All of the memorialising last week on the tenth anniversary of the death of Michael ‘the Beer Hunter’ Jackson gave Alan McLeod an opportunity to revisit one of his favourite challenges to the consensus: was Jackson really more influential than, say, Dave Line?
We heard Alan when he made this point a few years ago which is partly why we spent time tracking down Mr Line’s widow, Sheila, and interviewing her for Brew Britannia, where we devoted several pages to profiling him. In a later article for CAMRA’s BEER magazine we reflected in more detail on his influence:
While Dave Line was making a name for himself as arguably the world’s foremost home brewing writer, elsewhere, what we now know as micro-breweries were popping up all across Britain. Most were founded by professionals who had previously worked for large companies such as Watney’s or Courage but a handful came from a home-brewing background and it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have had what were then the definitive texts, Dave’s two books, at hand. Certainly Brendan Dobbin, who started home brewing as a student in Belfast in the late 1970s, began his career by working through the recipes in The Big Book of Brewing.
In America, where the ‘craft beer revolution’ was very much more driven by home brewers, Dave’s books were even more important. Jack McAuliffe, who founded New Albion Brewing in California in 1976, learned to brew from kits purchased at Boots in Glasgow while on naval service and has frequently cited Dave’s Big Book of Brewing as a key text. Other famous names from the first wave of American craft beer such as Greg Noonan, Dave Miller and Ken Grossman, the founder of Sierra Nevada, also mention The Big Book as a key text in their early development – worth remembering next time you hear an overly-simplified account of the influence of modern US brewing on the British scene.
One concrete example of Dave Line’s influence can be found in Scottish brewery Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil, a ‘black ale’ at 4.5% ABV in cask. The brewery’s founder, Ken Brooker, conceived the beer using a Dave Line recipe as his starting point, as he told Michael Jackson in 2000.
So we certainly acknowledge Dave Line’s impact on a generation of home-brewers and, by extension, microbrewers, but maintain that Michael Jackson was (a) a better writer (a matter of opinion, of course) and (b) more influential in the broad sense in that he inspired brewers to look beyond basic domestic styles and to explore ‘world beer’. He also (c) basically invented the pattern for modern beer writing.
Last week, though, Alan clarified his argument helpfully:
No. As I said above, my question is the influence of AW group on early micro brewers, not about ‘modern beer writing style’
For some time he has been urging someone, anyone, to dig up the archives of Amateur Winemaker magazine (for which Line and other early home-brewing gurus wrote) and renewed his call. We asked (not snarkily, only to clarify the mission) what he expected or hoped to be found there:
Subscribers lists? Reading the columns to see what was discussed in the ecosystem before key dates? Who wrote letters to the editor?
All of this (as Alan’s hectoring often does) got us thinking — perhaps, even acknowledging Dave Line as we did, we’d still not given him and his colleagues their due. We tested the water by emailing another pioneering UK brewer, Sean Franklin. When we spoke to him back in 2013 he talked glowingly of Michael Jackson, at length, but didn’t mention Dave Line at all. But perhaps (as Alan suggested in another Tweet) that’s because we failed to prompt him. So we prompted him. He replied (this lightly edited):
Like all home-brewers, I looked at those books but for the main part my days at Bordeaux University put me further ahead. It was mostly malt extract in those days. I did a recipe from Dave Line’s book as one of my first beers – the first one was horrible (my fault for using an old can of extract) but the second was much better. Fuller’s ESB, as I remember. I’d worked in London so I knew what that tasted like. After that I switched to full mash.
We can’t make it to the British Library just now but we were prompted to order a couple of copies of Amateur Winemaker from the 1970s by way of test-drilling. One order fell through but the other worked out and a copy of Winemaker (the magazine’s actual title, it turns out) came through the door yesterday.
Here’s what it contains that strikes us as being of relevance to Alan’s argument:
- Some surprisingly sophisticated brewing kit advertisements listing specific varieties of hops, various types of malt and even odd additives such as licquorice sticks for livening up stout.
- Some debate over a then topical news story about a Glasgow home-brewer who may or may not have contracted ‘erosive gastritis’ from contaminated beer.
- A feature article by Ted Wade called ‘Designing a Beer’. This is a fairly sophisticated piece suggesting that, by 1971, home-brewers had already moved beyond plastic dustbins and gravy browning. Having said that, hops (he says) should smell hoppy, and that’s it. The accompanying recipe is for a Newcastle Brown Ale clone.
- A recipe for Wassail Bowl that includes three pints of brown ale.
- An article with another recipe for Wassail Bowl and several other seasonal beer punches.
- An article about the various risks of home beer- and wine-making (fines, children drinking your stash, etc.).
- A photograph of D. Haynes receiving a trophy for best bitter (light or dark) from the Romsey Winemakers Circle.
- Branch reports: mostly wine but a couple of mentions of beer, and of a trip to the Belgian beer festival at Wieze from the Basingstoke crew.
- An Index for 1971, reproduced in part below.
- An advert for Northern Brewer hops from ‘Wine and the People’, a firm based in Oakland, California.
The rest of the magazine (about 60 out of 84 pages) are about wine, as are all the readers letters.
You’ll see from the index above that there’s not much that seems to herald the coming of the age of craft beer, but of course it’s hard to tell from only two or three words per article.
But 1971 is still early and there’s enough here to make us think it might at least be worth looking at issues from, say, 1974 (when CAMRA was making serious waves) and 1976 when Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer was still a work in progress.
It goes without saying that if you or any elderly relatives have copies of this magazine knocking around in the attic, we’d love to see scans or photos — do get in touch.
PS. The magazine also contains a letter from someone apologising for an anti-Semitic joke in a previous issue, but pointing out that he has many Jewish friends, and, anyway, as a Scot he has to put up with worse. Yikes!