The perhaps remarkable thing is that before Michael Jackson wrote The World Guide to Beer in 1977, nobody used the expression “beer style” at all. I searched through books on beer from the 1830s to the mid-1970s, and they talked about “divisions”, “species”, “kinds”, “varieties”, “types”, “classes” and “families” of beer, but never “styles”.Cornell's post is, as usual, worth a read, but it misses another of Jackson's pretty amazing contributions. Many of the names we now call styles already existed when Jackson started cataloging them: bock, pilsner, stout. But in Belgium, the names and beers lined up only very jaggedly; more problematically, there were far fewer names than there were beers. He was the original taxonomist. Confronted with a shocking diversity of beers, he began trying to classify them, coming up with "Belgian red," "Flemish brown," and "Belgian golden ale." There are dozens of ways we might group Belgian beers, but we now think of them in Jackson's terms.
Of all the things for which I envy Jackson, it was his work on Belgian beers that stands out most. He has created a mental framework the entire world now adopts. We debate whether a beer is a true red or is really a brown, and Jackson must chuckle from the great beyond. We're not debating beer styles so much as debating Jackson's styles. Quite a legacy, isn't it?