Serious Reads: Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest by Lisa M. Morrison


[Photographs: Timber Press, author photo by Colin Westcott]

The first beer I drank was in high school and came from a shiny silver can. It was cold and pale and tasted terrible. Drinking it was a chore. Years later, in college, I sat at a bar and gingerly took a sip from the pint glass in front of me. The beer was crisp, clean, and slightly fruity. I was hooked.

Thanks to Lisa M. Morrison, author of Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest: A Beer Lover's Guide to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, I know that beer, a Ruby Ale from the McMenamins empire, is a beer that "many a newbie craft beer fan has cut his or her teeth on." And thanks to Morrison, even more regional craft beers are in my future, as I happily drink and read my way through this informative and easy to read book.

The book is far more than just a list of breweries, tasting rooms, and pubs. It's an in-depth look at the Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia brew scene that is spiked with history, factoids, and profiles of Pacific Northwest beer pioneers.

Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest begins by charting the history of beer, from Post-Prohibition and the flavorless, fizzy stuff that Morrison describes as the "cheap white bread of the beer world," to the artisan product of today. Next comes a primer: Beer 101. In easily one of the best parts of this book, Morrison details how beer is made, describes different beer styles, and demystifies geeky beer lingo and vocab. It's especially useful for those of us who (shamefully) believed a beer is just a beer.

Thanks to Morrison I know it isn't. And the Pacific Northwest—the "cradle of the craft beer movement"—is more than deserving of a deeper look. Morrison provides focus by demonstrating the importance of a beer's terroir. Rather than being influenced by soil and sun (like wine), beer's terroir comes from the personality of the brewmaster and the culture of the brewery. Oregonians drink 40% of the draft beer produced in the state. "Since there are no large, industrial breweries in Oregon, that is all craft beer."

The book's greatest weakness is also its strength: this book demands attention—though there are maps and pub crawls and lists of bottle shops, the bulk of this book is narrative. Don't just toss this one in the glovebox and wait for a neon beer sign to appear. Read it with a pencil in hand, then write your plans for beer nirvana in the blank note pages in the back of the book.

You'll be tempted no matter which province you pick. Though I'm biased towards Oregon (I'd love to spend a day wandering the so-called "Beermuda Triangle" of inner Southeast Portland that's dominated by bottle shops and breweries with intoxicating names: The Beermongers, Apex, Hedge House, and Victory Bar), chapters about Washington and British Columbia also had my mouth watering. I'm intrigued by Naked City Brewery and Taphouse in the Greenwood neighborhood, which boasts 24 rotating beers from Pacific NW breweries PLUS their own brews. In a move that embraces tech-centric Seattle, you can even get real time alerts from Naked City whenever a new keg is tapped.

And when I get to Vancouver, B.C. this summer, I can't wait to order a Canadian cream ale—an English style beer that's dark, malty, and may have notes of chocolate, nuts, or even fruit. In case you're curious, the reason for the discrepancy between the American and Canadian version of cream ale can be blamed on R&B Brewing Co's Raven Cream Ale, a cream ale that's so popular (yet atypical) it's changing the way that Vancouverites make and consume beer.

One warning—if you don't live or regularly travel to the Pacific Northwest, watch out. You'll be itching to toss this book into a bag and board a flight. Because as the late Don Younger, the proprietor of Portland, Oregon's Horse Brass Pub, told Morrison, "it's about the beer." Drink on.