publishers for conceiving it and making it happen. Here's a link if you're interested:


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rock Star: the Beer Hunter tribute video

When we first started filming with Michael for the Rare Beer Club, most of our tastings and tours were in Europe: London, Ireland, the Czech Republic, and Belgium in particular. There was always a small crowd of admirers, and here and there a member of the press. But neither Rob (then President of the club) or myself were at all prepared for the reception Michael received in the U.S. when we started filming there later in the year. His tastings always packed houses and sold out, and inevitably we were late to our next appointment waiting for him to sign book autographs for a long line of people. We also had a hard time keeping up with his press engagements. So Rob and I always joked to Michael was much more a "Rock" than a "Pop" star, and so we started referring to him jokingly as the "Rock Star." Michael bemusedly ignored us at such times, but we came to the conclusion after a wildly successful tour of America's beer heartland throughout 2004 to make a little video that recognized some of Michael's prominent achievements and awards. We felt that members of the Club would find it interesting, to know just exactly how much Michael had been recognized throughout the world for his efforts. So we put this piece together, and Michael helped to (re)write much of the narration. He was very particular about the grammar and sentence structure, I recall, and I learned a great deal about writing for "film" on that project. We named it, of course, "Rock Star." I don't know what Michael felt about the name, but he and his assistant Owen were pleased with how it turned out. Up to now, it has only been seen by a small handful of Rare Beer Club members. But I was able to dig up a DVD, dust it off, and burn it to digital for you to enjoy. Cheers.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Beer Hunter Tastings

At the initial urging of John Evans, who has a fantastic photostream of beer bottles and tastings ( I'll be uploading the Rare Beer Club DVD tastings that I shot with Michael in 2004. This is where it all began. The Rare Beer Club was something that Michael started with importer Rob Imeson back in the late 90's. The idea was simple: find a way to get the world's most rare and interesting beers into the hands of U.S. consumers who had limited access to them, especially the Belgian and European beers. The club is still going ( and has a cult following. Rob and Michael decided in 2003 that it would be cool to film Michael actually tasting the beer to camera. I was hired to shoot the tastings, and from there we started talking about doing a documentary or another Beer Hunter series. So after the tastings, Rob was generous enough to include me on many of Michael's trips in Europe and the U.S.

The first part of these tastings were filmed at the Beer Shop in London, on the first day I met Michael. We were accompanied by Keith Johnsen, marketing and PR director for the Rare Beer Club, and Ben Vinken, the publisher of Beer Passion magazine in Belgium. Ben brought along a few (then) hard-to-find beers: Malheur Chocolate, Brussels Triple, and Rodenback Grand Cru. Obviously, I had to edit the tastings down a lot, as Michael had reams of information regarding each beer. The full-length tasting will be available at a future point, as a DVD extra and an online resource.

Hope you enjoy watching Michael do what he does best: not just taste a beer, but bring it beer to life through its history, its brewer, its cultural context, and its personality. A votre sante!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Lost Tapes Series

One of the unique challenges I grapple with on a daily basis in the making of this film is, "what to do with all the footage?" I have always found it difficult to pick just one direction; I suffer from the curse of options. Do I make a 90 minute film, or another whole series? Do I make a multi-series film that incorporates much of the footage plus interviews with brewers to tell the story of Michael? In the back of my mind, I've always wanted to do both. On the one hand, the film would chronicle the fascinating story of Michael: his background as a news journalist, his transition to beer journalist, his fame within the world of whiskey writing, his vast interests beyond food and drink, his profound contributions towards the evolution of craft brewing, his desire to keep his Parkinson's a secret, his tireless dedication to educating the faithful on the rich history and traditions of the brewing culture. Then there's the series: the off-camera banter, the intimate moments on the road, the long tastings that may not be fit for the big screen, the diverse destinations we traveled to, the man behind the myth.

I'm still working that all out. The other day I was speaking with St. Louis beer distributor and importer Brent Stafford, who has been extremely helpful in suggesting ideas on how to raise sponsorship and promote the film. It's good to have an outside voice; I've been wrangling with this project for almost three years, and sometimes being so close you can lose perspective on simplicity.

Brent was patient as I described the various options. At one point he stopped me and said, "Why don't you put together some of the extra footage and call it the "Lost Tapes" series or something?

A brilliant suggestion. So here is the first installment of the Lost Tapes. I've been going through some of my footage from California, since it's not far from where I live and a natural place to start filming some initial interviews for the movie. This is from Michael's visit to Pizza Port Brewing back in April of 2004, in Solana Beach, just outside of San Diego. It was at the conclusion of a tour through California which started in San Francisco and ended in San Diego, where Michael was to judge at the World Beer cup. The Rare Beer Club had included two of Tomme Arthur's beers, the outstanding Cuvee de Tomme and SPF 8. Michael, and everyone for that matter, loved the beers, and was very keen to interview Tomme. While the footage wasn't to be used for the club, then-owner Rob Imeson thought it would be good to get the interview for posterity. It was this philosophy that is responsible for the bulk of the footage we know have of Michael in his later years.

Enjoy, and cheers for watching.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Dock Street remembers Michael

This is a letter I received from Rosemarie Certo, owner of Dock Street Brewery, one of our first sponsors. It is emblematic of the gratitude and fondness so many brewers have expressed towards Michael's work and sincere friendship.

We got to know Michael Jackson in the mid to late 80's at the Great American Beer Festival. His love for Dock Street and his encouragement fortified all involved with our "microbrewery." In 1992 Michael came to Dock Street Brewery and Restaurant in Philadelphia to preside over one of the first beer and food pairing dinners in the US. It was a spectacular event! We immediately sold out even though there was no liquor or wine on the menu. The event was about BEER.

I saw Michael in Philadelphia a few months before he died. I brought my book, well actually his book, 500 Classic Beers in which he had included three Dock Street Beers. I asked him to autograph it and he wrote what we had been talking about, "Here's to Love and Passion." This simple phrase embodies what Michael was about. He was also brilliant and humble. Michael was a true Renaissance man in a time when being a Renaissance man was not encouraged and rarely found.
I am privileged to have shared with Michael conversations, ideas, and yes, our love and passion for life, for beer and everything that, to me, is good.

Rosemarie Certo
Dock Street Brewery

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Insight into Michael's history

As Michael's late life partner that shared his enthusiasm for beer, Carolyn Smagalski is able to share some wonderful insight into Michael's history and contributions. An accomplished beer and food writer, beer judge, and publisher herself, she is the Editor of BellaOnline's Beer and Brewing pages. Carolyn will be helping us a great deal with research and PR, and she has written a fascinating and inspiring article about Michael's unique history and approach to writing about beer and whiskey.

Documentary Film - Drinks Writer Michael Jackson

Thank you Carolyn!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mid-Atlantic Trailer

In March and April of 2005, Rob Imeson, the president of the Rare Beer Club, organized an epic tour through the mid-Atlantic states, a renowned beer region that Michael was particularly fond of. So Clarke Paschall, my audio tech, and I spent over a week driving from city to city, brewery to pub to brewery on a classic road trip with the Beerhunter himself. Here's a trailer of clips from that trip.

The Beer Hunter Mid-Atlantic tour from John Richards on Vimeo.