Fremont Brewing Company takes its continuing education very seriously; so much so that owner Matt Lincecum set up a study group for employees interested in the Cicerone exam. And as a result, the guy who heads up the brewery's sales and marketing efforts now happens to be one of four people in the state (here are a few others) certified as the beer version of a sommelier. Gish arrived in Seattle to study environmental engineering, got a job in Fremont's tasting room, then went on to experience "the trifecta of beer," working in brewing and production, before landing full-time in his current role.
He doesn't always mention his fancy new Cicerone status when interacting with customers, but Gish says his deep beer knowledge helps in myriad ways. And he still gets to dabble in brewing, helping with Fremont's ever-growing cask infusion program.
How was the process of studying for and taking the exam?
Studying was easy, I stayed up the night before drinking a lot of Moonshot, and watched reruns of that show Brew Masters. Kidding…the exam is intense, covering five topics that umbrella all things beer: keeping and serving beer, beer styles, beer flavor and evaluation, brewing ingredients and process, and pairing beer with food. Starting four months before the exam, myself and six other Fremont folks split up the material and met twice a month to go over the specifics we researched between the meetings. Also during the meetings we tasted beers from each of the recognized BJCP (Beer Judging Certification Program) styles, with one of the group members bringing an appropriate food pairing. Finally, the night before the exam we got together and spiked samples of beer with an off-flavor kit to prepare us for the tasting portion. Honestly, the most valuable preparation has been the eight years I have been brewing, five years of which I have spent working in the industry.
What are some of your favorite local beers?
There is no question, I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning with out the Interurban IPA, Universale Pale Ale, and Summer Ale, all brewed by Fremont Brewing Company. Buy Fremont. If delicious Fremont Beer is out of stock, I would love anything brewed by Sound Brewing in Poulsbo or any of the classic German styles made by Chuckanut Brewing in Bellingham.
What about area places to drink beer?
Among the many wonderful things the state of Washington does for small brewers, one of the top is allowing on-premise sales. This lets breweries open fun hole-in-the-wall tasting rooms Recently I have been having a love affair with the beer garden at Hilliard’s Beer in Ballard. It is usually pretty low key, dogs are welcome, and they have a yummy food truck outside. I think Hilliard’s is one of the best kept secrets in the city, hopefully people have long tired of reading this article and don’t make it down this far. I am also excited about Reuben’s Brews opening (also in Ballard), they will be a great addition to the Seattle brewing community.
Most underrated beer style?
I find craft-brewed lagers to be among the top underrated styles in the Pacific Northwest. A lot of Northwest craft beer drinkers are hop obsessed, looking to get their hands on the next over the top double IPA. I can appreciate this and understand the love of hops, if nothing less, is a reflection of the fact that Washington alone is responsible for 78 percent of U.S. hop production. With this being said, I find well-brewed Czech- and German-style lagers can possess a level of well-rounded malt character balanced by a subtle hop earthiness, characteristics often overlooked in the Americanized English-style ales most craft brewers are making.
Do you have any beer pet peeves?
Self-proclaimed “beer snobs” who don’t drink beer with an open mind. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to attend a beer and cheese pairing symposium at UC Davis lead by Charlie Bamforth. I think he said it best “All beer is good beer, all beer has merit.” I always say there is a time and place for every beer, even if that beer is a 16-ounce ice-cold can of Rainier. Additionally, I cringe when someone over emphasizes the importance of adhering to accepted style guidelines. While these criteria are an important metric for brewers and help craft beer define its-self, a beer drinker should recognize that what they are drinking may not be true to style but its still good.