Did Michael Jackson Actually Invent Our Beer “Styles”?

This week, I received Brewery History, No. 139, in the mail. A freebie. It was gratefully received as so few packets and packages come my way these days. Time was the mail brought cheques for ads, couriered samples of beer, love letters, job offers. It’s been too quiet lately. More mail would be good. But, ripping open the UK postmarked brown paper envelope, I had a sense that other things had arrived – ideas. No. 139 is the special issue of Brewery History dedicated to Michael Jackson. “Yow-za!” thought I. “This’ll be good.” And, as Hemingway and the God of the Old Testament have told us before, it was good.

Yet, something twigged. That bit of priggery I hate yet carry like a fault of DNA. That little desire to ask “is that really correct?” and, worse, to ask it out loud. Here is my problem:

…certain classical examples within each group, and some of them have given rise to generally accepted styles… If a brewer specifically has the intention of reproducing a classical beer, then he is working within a style. If his beer merely bears a general similarity to others, then it may be regarded as being of their type.

That is a quotation of Michael Jackson’s included in Martyn Cornell’s article “Michael Jackson and beer styles” found at pages 12 to 18 of good old No 139. The associated footnote states: “15. Jackson, M. (ed.)(1977) The World Guide to Beer. London: Mitchell Beazley, p. 14.” I have that book. You know, I don’t have all the books but I do have that one… albeit a Canadian first edition. Here is the whole quotation to a section of the book entitled “The classical beer-styles” (note that hyphen):

Beer fall into three broad categories: those which are top-fermented; those which are brewed with some wheat content (they are also top-fermented); and those which are bottom-fermented. There are certain classical examples within each group, and some of these have given rise to generally-accepted styles, whether regional or international. If a brewer specifically has the intention of reproducing a classical beer, then he is working within a style. If his beer merely bears a general similarity to others, then it may be regarded as being of their type. Such distinctions can never be definitive internationally, since the understandings of terminology varies between different parts of the world.

Now, let’s be clear. I am not suggesting Martyn has done something wrong. I am also really not saying that Jackson did not describe styles. I just think he has actually done something more than we have noticed. He has defined at least three classes: categories, styles andtypes. And, then, he organizes those classes. On pages 14 and 15 of his second book, Jackson goes on to describe 23 styles of beer under those three classes up there. Yet, has he really done what he says he has done? As far as I can see, he has not described “classical examples within each group, and some of them have given rise to generally-accepted styles.” He offers no examples. In fact, because he adds that fourth classifying word “group” out of which these “examples” come, well, it is not clear what he has done. And he includes definitions like “Ur-, Urtyp” that are not of the same class of concept (whether “type” or “style”) as the others. It’s all a bit of a mix.

It’s now thirty four years since Jackson’s paragraph was published. What it really represents, as Martyn’s article points out, is the beginning of a concept that he and others used to go on to define how we beer nerds think about beer. Yet, as far as I can tell, what we now call “styles” were really, in 1977, “types” to him. Consider this: these days the general convention is that 100% of beer brands need to fall into one style or another. There is no room left over for un-styled beer. Back then, by contrast, styles were not all the wedges on a pie graph. They were classic examples arising from groups. And groups related to types. For Jackson, at the outset, “styles” were still something of a hybrid idea somewhere between “type” and a further fifth category which he went on to call “classics” – which is an idea, from my reading, which leaned heavily towards the singular rather than the class. Perhaps archetypes. Or maybe just best beers ever. All very good ideas in itself to be sure. But ideas that were not yet fully formed.


One thought on “Did Michael Jackson Actually Invent Our Beer “Styles”?”

  1. [And the ensuing comments…]

    Stan Hieronymus – April 28, 2011 9:48 PM


    Alan – If Martyn doesn’t show up here to defend his premise I will be glad to, but I prefer to give him first crack at you.

    Ethan – April 28, 2011 11:33 PM


    “Such distinctions can never be definitive internationally, since the understandings of terminology varies between different parts of the world.”

    Would it be fair to add “… internationally *or diachronically*?” What what constitutes a classic, or for that matter a style/type, changes over both time & space.

    Alan – April 28, 2011 11:34 PM

    I am not sure what premise you or he would be defending but go for it. I would be more interested in discussing the ideas.

    Stan Hieronymus – April 29, 2011 12:23 AM


    Then don’t you think it is fair to go back to all of Martyn’s discussion? Which includes – for instance – why Jackson chose to use the term “styles.”

