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On meeting Michael

Part Two - Part One

April 2000

By Gary Monterosso

The radio interview with Michael Jackson lasted close to a half-hour, without commercial interruption. We had only agreed to a five or ten-minute spot beforehand but it went so seamlessly, the host of the show, Ed Hitzel, just allowed it to continue.

I recall a few comments made by Michael which stayed with me. Ed asked him to define the impact the major breweries have played on the craft brewing scene. Michael's response was that they are a lot like processed cheese or bread: remarkably consistent, reaching the masses, but with little real flavor. He also applauded the microbrew scene in the United States but theorizing that many of the new, exciting beers are now being originated from within those borders. Breweries mentioned by him which were noteworthy included Flying Fish, Victory's, Brooklyn, Dogfish Head, Climax, Stoudt's, Dock Street and Yard's (all located on the East Coast). Also noted was the growth in the number of breweries in the United States, placing that number over 1,500.

Having a driver take me to Philadelphia to meet Michael Jackson in person was definitely a relaxing way to travel. After the interview, I certainly felt a bit hurried, racing from the studio to my home (an hour's drive) where the limo awaited. Some of my special friends accompanied me to the site of the Jackson-led tutored beer tasting, which we were to attend.

First, a little background on the series of events which included Michael's annual pilgrimage to the City of Brotherly Love. Known as the "Book and the Cook" festival, this 10-day celebration features dozens of cookbook authors known worldwide, in a means which makes them accessible to the general public. There are demonstrations, dinners, shows and so on, throughout much of the city. There are exhibitors showcasing foods and food-related products.

As it turns out, Michael was the subject of a light "roasting" on the night prior to our interview and meeting. Roasters included Fritz Maytag (Anchor Brewing), Steve Hindy (Brooklyn Brewing), John Hansell (Malt Advocate), Richie Stolarz (Beers International), Dr. F.G. Hoepfner from Germany's Privatbrauerei, Oliver Hughes (Dublin's Porter House Brewing) and Tony Forder (Ale Street News).

Able to relax with my friends on the drive to the site in Philadelphia, we reached our destination about 20 minutes prior to the start of the show. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology was packed as we were ushered through two checkpoints. Fortunately, the weather was sunny and mild and we were able to enjoy the scenic grounds for a bit.

One of the members of our group had attended the Book and the Cook tastings in the past (this was Michael's 10th year of visiting) and alerted us as to the best place to sit. Obviously others had the same idea but we were able to position ourselves rather close to the podium. After about five minutes, I noticed Tony Forder and Jack Babin of Ale Street News, behind the stage. I decided to walk back and say a quick hello (I write occasional pieces for this publication). Tony had been instrumental in setting up the radio interview I wrote about in Part One and I wanted to express my gratitude.

Within two minutes, I looked to my left and, through a curtain passed Michael Jackson himself. I smiled at him and he just looked at me, never having seen me prior to that time. Tony and I walked up to him and I introduced myself to him, adding that I was the person who had interviewed him on the radio about two hours prior. With that statement, he developed a little smile and put his hand out to shake mine. I thanked him for the extensive interview and tried my best to act professional and not babble like a child.

His first comment to me was: "Did I do a good job for you? Was it OK?" I thought to myself, this man had done countless interviews in his career but still cared enough about his craft and the listeners to inquire about how I felt the segment went. He seemed pleased by my response that it was superb. What he will never realize was how that one day will remain etched in my memory for quite some time.

Thanks, Michael.

By the way, I presented my copy of Michael's book, "Ultimate Beer" for signing. He inscribed, "To Gary, Great to be on your show! Michael Jackson 4 March 2000."

I hope Ed Hitzel doesn't hear about this.

Return to Part One

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