Interview with The Beer Goddess (a.k.a. Lisa Morrison)

If you like craft beer and you live in the Northwest, you’ve heard of Lisa Morrison, a.k.a “The Beer Goddess”. Lisa hosts a weekly radio show focused on craft beer, writes in numerous beer publications, and released her first book, Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest earlier this year.

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Lisa this year through different beer events, and she was kind enough to sit down and chat with me about all things beer…

Where are you from and how did you get “hooked” on craft beer?

Lisa Morrison: I was born and lived in Tulsa Oklahoma until I was 15. We moved to Colorado when I was in high school and I graduated from Colorado State University. I fell in love with the Pacific NW when I was a teen and decided someday I was going to live there. I moved here in 1989.

I always loved good beer; I just didn't know what good beer was until I was in college. A friend's mom sent him a little mini-keg of Dinkelacker which was the first beer besides macros that had ever touched my lips. I loved it! And that's when I realized that beer could taste really good! I never looked back.

How did you get the idea to start a radio show about beer? Was it hard to get it off the ground?

LM: About five years ago, Bruce Bjorkman, who does the "Cooking Outdoors with Mr. BBQ" radio show wanted more air-time and thought he could carry a beer show too. Well, he quickly learned that you had to know a little about beer to do that. So he started poking around to find a co-host that fit the bill. My name came up because of my years of writing about beer and such. I auditioned live on the air and got the job! I just pretty much did "color" and talked about beer. He did all the heavy lifting. Back then, it was called The Libation Station and it wasn't just about beer.

After a while, KXL decided to pull the plug on the show. One of the bigwigs at the station, though, is a big beer fan and also was a close friend of Don Younger. He told Don that the show was going to be nixed and Don hit the roof! They got together and started talking (and no doubt drinking) and decided to let me try my hand at doing the show solo. The big difference was that I would buy air time from KXL and then sell sponsorships to pay myself back (and hopefully make some money at the same time).

So I renamed the show Beer O'Clock, changed the focus to good beer, and nearly three years ago, the show made its debut. It was painfully obvious how much Bruce had been carrying the other show, and those first few months shows (first year, really) were a study in learning and improving. But now, I think it's a pretty good program and I am thrilled that we have a radio show here in Portland and all across the state that helps educate people and promote craft beer.

I attended the premiere of “The Love of Beer” in August and enjoyed learning about women who have broken into and thrived in the craft beer industry. Did you face challenges?

LM: I didn't find any real challenges getting into the industry. Back when I started writing about beer, there were so few women who were writing about beer (or anything else for that matter) that it was a novelty and I think men were excited that a woman was interested in beer. Because I was interested, they were usually more than thrilled to answer my questions and help me with my education.

I have always had a few guys who would fire off questions at me to try to disprove my knowledge or something, but once it became clear that I knew a thing or two about beer, they'd say "OK, you're legit" and leave it at that.

How did you decide to write a book?

LM: I actually approached Timber Press, my publisher, about 10 years ago with a book proposal. But they weren't interested. Craft beer was just not enough in the mainstream back then.

So it was funny (ironic) that Timber Press then approached me to write what is now Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest, my first book. They were looking for someone to write a guide to northwest beers, and my name came up in their research to find an author.

Can you describe the writing process? Was it very different from writing for your radio show?

LM: Oh, sure. It's completely different writing a radio script than writing a book. That's like comparing apples to oranges, because a radio script has to be conversational, and I have other people on the show with me. It's more two-way conversation whereas a book is one-way communication.

The thing that really took me by surprise, though, was how different it is to write a book versus writing a magazine article, which is the majority of my work along with the radio show.

I write for All About Beer, Beer Advocate, Celebrator, Northwest Brewing News, New Brewer, Brew Your Own and a host of other beer publicationsjust about every one in the country. Plus I've written for other non-beer publications about beer too, like The Oregonian, HipFish, etc., so I had it in my mind that writing a book would be a lot like writing several articles. I figured I could easily average 2000 words a way, which would be about an article a day. Do that 25 times and I'd have my 50,000 word book!

Boy, was I wrong. There were days I didn't get 500 words on a page between having to re-confirm facts and decide how I would "treat" a certain section or paragraph. Most frustratingly, especially near the end, I started feeling like I was repeating myself all the time in my prose and descriptions. In a 2,000 word article, you don't have to worry too much about using all the words in your collection of adverbs and adjectives, but those start to seem overused when you've written 48,000 words on essentially the same topic. I mean, how many different ways can you describe an ESB or a stout?

Did research for your book, specifically the “field trips”, occur over a short timeframe?

LM: It was over a longer time spanat least a year if not more. I had to travel as far as the interior of British Columbia for the research, and I really only had one opportunity to get out there, so I crammed a bunch of places into that tripfrom Spokane all the way up into Salmon Arm and beyond! It was a whirlwind trip and in January, no less. Sometimes, like on that trip and the trips to Vancouver and Victoria, BC, I had company, which was nice. Other times, like my big Seattle-area research trips, and my eastern Oregon/Southeastern Washington and southern Oregon trips, I went alone. It was a LOT nicer to have others around.