    Stan Hieronymus – April 29, 2011 12:37 AM


    And for a bit more context, those who don’t have access the special edition of Brewery History can read what Martyn wrote in his blog last October.

    Martyn Cornell – April 29, 2011 7:45 AM


    I think your comment is entirely fair, Alan, and to be honest I never discussed the quote from the World Guide to Beer about “styles” and “types” much because I didn’t actually understand the point Michael was trying to make: either it was confused, or I was being thick. I tried to say, I hope, that it appears Michael’s initial movements towards the concept of “beer styles” in the WGtB were not the same, more fully formed, ideas that he, and others, developed later. Certainly it’s true that to begin with, Michael had no conception, explicit or implicit, that all beers had, of necessity, to be slotted into one style or another, and I’m not sure that he ever did: this was an idea that seems to have developed as the concept of beer styles themselves gained acceptance. If you’re going to write about world beers for a world audience, though, especially an audience that was likely not to have drunk many/most of the beers you were writing about, the categorisation of beers into styles made the job of writing about those beers hugely easier, I’d suggest, which is why Michael pioneered and popularised the concept of beer styles, because he was a natural teacher and found, through the idea of beer styles, an easy way of teaching people about beer. The reverse of that coin, of course, is the growth of “style tyranny”, and the Procrustean insistence that all beers must fit into a style hole or be rejected …

    Alan – April 29, 2011 8:42 AM

    Thanks, Stan. I knew that photo in Martyn’s post (which appears in the middle of his BH article) was out there. I love the reference to one of the people as “5 Unknown Belgian”. Very X Files.

    What I like about it, Martyn, is that it shows a thought being formed. If it was not Royal wedding day, tax preparation weekend, election final weekend and a day that I travel to the US (a 25 minute drive) for a government to government meeting I would take The English Pub and look for uses of these words. I wonder in particular if he is also the fist to consider the idea of classics. Gotta run

    Stephen Beaumont – April 29, 2011 11:04 AM


    All of the above, I think, hints at what we can now see as the paradox of beer style. When Michael introduced the notion — and I agree with Martyn that he did, and am fascinated by your observation that what he was actually doing was introducing a hierarchy of classification, Alan — he did so to simplify the world of beer for readers unlikely to ever have tried most of the beers he wrote about, as Martyn notes. In other words, he was liberating these beers from their national and, in some cases, decidedly regional straitjackets.

    Today, on the other hand, we see beer style as the imposition of a different kind of straitjacket, as in, “this isn’t really of this style because it doesn’t look and smell and taste like A, B and C.” Rather than liberating beer, this approach seeks to pigeonhole brands for ease of evaluation, or “rating.”

    The irony, of course, is that this is all occurring during a period of unprecedented innovation in brewing and internationalization of beer sampling opportunities. Which is why I suspect the GABF will soon be judging several hundred different beer “styles.”

    My question, then, is what’s the baby and what’s the bathwater? Or in other words, how do we do away with irrelevant (to the vast majority of beer drinkers) beer “styles” while retaining those which, like pale ale and porter, actually go some way towards providing consumers with information about what the beer might actually taste like? Is the answer to somehow retreat to Michael’s original premise and somehow emulate the scientific classification system of order-family-genus-species?

    Fernando Cardoso – April 29, 2011 1:53 PM


    I wrote sometime ago an article about beer styles and their importance in my blog. It’s in Portuguese, but the Google translation is not that bad 🙂

    Craig – April 29, 2011 7:12 PM

    For once I’m not going to make a sophomoric (albeit hilarious) comment.

    I think styles, realistically, benefit beer judges rather than brewers or beer drinkers. Categorizing beer helps to wash away any of that pesky grey area (especially that deep charcoal, history aspect) when assigning the gold. as a beer drinker, if it tastes good, I win. I’d imagine most professional brewers come from the philosophy of if it sells, they win. Neither of those scenarios give a hoot about IBUs, SRM or ABV. What I do think is a bit dumb, is the sub categorization and strata within a single type of beer. American pale ale, British pale ale, Belgian pale ale – if it’s pale and top fermenting, its a Pale Ale. Period. Adding hops and upping the ABV doesn’t make it any more American than adding a ham bone would make it British.

    I think a wholesale simplification would really go along way with what Stephen talked about in the last paragraph of his post. A new mantra: keep it simple, stupid.

