Today is International Whisky Day – a day set up in honour of the late great Michael Jackson, the original beer and whisky writer – so I thought it was a good time to share some of my memories of him.
I was fortunate enough to meet Michael several times and on occasion I got to spend time in his company over lunch or a few drams and I am truly honoured to have had these treasured memories.
The word legend is too often used these days but in terms of Whisky (and Beer) Michael truly was a legend and I would say he probably helped get more people enthusiastic about whisky than pretty much anyone else before or since. His Malt Whisky Companion for me and many others was my first real insight into the the different distilleries of Scotland – even though I grew up in the heart of Speyside it took his book to teach me about the house styles of distilleries that were literally on my doorstep.
I first met Michael when I worked behind the bar at the Craigellachie Hotel (yes, I know, nearly all my stories start there, or in a bar somewhere!) I had met him several times before, but amazingly the first ever whisky event that I hosted I did alongside Michael Jackson. It was at the first ever Speyside Whisky Festival in 1999 and the Hotel was hosting a ‘Convivial Evening with Whisky Friends’.
This was an event for around 50 people and I have no idea what Duncan Elphick, the Hotel General Manager, was doing including me, a 19yo part time barman at that time, in the line up. Anyway the evening started with a tasting of Glen Moray, Glenmorangie and Ardbeg hosted by Ed Dodson, the then Glen Moray distillery manager. After a few songs from Robin Laing – shoehorning in a few rhymes for Glenmorangie – it was time for a 4 course dinner and accompanying drams. This was then followed by a Q&A Session with the guests asking me and Michael Jackson questions.
I don’t remember much about the questions, but I do remember it being a great evening – I also will never forget Micheal rebutting many of my answers with “Well Mark, that is one way of looking at it…”!
I was lucky to meet with Michael several more times after that – the last time was at Whisky Live Tokyo 2007 which was a very special show for me, not just because I love Japan and it was a great show, but it was on that trip to Japan that Kate and I got together. I remember Kate (who was not quite as much of a whisky geek as me at the time) getting very confused when everyone was getting very excited that Michael Jackson would be attending the Whisky Live show – thinking it was the lesser known singer MJ that would be appearing!
The next year we were back at Whisky Live Tokyo by which time Michael had sadly passed – however there was lots of amazing tributes to Michael at the event and at nearly every opportunity the Franz Ferdinand song Michael was played. Every time I hear the line ‘come and dance with me Michael’ it brings back many happy memories.
For a far better insight into Michael I thoroughly suggest you check out our good friends Joshua and Jason from Single Cask Nation’s recent One Nation under whisky Podcast where Carolyn Smagalski and our other good friends Dave Broom and Hans & Becky Offringa offer up some amazing stories of their times with Michael.
So make sure you raise a glass to Michael today – he was equally (or arguably better) known for his passion and knowledge of beer. So I will certainly be raising at least one glass of each and I hope you join me.