Some bartenders may say they know beer, but Blake Fitzgerald has the credentials to back it up.
Fitzgerald, who works at Josh’s Taps & Caps in Snohomish, is one of about 5,000 certified cicerones — the beer equivalent of sommelier for wine — in the world. The designation, the second of four tiers in the Cicerone Certification Program, makes him an indisputable beer expert.
Not bad for a guy who used to be a doorman.
Here, Fitzgerald, 26, of Kirkland, shares how he got into bartending, his one bar trick and his favorite brews.
When did you know you wanted to be a bartender?
I always liked the idea of being a bartender just because it seemed like a fun job. I got my first bartending gig when I was 21 at this little restaurant in Kirkland called The Slip. After that, I moved to Flatstick Pub, and I was there for about three years, and worked my way up from the doorman to the beer program manager. Then I moved to 20 Corners Brewing in Woodinville, just because I needed a change, and was there for a year. I was working at that time on getting certified as a cicerone. I’ve been a certified cicerone for a little over a year.
You were a doorman?
I was just checking IDs. They also had some games setup in the hallway, so I was there to make sure people didn’t take their drinks too far where they weren’t supposed to. I met a lot of people who were regulars. Even though I wasn’t serving, people would just come by just to say hi, even if they weren’t coming inside.
Did you ever mess up making drinks?
The Slip was a dive bar. You observed, and they’d teach you things when it was slow. One day, somebody called out and I was behind the bar. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew how to make drinks, obviously, but I was certainly very nervous. I don’t think I screwed up too bad — I mean, I didn’t burn the place down. I didn’t do any flaming Dr Pepper drinks or anything like that, but it was definitely a little bit nerve-wracking to be in charge of the bar. You’re waiting to see how people react to me making cocktails for the third time in my life. It was fun. I worked my way up, and eventually got really comfortable serving and making cocktails.
So no bar tricks from you?
I never got into flare bartending or anything like that. But I’ve gotten pretty good at sliding the mug down the bar top from one end to the other without it spilling too much.
What brought you to Snohomish?
I’ve been here since Josh’s Taps & Caps opened in 2016. I actually grew up across the street from owners Josh and Mara Arnold in Snohomish. I’ve known them for a long time. I lived in Wenatchee, and I would visit Snohomish every other weekend to see my dad and stepmom. The Arnolds knew I was getting into beer, and at the time I was working at Flatstick. I knew the beer scene in Washington, and they were looking for somebody part-time to fill in on Mondays. It was cool. I had a lot of regulars, which was really cool to have people come in just to see you; it’s a really wonderful feeling. I’ve been working full time since March and it’s just been fantastic.
Why did you become a beer cicerone?
My parents and I would always go on road trips in the summer, and they’d hit up different breweries. I’d have the root beer that they brewed, if that was available, but I always thought it was really cool that they were going out trying these new beers. I really liked the sense of camaraderie and just the social aspect of it. A lot of times, people weren’t there to get drunk. They were just there to enjoy themselves. It was about community. I just really wanted to learn more about beer and found out about cicerone certification through my dad.
How do you leverage your beer knowledge with your work?
There are people who come in who maybe don’t know so much about beer, so it’s my job to help them figure out what they want. They may come in and say, “I had this IPA and I really liked it, but I don’t know who made it.” I’ll ask them what it tasted like or what they liked about it, and that helps me figure out what they want to drink.
What’s your favorite brew right now?
My favorite thing on tap right now would be Spada Farmhouse Brewery’s Sarah, which is a blueberry wild ale. The aroma makes your mouth water a little bit. As far as flavor goes, it’s got raspberry, blackberry and a little bit of blueberry, but it’s subtle. It’s almost like having a blueberry lemonade. The carbonation on it is perfect, it’s not too high. It’s not one of those beers that foams up in your mouth too much. And it’s local, for one. I really like to support local. Even though I don’t live in Snohomish, my heart’s here. I did grow up partially here. It’s cool that somebody outside of Seattle is doing sours and spontaneously fermented beers.
Any hidden gems we should know about?
Yes, there’s 3 Fountains, which means “Three Mountains” in Flemish. It’s from a lambic brewery and only made in Belgium. It’s a blend of one-year, two-year and three-year lambic. It’s quite the process to make it. That’s become my favorite style of beer. It’s just super complex. It’s described as almost cheesy, sometimes with apple and pear. Sometimes you even get some stone fruits coming out of it. It’s just absolutely delicious.
Hot take: Tap or bottle beer?
I would say bottled beer, which I realize is probably not the popular choice. Lambic brews, Belgium strong ales — a lot of those are meant to be consumed from the bottle because they’re bottle-conditioned. They’re adding a little bit of sugar to the bottle, and that’s allowing it to evolve over time and also to carbonate in the bottle in some instances. It’s just really cool to maybe have a bottle of the exact same beer two years apart and taste the difference.
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, email@example.com. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
If you go
Josh’s Taps & Caps, 1800 Bickford Ave., Suite 210, Snohomish, is open 1 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Call 360-217-7221 or go to www.joshstapsandcaps.com for more information.