    My one-liners are pretty good, though. Right?

    Ron Pattinson – April 30, 2011 5:14 AM


    I think we need more beer styles. Honestly. I want to put AK, Burton and East India Porter back where they belong: at the top of the beer hierarchy.

    Ethan – April 30, 2011 9:30 AM


    I just think part of the problem with the discussion of ‘styles’ (or types, or whoever Michael Jackson or anyone else wants to break down the taxonomy) is as much that they are a moving target longitudinally as that they have ill-defined boundaries at any point cross-sectionally.

    Craig is making the best point here, in my mind, in that he’s basically saying that the taxonomy you choose reflects your needs in making it. BJCP has one; the BA has one, who ever designed a “Beeriodic Table” shirt or poster has another. Michael Jackson started out with something as broad as a tripartite classification but refined that over time. Some of these decisions are made by marketers more than brewers- I have no doubt some brewers have been told to make a Black IPA, for example.

    Jeff Alworth – May 2, 2011 1:48 PM


    I should have known that leaving the world of internet connectivity for three days would coincide with a delicious discussion. Damn.

    I’ve been thinking about style a lot lately. I expect every beer writer does at some point and, like Jackson, many probably commit provisional, murky, and inconclusive markers to paper–some overly general and some overly specific. One day, I plan to do that, too, but I’m still not there yet; my thinking is even less clear.

    Three factors intrude on the discussion and I’m not sure how to handle them. The first is evolution. Beer styles change, sometimes very quickly. When we talk about “traditional,” what do we mean? Take mild, for instance. We need to have multiple definitions to discuss this. Even though past examples are no longer brewed, a simple description of the taxonomy of available milds seems inadequate. So what to do? Porters/stouts, wit, spontaneously fermented American sours, American ales–these and many more have multiple definitions. Which to use?

    That takes us to the second problem: the human desire to solidify things, which obviously runs smack into the changing nature of beer styles. Ron and Martyn have done a lot to knock down some of the old myths Americans continue to tell about certain styles, but we’re constantly making more. This Black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale thing is a good example. No amount of arguing will convince me that a hoppy strong dark ale is in any way novel or deserving of special identification, yet we’re well on the way to making it so. As beer writers, we must acknowledge that, while BIPAs aren’t really a new or unique style, they are a commercial style and a style many humans recognize. Like money, if enough people believe in them, they come to be.

    Finally, beer styles should bring clarity to the discussion, not confusion. An ever more byzantine catalog of beer styles surely doesn’t add clarity to understanding beer, but oversimplification doesn’t, either. And, as Stephen notes, this age of unprecedented innovation needs to be documented in a way that allows readers to understand what connects different beers taxonomically and historically, but also to what distinguishes them. Are they innovations, or do they just seem like innovations to people who aren’t familiar with the long history of the art?

    I’m not there yet, but I think I may soon get to a murky understanding of all this style business.

    Craig – May 3, 2011 12:15 AM

    I think the question that first needs to be answered is, for whom are beers categorized?

    Mike – May 3, 2011 10:18 AM

    I agree with Craig’s comment.

    Consider film. There are “types” (comedy, drama, documentary, etc.) and the type is determined by the intent of the creators and the perception of the audience. Why can’t beer work like that?

    For me, there are only three beer styles anyhow: those I’d drink again, those I’d never drink again and those I’d only drink again if it were the best on offer.

    Gary Gillman – May 3, 2011 10:03 PM

    Michael, in that first book, meant that, say, pilsner was a style of bottom fermented beer. If a German brewer wanted to emulate it, as many did, he was working within an accepted style. Some Belgian beers used to be called Dort: they sought to emulate the style of Dortmunder beer.

    A type is, say, Carlsberg Lager, which is a general approximation of a helles beer. Budweiser from A-B/InBev is a type of pilsner, again. American dark lager, as it was before the craft era, was a type of Bavarian dunkel beer. The old Molson Porter was a style, porter, though perhaps not an excellent one. The current Rickard’s Dark is a porter-type beer.

    Within styles, some were (are) classic, e.g. Urquel’s pilsner. Young’s ordinary bitter.

    What Michael did was discern and classify styles within generally accepted categories. If you look at beer books before his in the 1970’s, they speak of ale, cream ale, lager, stout. Just general categories. Specific national or regional beer types were often mentioned within the categories, but not in a way to explain the relationship. Michael wrote that Dortmunder or Export lager was slightly stronger than pils and less bitter – no one before him ever compared the various examples of ale, lager and wild-fermented beer.

