February 14, 2017 at 10:00 AM
Pizzeria Paradiso owner Ruth Gresser has always been an advocate for gender equality in the restaurant world. And now, for the first time, her craft beer-centric restaurants will have a woman in charge of the beer program.
Drew McCormick, the assistant beverage director for the Paradiso locations in Georgetown, Dupont Circle and Old Town Alexandria, is taking over the role of executive beer director from Josh Fernands, who's moving back to his home state of Maine. McCormick, who has been with the company since 2013, will be in charge of filling the dozens of draft lines and bottle lists at all three bars, as well as coming up with the calendar of special events that has made Paradiso one of the area's best-known craft beer destinations and the winner of the 2015 RAMMY award for Beer Program of the Year. She will be assisted by a new assistant beer director, a woman whose name has not yet been announced.
Washington has seen an increasing number of women in all aspects of the craft beer industry, from the woman-owned Denizens Brewing in Silver Spring and the forthcoming Portner Brewhouse in Alexandria, to positions that involve brewing beer, running taprooms and picking the taps in bars. But it's still relatively rare, especially at high-profile beer bars, to see a woman leading a beer program. "As a woman-owned company, having two women heading the beer program, that excites me," Gresser says.
"For me, being a woman in the beer industry is going to shape a lot of what I do," says McCormick, who studied women's studies at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. She was the driving force behind a "Ladies Night" at Pizzeria Paradiso last September that featured beers from breweries that were owned by women or had prominent female brewers. Gresser says McCormick was responsible for the happy hour hosted at Paradiso after last month's Women's March, which raised money for the League of Women Voters.
On the first Monday of each month, Paradiso's Georgetown location hosts the Monday Night Beer Club, which has themed tap takeovers and tastings. The next one is March 6, and McCormick is already making plans: "International Women's Day is right around Monday Night Beer Club, and we've talked about doing something like 'Women in Brewing: From Alewives to Pink Boots,'" she says.
McCormick's interests, like her favorite beers, run the gamut. She's happy to talk about her favorite hoppy IPAs produced at Bissell Brothers in Portland, Maine and her love of traditional English ales. Her "most recent passion project," as she describes it, is gruit, the ancient style of beer flavored with a mixture of herbs instead of hops. On Feb. 1, she organized a celebration of International Gruit Day at Paradiso — the only event in the region — with nine gruits on tap. "We had people come in, and ordering it and trying flights," she says. "I like to really nerd out about things."
And that, