By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Lisa Morrison, aka “The Beer Goddess,” loves a challenge, especially when it comes to beer. She jumps heart first into all her ventures and success follows this passionate trailblazer.
Her newest challenge is Belmont Station, the premier bottle shop in Portland with more than 1,300 varieties of beer and 23 different taps, including cider, in the Biercafé. Two years ago Morrison became a co-owner of Belmont Station, a 51 percent owner to be exact, with Carl Singmaster.
Morrison said she often jokingly asked her friend Carl if he wanted to sell. One day he said yes.
“It was around the time that my husband Mark and I were talking about ideas for retirement. We threw out the idea of owning a bottle shop, and then it happened,” said Morrison.
It was, and still is, a whole new experience, learning about the retail and bar side of beer. She manages daily operations, orders beer, receives beer, supervises 14 staff members and keeps her eye on the entire shop, including the inviting outside patio area and adjacent Italian food cart.
“Keeping all the balls in the air is the hardest part of the job,” she said, “but I like wearing a lot of different hats.”
Morrison traces her interest in beer to a college friend at Colorado State who introduced her to flavorful German beers and her husband Mark Campbell who introduced her to homebrewing.
Fast forward through a successful journalism career in television and radio to a burnout time in Portland where she was doing freelance video work and considering her next move. She envied well-known beer writer Fred Eckhardt, taking notes and tasting brews at festivals.
Citysearch was just starting up in Portland and Morrison wrote a few restaurant reviews for them, often mentioning the beer lists. Her editor then asked her to write a beer column.
She only wrote one before she was approached by her former employer KOIN-TV to develop the broadcaster’s first website. If she accepted, the beer column was dead. So she took the job on condition that she could write a beer column. That’s how “First Draft” started.
It was one of the first beer columns online and definitely the first written by a woman. More important, it was Morrison’s beginning as a professional beer author. “I was learning about beer as I went along. At first, I didn’t know what I was doing,” she explained.
Although the broadcast website was groundbreaking, exciting work with only three stations across the country in Portland, Los Angeles and Minneapolis developing guidelines at the time for significant ethical issues, Morrison’s future was in the craft beer world. Her column eventually caught the attention of national beer publications. By 2008 she had so many assignments she was writing full time.
Writing led to her first radio gig as a co-host on a show called “The Libation Station.” It didn’t last. “But Don Younger, of the Horse Brass, thought Portland, of all places, should have a beer radio show. So, he pitched it to KXL that I would buy the airtime and sell advertising to breweries, bars and other places to pay myself back.” “Beer O’Clock” launched and Morrison entertained and educated listeners with interviews and conversation for more than six years. During that time she was also working on “Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest,” which was released March 30, 2011. She wanted to create a book that would be a companion for beer lovers when traveling, touring or living in the Pacific Northwest.
“I didn’t want to write a guide book that listed every brewery with a short blurb because it would be outdated as soon as it was in print. Instead, I made it a collection with stories from each location and I visited all of the ones in the book. What you will find in the pages are places to source good beer and a good vibe with friendly, helpful passionate people in all corners of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. And you get some insider knowledge about each spot,” said Morrison.
Another opportunity came her way when Fred Bowman from Portland Brewing mentioned there wasn’t any marketing or advertising to women about beer. She quickly decided to change that and began presenting classes to women about beer. The first sessions were held once a month at Portland Brewing with a small group that tasted and tested different styles of beer. She gave them cheat sheets to take home and later gave them key words to use when selecting beers.
Morrison would intentionally challenge preconceived ideas about taste and serve a dark, chocolaty stout beer first. Her ground rule was that all participants had to taste everything and often women who thought they didn’t like dark beers would change their minds. “It was fun to be able to open people’s eyes,” said Morrison. She has offered classes at breweries, at a beer festival in Quebec, at a Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Convention in Seattle, using all different brands of beers.
“The beer community is so cooperative, so unique and friendly,” said Morrison. In appreciation for the support and generosity, Morrison, in turn, has founded several fundraisers for the beer community.
The day we met, Belmont Station was hosting a fundraiser that evening for a brewery in Belgium. Three generations of family farmers in 2008 opened a sustainable brewery using their own grain, hops, barley, water and yeast. Morrison had an opportunity to visit it last year. Unfortunately, it caught fire in January. At the fundraiser, they were serving the Belgium brewery’s beer.
Ten years ago Morrison started FredFest to honor the Dean of American Beer Writers, Fred Eckhardt, who began writing about beer in the 1960s. On his 80th birthday, Morrison and friends held a birthday celebration at Hair of the Dog Brewing with beer tasting, cake, candles and fun. His birthday is May 10, but the festival is held the Sunday before to avoid conflict with Mother’s Day. Every year Fred chooses the charity.
Morrison also organizes Sasquatch Brew Am, a golfing event at McMenamins Edgefield, held annually on the Friday of the Oregon Brewers Festival in July. The fundraiser is for the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation. Glen was a well-loved and highly-respected brewer in Eugene who died tragically in 2002 while working on a car. The money goes to Northwest brewers for education to improve their craft. “I love being able to do good through good beer,” said Morrison.
Right now, she loves the chance at Belmont Station to “talk beer” one-on-one. “Maybe it’s just chatting with a regular about the new beer on tap, turning a customer on to a new style or just helping an out-of-towner looking for great Oregon IPAs, but I get to really talk with people and see those ‘aha’ moments.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.