    However, Michael’s schema was not totally new. Look at how beers are described in, say, Wahl & Henius’s’ 1901 book.

    The above is a summary of each chapter, look at 23.4-23.6 and that area in general. Many of the styles Michael wrote about are mentioned there.

    I believe Michael must have read that book although we can never be sure.

    But even if he did, he put it all together, not just in a string of names, but by creating a kind of romance about them through explaining or suggesting a historical and social context. In this way, he created the idea of modern beer style, there is no question in my mind. You could, using Jackson’s approach, just as well create a style called East India Porter, just as he did for Imperial Stout or English sweet stout. But he appears not to have known of it, or hadn’t enough space.

    Incidentally, Michael in that first book is described as an editor. He wrote large swaths of it, but I infer that other contributors were involved due to the editor label, probably for Germany and other distant places.


    Gary Gillman – May 3, 2011 10:16 PM

    Actually I should amend my comments to state that East India Porter probably would not have been a style for Michael. The style was stout, i.e., a beer about 7% ABV (give or take). It was different than the style of porter because stronger by 2 points or more and less dry. By his day, regular stout (which was really a porter in 1800’s terms) was only 4% or so ABV, so he would have been justified to “create” a style of Colonial Stout and subdivide it into West and East Indies versions. But he wrote that wonderful chapter on Imperial stout, and we will forgive him.

    Whichever way you cut it, Michael is critical to beer as we think of it today. We are all hugely indebted to him.


    Gary (email removed) – May 3, 2011 10:28 PM

    Just to answer Steve’s question, I do think we need to return to Michael’s approach to fix on a (relatively) limited number of styles that fit modern conditions. APA should be a style because it is different materially from English pale ale. American IPA should not be a style, since IPA is the same as pale ale. (Look at the 1977 World Guide to Beer. The entry is for pale ale,not India Pale Ale). And so on. Someone should take this on in a new beer book.


    Gary Gillman – May 3, 2011 10:30 PM

    Oops my e-mail address got put in by accident, sorry Alan. Maybe you could remove it and this note.

    Thanks much for the space to explain my thoughts on your excellent post.


    Craig – May 4, 2011 12:43 AM

    Too late Gary. A wealthy Nigerian who needs help moving millions of dollars from his homeland, with your assistance, has been following this thread for a while. He’ll be in touch soon.

    Daniel Warner – May 4, 2011 3:09 AM


    With regard to the shift from “type” to “style,” there’s a subtext that no one’s mentioned (unless it was in Martyn’s article, which I haven’t read; apologies): “style” has a glorious history of prescriptive judgement attached to it in the Anglophone world. This usage has a particularly gnarled history in America, from the “classic” Strunk and White Elements of Style to the modern standards, the arbitrary, ahistorical and often nonsensical guidelines for professional English usage: the MLA style manual, the Chicago manual of style, AP Style Book, and so on. The guardian and the times each have their own published style guide. This usage is so common that Michael Ruhlman, chef and author, named one of his books after Strunk and White, calling it the “Elements of Cooking.”

    That the BJCP Style Guide bears more than a passing resemblance to English usage manuals is absolutely no coincidence. The metaphor was borrowed, and it retains its original meaning, worts and all. A “style” is, in that sense, and prescribed standard for usage, that may or may not have any relevance to actual usage (historical or otherwise). A study of beer types, on the other hand, is inherently descriptive, more akin to a Linnaean taxonomy than a usage manual.

    I can’t predict who created the concept of “beer style,” but it was clearly a concept borrowed by someone very familiar with style guides. Eckhart seems like a good suspect, since a name like “essentials of style” stinks of prescriptivism. Plus, I can’t believe it was MJ, since MJ was at heart a descriptivist, more concerned with documenting reality than with arbitration. That’s not to dissuade anyone from historical beer research, because that stuff is great. But it’s more a story of economics and marketing than it is a story of essential style. But again, that’s a descriptive persuit, and not a prescriptive one. Prescriptivism does no one favors in any field.

    And I’m going to argue with the idea that American pale ale is not a separate type (I’m bringing it back, who’s with me?). The vast, vast majority of American pale ales are made with domestic 2-row, which is a quick kilned, highly modified, high protein spring barley. Most british ales (whatever you want to call them) are going to be made with some cultivar of winter barley, low protein, overmodified, and kilned longer. Just that material difference is going to have a huge effect, even in English mega-breweries.