My hubby, Mark Campbell, and our dog, Yeti, went with me to Vancouver and Victoria. Our friends, Susan and Dan Bartlett, accompanied me on the Spokane/inner BC trip. We had a great time exploring that beautiful part of the country and sipping all the great beers they offer there!

You just got back from GABF. What's that like? Did you develop a “strategy” for sampling beer?

LM: Wow. It's almost impossible to describe your first step into the GABF, but I'd say that "overwhelming" works! It's huge! The festival is divvied up by region, and there are big signs with "Midwest" or whatever hanging above each area, so that's a good way to start.

I usually swing past the Northwest brewers and say hi and chat and see if they have anything different they are pouring. When I'm taking a break, I'll go over there and chat with our NW family of brewers because it's always fun hanging with your friends. But I usually like to hit another region that I don't normally get to taste. I also keep a mental note of breweries I've been wanting to try. And of course, you ask everybody you run into what beers they've liked best so far and get those, too!

I know people hate to pick favorites, but…can you tell me your top 5 styles?

LM: I’m still a sucker for a good West Coast IPA. I love Flanders style Reds and Browns. I enjoy a well made pre-Prohibition lager or a crisp Czech pilsner. I've found myself enjoying ESBs a lot lately. And now that the seasons are turning a bit cooler, I am anticipating nights sipping an imperial stout or two.

I know I am not unique when I say that my favorites are influenced by a number of things, such as seasons, activity (don't want a stout after a big workoutI need something light and crisp. But sitting by the fire, I want that stout!), food, mood…

What trends in craft beer are you most excited about?

LM: Food and beer pairings. We have a long way to go still for beer to become an equal at the table alongside wine as a fine beverage to accompany the best meals. There's a lot of education that still needs to happen.

I also am passionate about glassware. I want to do more experimentations into how a certain glass affects the flavor of the beer. It happens with wine. I am sure we can show how it happens with beer.

Just beer education in generaland outreach. I want more people to be able to appreciate our incredible craft beer movement. That's what I love about the radio show. All the other media pretty much reaches out to the people who already are excited about and knowledgeable about craft beer. But the radio show is on the public airwaves. Anybody can pick it upand I know anecdotally that the show reaches out to people who aren't really entrenched in the beer community but have gotten interested in it because of something they heard on the show!

Tell me about your beer setup at home. What’s currently on tap at your house?

Beer Doodah, courtesy of Lisa Morrison
LM: Our taps are in our kitchen. We did a big remodel on our nearly 100 year-old house a few years ago. In the process of getting ideas, I went to the Street of Dreams. I was infuriated to find that at every single home, there was a big entertainment area with fancy wine coolers and racks of spirits, but in every single home, if there even was a tap, it was hidden away in the back like an evil stepchild. Here we are in Oregon, the best craft beer culture in the world, and none of these chi-chi places featured beer!

I got home and told Mark and we decided that to make beer a beautiful part of our remodela location in our kitchen that even the most persnickety person would say that it looked lovely and totally belonged there.

As it happened, our contractor at the time was trying to talk us into eliminating a wall that separated our kitchen and dining room/living room. And I didn't want that anyway, so that wall became the perfect spot for what we now refer to as the "Beer Doodah." (because that's what we called it when we were doing the remodelit was even on the blueprints like that!)

We incorporated the same granite countertop and the same cabinetry to hold our beer glasses (I collect them as souvenirs) and added a little sink for rinsing plus a two-tap tower. I was very lucky to find a three-door backbar like they use in bars for our cooler and, amazingly, got it for the opening bid on eBay. We have that downstairs and run the lines from the basement through the kitchen floor and into the Beer Doodah cabinet, running up through the countertop.

It's a lovely piece of our kitchen that fits right in but is still a focal point. I can't imagine life without the Beer Doodah! Currently on tap in what we call The Kitchen Pub: Boneyard RPM IPA. We just blew the other keg this weekend and haven't had time to get another one!

Can you give me any hints any plans you’ve got in the works?

LM: Right now I am focusing on getting exposure for the book. I hope everyone will ask Santa for a copy for Christmas!

I’m also working on a Barley's Angels class at Fort George that's happening on Oct. 15. We're calling it Hop Into the Holidays and it's going to feature beer pairings for Halloween (candy), Thanksgiving (turkey and trimmings), Christmas (ham and salmon) and New Years Eve (appetizers) -- should be fun!

I also want to work on a way to help people describe what they are tasting in beers. I am working with Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef, on this. We shall see what becomes of it!

So it looks like Lisa has lots of exciting stuff in the works beer lovers. In the meatime, check out Beer O’Clock every week on the radio stations listed below. If you prefer podcasts, you can download the show for free on iTunes or via TuneIn. If you’re looking for a great guide to craft beer, look for Lisa’s book Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest at Amazon or your favorite bookseller.

Beer O'Clock can be heard on:

FM News 101 KXL- Portland
KWRO --630 AM - Coos Bay
KLOO --1340 -- Corvallis
KWVR -- 1340 AM -- Enterprise
KPNW-- 1120 AM -- Eugene
KFLS-- 1450 AM -- Klamath Falls
KCMX -- 880 AM -- Medford
KACI- -- 1300 AM --The Dalles
KTIL -- 1590 -- Tillamook

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