Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The King of Hops Returns

By Pableaux Johnson

JUNE 5, 2000:  British author Michael Jackson has been called the Bard of Beer, the Maven of Malt, and just about every other punny beer title in the book. In an average year, the well-rounded Englishman travels the globe sampling local brews and entertaining faithful beer geeks with educational tastings and deadpan jokes about pop-star pedophilia. Jackson made his annual trek to Austin on May 7 for a beer-tasting dinner at the Bitter End.

This is the second year running that St. Patrick's of Austin, a local brewing supply company, has flown Jackson out for a tasting dinner -- tutored tastings of Austin beers paired with a special menu from Bitter End Chef Matthew Shipman. Unlike last year, when a variety of local beers were sampled, this year the spotlight fell on Bitter End brewers Tim Schwartz and Stephen Tidwell. Over the course of three hours, a diverse range of Bitter End's beers accompanied Shipman's culinary creations. The inimitable Mr. Jackson provided sporadic color commentary.

Jackson's speaking style owes much to his encyclopedic writings on the subjects of beer and whiskey. His comments on the flavor profiles of the various brews are invariably sprinkled with plenty of technical and historical information. Veterans of his previous speeches recognized a few of the well-worn stories and jokes. Among them were his general philosophy on wine ("It's a pretty simple drink about which a whole lot of fuss is made") and the links between beer and the birth of civilization. When he wasn't cracking jokes, he delved into the comparative merits of each beer, along with more intense technical information for the assembled crowd of brewers and beer-o-philes.

The event started on the Czech end of the beer spectrum (a choice of Bitter End's Poindexter Pils or a similar entry from the Live Oak Brewery) and progressed through the brewing traditions of Germany, Belgium, Austria, and Great Britain. Tres Diablos, Schwartz's take on the spiced Belgian monestary ale, paired well with Shipman's medallion of monkfish (pun intended) wrapped in a sheath of banana leaves and accompanied by papaya salsa.

Each passing dish brought with it a more assertive beer -- from German-style bock to British bitter ale to heady Imperial stout. During the whole affair, Jackson chimed in with tasting notes and background information on the current status of the beer world. But each passing beer also made the crowd a little looser and a little louder.

After five courses and six beers, the crowd applauded Jackson and the brewers and chef took their bows in front of an appreciative (and well-fed) crowd. As the audience savored one last round of strong ales, Jackson signed books and answered questions from individual fans. All in a day's work for the man of many names ...

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