    Gary Gillman – May 4, 2011 7:48 AM

    I agree about the malt aspect (pale ale in Britain vs. U.S.) but I was thinking mainly of the hop character difference. The difference is, to my mind, fundamental, not just on a gradation.


    Alan – May 4, 2011 8:35 AM

    “Michael, in that first book, meant that, say, pilsner was a style of bottom fermented beer.”

    Gary, I think you forgot to add at the beginning of your first comment “I think that…” I don’t see that final level of definitiveness that you are injecting into the text. I think this sentence of yours may actually be circular: “A type is, say, Carlsberg Lager, which is a general approximation of a helles beer” as I am not sure typing and approximating are to each other. I am not suggesting you are incorrect, only that I am reading Jackson as not having crystallized the ideas fully as yet (nor to the degree you suggest) and, in fact, I don’t see that he really followed this path in his own writing nor have others. We have moved to a slices of the pizza approach to “styles” rather than hierarchies and refinements.

    He is shown as “edited and written by Michael Jackson” on my copy at page 4. There is also a list of 15 or so people who are sources of information listed on that page so my take was they fed him information which he organized. I am not sure that it is an editing of other peoples’ passages. But that is another interesting textual question.

    It would be interesting if someone went to his archive and looked up notes from this early point to see. But, as Andy has pointed out, his archives are largely ignored.

    Alan – May 4, 2011 8:46 AM

    I take your point, Daniel:

    “Style” has different meanings. Martyn does refer to style guides in his article but I am not comfortable with the connection. Style is that sense is about proper usage. We now use style to mean class. I am not sure where “style” sits in 1977 for Jackson but it is between type and classic. I am not sure all styles added up equal all beer. I am pretty sure all types added up equal all beer.
    Many things have happened since 1977 which may now make APA a “style” for all practical purposes and meanings. I don’t really want to suggest that there is an issue with today’s concepts just that they did not exist in 1977 and, really, developed over time and not in a bolt of lightening. Was he / were they (because I was 14 in 1977 and more obsessed with my 4 punk rock lps) more practical in 1977? Maybe. But the beer and those thinking about beer were not going to sit still.
    Alan – May 4, 2011 8:53 AM

    To add to it, in hist first book from just the previous year, The English Pub, there is a chapter “Drinking Styles” which is more about national and regional UK consumption preferences and behaviours than classes or usage. Plenty of opportunity to engage with taxonomy but none really taken up under that heading.

    Gary Gillman – May 4, 2011 9:05 AM

    Thanks Alan, all ’round.

    All my comments reflect my interpretation or opinion of things. In my reading, Michael discerned a number of styles, meaning beers that developed in certain areas as original products. Pilsner. Helles. Bock. Steam Beer. Berliner weisse, etc. Some of these were mentioned in earlier works as I said. Types were broad interpretations of these styles. That is how I read him and I agree his later works muddy the waters a bit, but I find the 1977 beer clear in this regard.

    Probably there was an element of prescription, but not completely. This is where his term classic comes in. Is Berliner weisse, any brand, a world classic in his view? I don’t think so, because it’s a regional taste which doesn’t appeal to that many (even in its region of origin, today). But bitter is a classic, pilsner is, steam beer is. Carlsberg’s origins are certainly open to discussion, but to my mind (again) it is a mild Helles beer.

    Jackson may well have written the whole book and perhaps he just used research provided by others for certain sections. It doesn’t matter at this stage of course, the 1977 book established his authority from the get-go and he only moved to greater heights after.


    Alan – May 4, 2011 11:06 AM

    “…the 1977 book established his authority from the get-go and he only moved to greater heights after…”

    See, for me it is no slander at all to say I don’t think any authority is established in 1977, just a pronouncement and that furthermore that is irrelevant for me. I am not involved with the personality or the reputation. I am interested in the words themselves but blame a dusty mid-range BA in my past!

    Craig – May 4, 2011 11:59 AM

    My Dad drinks beer, and by beer I mean whatever happens to be in the refrigerator. He rarely buys beer and when he does, it’s Coors Light. Beer is simply a way to cool down after mowing the lawn. If I were to describe the differences between an APA, an English Pale and an IPA, I might as well be reading Japanese stereo instructions, to him. Sure, he’ll listen for a bit, just to be nice, then he’ll back away, into the garage to regrip his golf clubs. It’s confusing and, honestly, he doesn’t really care.

