Ken Morrison: The Beer Czar

Ken Morrison, The Beer Czar blogger, photographed at Craft 64 in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

Ken Morrison, The Beer Czar blogger, photographed at Craft 64 in Scottsdale, by Nicki Escudero

Ken Morrison

Ken Morrison is a craft beer expert whose passion for the frothy drink extends to his blog, where he talks about everything beer-related as the Beer Czar. The 42-year-old Gilbert resident, who works for Bank of America as an operations analyst for workforce management and staffing, touches on everything from how to cook with beer, to coverage on where to get local brews in the Valley.

Morrison shared more about why he’s so fervent about craft beer and gave his tips for brewskie beginners. You can also hear him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

Winter. I was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and grew up in northern Maine. My parents moved out here while I was in college in southern New Hampshire at Franklin Pierce College. The winter we had during my senior year of college was one of the worst winters on record. I was studying fine arts and education, and on my way to student teaching one day, I did a 360 in my car in the snow. I vowed to myself that was going to be the last winter I’d ever spend in New England. I moved to Arizona after I graduated and have been here ever since.

When I first came to Arizona, I was a teacher for a few years. I then moved into finance and have continued working in that field.

How did the Beer Czar get started?

I started it about eight years ago. I was always posting my beers on Facebook and have been into craft beer since college, in 1995. Craft beer was in its infancy for the mainstream at the time, and I’d always have people ask me questions about beer. My Facebook was becoming this repository for beer information. A buddy of mine suggested starting a blog, and it was the time President Obama had just been elected. Republicans were going crazy because he was appointing all these czars, including a food czar, so I made myself the self-appointed Beer Czar.

What made you interested in craft beer?

A friend of mine from Colorado brought a beer to my graduation party, from this “new” brewery no one had ever heard of called New Belgium Brewery. One was Fat Tire, and one was their Sunshine Wheat.

I had always been aware of beer because my older brother is a chef and was into import beer. I never had really tried too much of it, though, but the Fat Tire was different than anything that was in our area. I remember it just blowing me away. It was the first beer I’d ever had with the reaction, “This is incredible,” and I started looking for more similar beers.

Growing up in Maine, my favorite animal has always been a moose. A friend of mine was on a hunting trip in Montana where Big Sky Brewing Company is, and he brought me back a six-pack of Moose Drool as a joke. I tried, loved it and thought it was incredible.

There was a brewery opening in New Hampshire called Elm City Brewing Company, which had a lot of guest taps come on. I hung out there a lot and learned about more craft beers.

What sort of content can people expect from your blog?

The blog doesn’t provide hardcore content for people like home brewers or beer traders, people who are deeply embedded in the beer community. My blog is more for those people who were kind of like I was when I had that first Fat Tire. Maybe it’s someone who has been drinking Bud Light their whole life, and they go to a barbecue, and someone hands them a Sam Adams. They think it’s really good and want to find more of it.

It’s an educational blog to help those people, once they find a great beer, to take that next step and figure out where to find more. There are tips on how to enjoy it, what to look for and basic beer information.

How do you define craft beer?

The Brewers Association has a really clear definition, but the line is becoming more blurred. Sam Adams is still a craft beer, but they’re making upwards of 5 million barrels a year now. Breweries like New Belgium are becoming really large, but they’re no less craft beer to me. They’re not owned by a huge corporation, and compared to Budweiser, they’re still brewed in small amounts.

Why should people become interested in craft beer?

It’s like if you’re eating steak and potatoes every day — that’s good, but you’re missing everything else. So many of my friends are Miller Lite or Bud Light fans. It’s like the people who go to the same vacation spot every year – there’s an entire world you’re missing out on because you keep going to the one thing. Yes, that one thing is good to go back to, but why go there every time?

Even in Arizona, there is always something different to find. You don’t have to drink the same beer twice if you don’t want to. My two rules are that I always have to try something I’ve never had before, and I have to get something local. They’re really easy rules to follow here.

Why is it important to support local beer?

You buy that beer, and that money stays here and contributes so much more to the local economy than beer that’s brewed anywhere else, even in Colorado or California. The Arizona beer community is so good, there’s no reason not to support it.

What makes you passionate about beer?

It’s the variety you can get and all the innovations that are going on. It’s fun and exciting and new. I love the way it tastes. No one gets their friends together to have a good time over iced tea. It’s a social lubricant that gets people to relax. It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re drinking a beer.

What is your favorite type of beer?

I always say it’s the one I’m drinking.

I’m not into IPAs. I don’t get excited about them. I like imperial coffee stouts that are barrel-aged. I love the SunUp White Russian, which has a deep chocolaty, nutty taste.

For people new to drinking craft beers, what advice do you have for them?

The first thing a bartender should ask you if you ask them what they recommend is, “What do you currently like?” It’s about taking baby steps towards something new.

My biggest recommendation is not to get one beer, but to get a flight of samples. Most breweries will have less than 10 beers on tap, so you’ll be able to better try all they have with flights. Any reputable beer bar will be more than happy to pour you a sample or two, as well.

What Arizona beer would you say stands out the most to you?

I absolutely love Historic [Brewing Company]’s Pie Hole Porter. Porters are one of my favorite styles, and that one has some cherry in it. To me, it’s pretty much everything I love about beer.

The SunUp White Russian is another one I really like, and I like the Citrana from Borderlands Brewing Co. in Tucson, which is a really crispy, orangey, summer beer that’s fabulous.

Do you have any food/beer pairing recommendations?

It’s generally the same as wine – lighter beers go better with fish and seafood, while darker beers go better with heavier foods like steak.

One of my favorite pairings is to get a Belgian white with a seafood ceviche. I had it once at a beer dinner at El Palacio in Chandler, and it was incredible.

Also, if you have a porter with chocolate, it’s great.

Do you have any hangover prevention tips?

The older I get, the more I realize the only way to avoid a huge hangover is to not get really drunk.

Hair of the dog doesn’t really cure a hangover – it more lessens the effects and drags them out over a longer period. You can get a citrusy, orange wheat beer and make a beer-mosa out of it with some orange juice.

What are your favorite places in Arizona to get craft beer?

I love the concept of Craft 64 in Scottsdale. It has 36 tap handles of all local beers, and most of the ingredients in the food are local, too.

The regular hangout for me is World of Beer in Gilbert because it’s so close to me. The staff is very helpful there and well-trained, so they’re great at making recommendations.

What are your goals with your blog?

To have fun, and maybe help people have fun with craft beer. I’m a fairly opinionated person, so it’s going to come out sometimes, but I try to stay as unbiased as possible. I rarely do reviews because taste is so subjective. It’s a general beer blog, but I try to cover local as much as possible and include beer announcements on it.

What would you say characterizes the Arizona beer scene?

We’re a warm weather state, so we have a lot of really good warm weather beers. For example, Arizona Wilderness is really big on sours, and SanTan classifies their beers as Southwest-style ales.

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