Lisa Morrison, aka the Beer Goddess, is a well known proponent of craft beer. Lisa’s prolific coverage of everything beer related has taken her around the world in much the same fashion as one of her mentors, the late great British beer writer Michael Jackson. Like Jackson, Lisa’s undying passion for craft beer and the culture has remained unwavering for more than a decade. Writing for national publications such as Celebrator, Brewing News, Ale Street News, and many more, her words have impacted and helped to compass beer enthusiasts of all ages (above 21 of course). She also hosts Beer O’Clock, the region’s only radio show completely devoted to beer. Recently Morrison and Timber Press released her first book aptly named Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest. Described as “a suds-soaked adventure through the 115 key breweries and brew pubs in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia,” this comprehensive coverage of our ever-expanding corner of Beervana focuses on all the best of the best (and there’s a lot of bests) that the region has to offer, from the smaller commercial microbreweries to the well-known nationally distributed producers of artisan brew. After reading a copy of the Beer Goddess’ first solo publication, she was kind enough to answer some question for Brewpublic to provide us with a behind the scenes look at some of the work (and she sure had her work cut out for her) that went into writing Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest.
First of all, where can people pick up a copy of your new book? It was printed in Portland and London, correct?
Lisa Morrison : You can pretty much pick it up at any bookstore around. If your local book seller doesn’t have it, he or she can order it for you. It’s also available on Amazon.com, Powells.com (and at Powell’s) and all the big chain stores.
It wasn’t actually printed in Portland and London. The publishing house, Timber Press, is local to Portland and has been for years, but also has a London office. It was printed in the US, though.
How many copies of the book are in circulation?
LM: I am not privy to that information, unfortunately. At least not yet!
This must be a very monumental achievement in your career as beer writer. Is this your first published book?
LM: It’s my first book that I have done myself (researched, written, photographs, maps, the whole shebang). I was honored to contribute to another book, 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die. I think I did about 30 reviews for that book. Talk about an undertaking! I did not envy the editor, Adrian Tierny-hones, the duty of wrangling dozens of beer writers for that book.
The book is quite comprehensive, covering all of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. How much time and travel was involved in researching for your book?
LM: I started working on the book in March of 2009 and turned in the first manuscript a little over a year later. I traveled throughout both states and BC to research the book. Sometimes I was lucky enough to have some traveling and research companions, and sometimes I struck out on my own. I drove, walked, took mass transit and even flew to get to the places I needed to go.
You’ve mentioned in the past that putting a book together is much different than writing freelance articles for other publications or blog posts. Besides the obvious being length, what were some notable differences in piecing together your book?
LM: Adjectives. They can kill ya or save ya. When you describe a beer or even a few beers, for that matter, for a blog post or magazine article, you have enough adjectives in your arsenal to use and not sound repetitive. When you’re describing a huge number of beers for a book, you start feeling like you’re getting repetitive because you’ve used every damn adjective you can think of. I mean, how many ways can you describe “roasty” without using “roasty”? Flow is another thing. I can write 2500 words in a few hours if that’s all there is, such as a magazine article — and blog posts are usually even shorter. But when you start stringing those 2500 words into another set of 2500 words and another up to more than 50,000, it’s a completely different being. Honestly, I never really realized how different writing a book is compared to writing articles and blog posts …
You’ve written about a number of craft beer related topic for almost every respected beer publication we can think of, and on a variety of topics ranging from health, technology, and food. How did you settle on a premise for your book?
LM: That was something that was hammered out between me and the publisher. They had certain things they wanted; I had certain things I wanted. In fact, it took a lot of dog-walking mornings for me to work out how I was going to approach the book and still work within some of the parameters that the publisher wanted. I remember the day I had my “A-ha!” moment over that. On that day, the book became more of a travel/resource guide and less of a tutorial on Pacific NW beer.
A really good example of that was, at first, some of the editors wanted me to create a “distribution map” of all the breweries in each state/province. So, there would have been a map at the front of each chapter that showed, for example, the state of Oregon, with little dots representing each place beer was brewed. I managed to talk them out of that idea and into my idea of very simple, hyper-local maps featuring favorite pub crawls instead. I don’t know about others, but when I am traveling, I want to know how to string together some great beer places without having to drive. Heck, I want to do that at home, too. It just seemed a lot more helpful to me. I hope it is for others.
What was the most challenging aspect(s) of completing your book?
LM: You mean besides having to drink beer all day and then make sense of my notes later on? 😉
Probably that which I just mentioned: To convince a large group of editors and publishers (without actually being at the meeting) that a better idea for maps was to create very simple, easy to follow pub crawls that readers could use while visiting areas, instead of a map of the state with small dots all over it. I actually had to create sample maps to illustrate what I was talking about, and, anyone who knows me knows I am not an artist. Thankfully, my pitch worked, and even more thankfully, someone in-house at the publishing company actually drew the maps that are in the book.
Of all the places you visited to research this work, are there any that stand out in your mind as favorites or most memorable?
LM: I really enjoyed traveling in the Okanagan Valley in BC. I had never been there before. It’s amazingly beautiful, and I was lucky enough to have some friends along with me, Susan and Dan Bartlett of Astoria, which made the trip so very pleasant.
Along those same lines, I also really enjoyed visiting the Vancouver area & Victoria again. That time, it was my hubby, Mark, and our dog, Yeti, with us. We had a wonderful time exploring all the beer that the region has to offer and learning so much about its history.
One really memorable time happened when Mark and I decided to take Yeti to a Vancouver doggie day care so we could really hit several places in one day without worrying about her being in the car too long, etc. We wound up being, er, overserved, at our last stop (in actuality it probably was a cumulative thing) and we were having so much fun hanging out with everybody that we lost track of time. The doggie day care was about to close with Yeti in it! We hailed a taxi and asked the driver if he was OK with a dog in his cab. He told us he had transported all kinds of critters — even a ferret — so off we sped to the day care. We got there moments before they were set to close (whew!) and I must say, Yeti very much enjoyed her very first cab ride.
Were you forced to omit anything (we surely can’t think of anything, you’ve really covered a lot) that you had hoped to cover due to constraints of time, space, etc?
LM: I would have loved to have been able to write more about some of the other places listed in the book. They all deserve a big write-up. But the book is supposed to be easy to throw in a backpack or messenger bag, so we had to keep things concise. I also wish that there could have at least been some color photos, because some of those beer shots in the book are very pretty, if I do say so myself (I took almost all the photos, too). But the unromantic side of books (and beer for that matter) is it is a business and they didn’t budget for that.
Did you find it a difficult task to strike a balance between the uber beer geeks who might pick up a copy of your book and those who are just getting their palates wet with craft beer?
LM: Absolutely. The publisher wanted me to write the Beer 101 chapter, and I wanted to use those pages for more beer, and establishment news, reviews, history, stories, etc. But I think now it was a good move. We geek-types tend to forget that the majority of adults really don’t know what IBUs are or even what all goes into beer (or the classic confusion between ales and lagers). It’s never a bad thing to take a moment to do a little educating and outreach. And it actually wound up being one of my favorite chapters to write!
The Northwest beer landscape (and this is especially evident around the the Portland area) appears to be changing so rapidly, it seems nearly impossible to keep current with the state of craft beer in a printed version. Was this a struggle for you going to press? Also, you mentioned releasing updated editions of your book down the road. How often do you think this will happen?
LM: It is hard to keep up, and there are a few places that weren’t open when I was writing the book. But as I say in the intro, because our beer topography changes, I urge readers to think of this book not as a road map but more of a compass to guide their own beer explorations. The history and the stories will always be there — and those are the things you don’t often get in online guides. And I can add those new places in future editions, hopefully (hint, hint to the publishers).
Also, this is the first time in 15 years that a guidebook to sourcing beer in the Pacific NW has been published, so it’s really about time. (Of course, now that I have tackled that subject, I can see why it hadn’t been touched in so long!)
Your book covers the Pacific Northwest as two states and a province rather than, say, “Cascadia” or a specific bioregion. How did you decide upon the parameters for defining Pacific Northwest? Canadian historian Ken S. Coates claims the US-Canada border has not merely influenced the Pacific Northwest—rather, “the region’s history and character have been determined by the boundary.” Did you recognize a significant difference in craft beer culture once you made your way into Canada?
LM: I wanted to write about Cascadia, as I am a Cascadian. But the publisher thought it was too regional a term to sell anywhere else (and really, one of the target audiences is out-of-towners who want to come here to experience our beer culture). The publishers have a really strong connection with British Columbia, so they wanted me to include BC. I wanted to also include Northern California, but they were afraid it was too big a region. In retrospect, I would say they were correct. I can’t imagine also tackling all that the Jefferson State had to offer in addition to what I already wrote about. I’d need a LiverPak — my dream device that quick connects to your body and bypasses your own liver so you can enjoy more beer. (Offline to medical types: Please invent this!)
As for the Canada differences: yes. I very much saw a difference between the states and BC. The beers in BC are heavily influenced by the number of British ex-pats who live there (especially in Victoria). Especially in Vancouver and Victoria, there is a huge interest in cask-conditioned beers; there’s a CAMRA group in Vancouver; and firkin tappings happen weekly. On the whole, their beers tend to hover closer to European styles than our more assertive Northwest styles. But that also is changing a bit as new brewers step in and also as drinkers’ and brewers’ palates evolve. It’s going to be fun to watch what happens up there in the next decade.
What sort of feedback have you received for the book? Do you get a general sense of how it is being received and by whom?
LM: So far, so good! I am hearing from people that they are enjoying the book, and that’s the most important thing. I just want it to help those of us living here take a step or two back every once in a while and try a new place or learn something about an old haunt and really remind us how lucky we are to live here. And I also hope the book serves as a way to reach out to out-of-region beer fans and the beer-curious to entice them to come here and experience the best damn beer culture in the world.
Your book serves as a travel companion for those who love craft beer and are exploring the Pacific Northwest.You also inject some interesting historical context to much of the places you cover. Is there anything else you’d like people to take from reading it?
LM: Passion. From brewer to festival organizer to server to writer to drinker, I am so inspired by the passion that everyone in our beer community has. I hope that passion can be felt in the book. This is going to sound really corny, but after I turned in the first manuscript, a line from an old Jimmy Buffett song sprung in my head: “When I finished that last line, I put the book by itself on the shelf with my heart in it.” That’s pretty much how I feel about this book. I hope readers feel that from me when they use it.
Do you have any ideas for future books?
LM: Oh, sure. But I am just going to enjoy this one for a bit. Writing a book is a very lonely venture, and beer is not a lonely subject. I am looking forward to enjoying the social side of going out and talking about the book and doing book signings at pubs and enjoying beer with friends old and new.
Buy a copy of Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest here.
Visit The Beer Goddess’ official website here.