    So, again, I question for whom is beer categorized and for what purpose is it categorized? Honestly, I feel like were tooting our own, beery horns. I think we all agree that we’d like to see more great beer produced. Introducing new people to great beer, hopefully means more great beer wiill be demanded and therefore produced. Discusssions of 6-row versus 2-row and IBUs and acidity, when it comes to classification, seems counterproductive. The whole purpose of classification is to organize information into a cohesive and easily understandable package. I’m not suggesting to pander to the lowest common denominator, but I think, as any good adman will tell you, you’ve got to know your target demographic.

    Personally, I can’t tell the difference between 55 IBUs and 60 IBUs or, really, one pale malt from another. If you want great beer, make great beer accessible. The first place to start is to step down off the malty perch and look at beer from the other side. Remember that 99.9% of the world has already classified beer in the only two categories they see fit to care about – dark and light.

    Gary Gillman – May 4, 2011 2:16 PM

    I was listening to the same punk bands (Eddie and the Hot Rods, Jam, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, and many more). 🙂 But I was of drinking age in 1977 (and for some years), so Jackson became a guru for many of my generation. And this is evident to me from the way many people still look at beer styles. BA’s scheme, while much elaborated since the 1977 World Guide, seems to me still under its main principles of classification.

    So I was speaking more of the authority over the general beer culture. To be sure, everyone is entitled to view styles in their own way. Even Jackson’s scheme is deficient in parts due to simple errors or lack of the historical knowledge now available.

    Still, and I’m “parti pris” I suppose, his approach is IMO basically very valid and will last a long time. The key to it was the addition of social and historical context. Can’t you just see how he would have written up APA in the context of the 1977 book? It would start with a description of wine culture, hippie communities and intrepid homebrewing, and attempts to copy classic models with local ingredients no matter what the outcome. Throw in some atmospheric photos, a reference maybe to something Jonathan Raban wrote about the independent American character, describe some of the fine brewers and palates, and well, presto, a fully formed beer style. He did of course address elements of APA in his later books but I’m sorry it never got the full “World Guide To Beer” treatment, good as the later books were (especially Beer Companion).

    I’m glad you mentioned his earliest book, Alan, on the English Pub. It contains some of his best writing.


    Alan – May 4, 2011 2:28 PM

    More kind considerations from Joe and Jeff.

    I just wrote to Gary in an email saying: “When I get a chance I am going to skim both books for uses of these sorts of words. I also wish I had access to other 1970s writers. I bought a Richard Boston anthology and Beer and Skittles but it’s no where near all his columns on beer.” Right now I am interested in the 70s but have a decent selection of 1960s UK homebrewing guides… yet none of the magazines which would have been the greatest volume of beer writing from that era. The source of ideas with a topic like this, even just four decades back, becomes difficult to put a finger on.

    Gary Gillman – May 4, 2011 4:02 PM

    Alan, pardon me for doing this from memory, but here are some of those other writers: Michael Weiner’s Taster’s Guide to Beer, John Porter’s A Book on Beer (or similar title), and Jim Robertson’s various beer guides, the first of which dates from the 1970’s. A gentleman called Anderson also wrote a number of beer books. You can find these easily on the usual bookselling sites online and order the lot for relatively little.

    Beer and Skittles is very good but quite keyed to the U.K. beer scene then, as was the excellent Beers in Britain by Warren Knock and Conal Gregory. Still, much worth reading.



    Martyn Cornell – May 4, 2011 8:27 PM


    Daniel Warner – as Alan says, I suggested in my piece for the Brewery History Society that Michael may well have been influenced by the “style guides” found in journalism, a concept he would have been very familiar with, since he would have referred to the “style guide” constantly when he worked at places like Campaign magazine.

    Gary – I referenced most or all of those books, and none, as far as I could discover, referred to beer “styles”.

    Gary Gillman – May 4, 2011 8:43 PM

    Right. I meant some of the beers Michael described in 1977 were discussed by earlier writers, notably Wahl & Henius in 1901 (but also e.g., Imperial Stout was well-reviewed in Weiner’s Taster’s Guide To Beer), but none of them, as far as I know either, catalogued a series of styles.

    Weiner was a scientist, an ethno-botanist if memory serves. He classified beers mainly by country. Still though, his discusses many kinds of beer and was aware of the basic fermentation differences amongst them.

    Another possible source for Jackson’s styles: the wine world. Jackson acknowledged Hugh Johnson as an influence, at least for his pocket guide. Johnson was internationally known by 1977.


    Gary Gillman – May 5, 2011 11:09 AM

    I did a quick Google Books search of “wine styles” and “styles of wine” and a whole raft of references come up in the period 1960-1975. It seems to me – and I look forward to reading Martyn’s article which I haven’t put my hands on yet – that this is a likely source of Michael’s use of the term in relation to beer.

    Of course too, there may have been multiple causes which led him to this term including the style guides of editors’ rooms. Sometimes, ideas coalesce after differing inputs and the process is often no doubt partly subconscious.


    Alan – May 5, 2011 1:33 PM

    So, did he invent the use of the word or extend the usage to elevate beer into the same system of analysis as wine?

    Gary Gillman – May 5, 2011 3:10 PM

    Well, I would say, both: he was apparently the first to use the term “beer style”, and he surely was inspired by the terms “wine style” and “styles of wine” which were in extensive use at least from 1960 until he began writing. (Search wines styles under Google Books to see this).


    Craig – May 5, 2011 3:21 PM

    I found this little gem from Mr. Jackson, himself:


    It’s not exactly on topic, but it might shed a little light on the discussion.

    Gary Gillman – May 5, 2011 5:14 PM

    Excellent article and good catch.

    For me the key is the paragraph where he states he wanted to situate the beers along a wider spectrum and with their own geography, history, mood and moment. I always inferred this from his work but it is good to see his aims made express in this way.

    And therefore, one might credit him with two achievements: first, devising broader, more inter-related classification of beers than anyone had done previously; second, creating a romance of them through explicating their context. Even the lesser styles came alive in this sense in his hands, and not always through his writing. The use of photography in that book probably has never been equalled in any beer book after, his or others’. That list of beers on a Belgian cafe board. The cab driver “toasting” his horse with Berliner weisse. The old labels and attestations for Le Coq’s Imperial stout. The men sitting on austere benches in Scotland with pints in hand and a reserve on the shelf above, in black and white. The famous picture of the monk in a Trappist brewery gazing upwards.

    Beer style all came together in this way.


    Alan – May 5, 2011 5:45 PM

    Well, it is difficult to consider what someone meant twenty years after the searching for meaning. I am more interested in 1977 itself and what was available in terms of ideas. One can create romance in any number of contexts.

    Craig – May 5, 2011 5:50 PM

    The musicology comparison is interesting.

    Daniel Warner – May 6, 2011 8:04 PM


    Martyn, then we are in agreement, I think. Did you look at the first BA style guidelines? They were supposedly written in 1979, but I’m not sure if they used the name “style guide.” Because Charlie Papazian wrote them with the intense aid of Michael Jackson, it seems pretty likely to me that use of “style” like that could have disseminated through home/craft brewers in the early 80s, so that by the time you get to 1988/1989, it starts to appear in print.

    Gary, I’m fairly familiar with the term “style” in wine, but it means the opposite as it does in beer. In wine, a “style” is a broad category that groups up different varieties and regions along common traits. So you’ll have “sparkling wine” as a style, or “sweet table wine,” and so on. But the more specific information always comes down to grape varietal (or blend) and place of origin (sometimes very specifically). This is in keeping with the more general usage of the word “style,” in such things as “French-style clothing” or “classical-style music.” It has a specific meaning, but it refers to a group that shares a specific custom or technique.”Style” in this sense means more like “kind” or “genre.”

    Style in the “style guide” sense is a more specific usage that is inherently prescriptive. To get published in a journal that uses Chicago Style, you must use Chicago Style. As a judging regimen, “style” in this sense is perfectly reasonable, but where people slip off the track is to assume that “style” in this sense is even remotely descriptive. Thus you get the kind of nonsensical balkanization that the BJCP is famous for, as well as home/micro brewers who mash two BJCP styles together and think they are some kind of genius (what if I added oats to porter? Or maybe wheat…….. like… whoa……)

    For the practical side of classification, I agree with Craig here. It seems like it would behoove us as beer snobs to keep the terms “style” and “type” distinct, and make it more like wine: “style” for general category, “type” for historical or regional specificity. Or you can use a different word for “style” because you will never wrest that word from the miserly grasp of the Beer Advocate morons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *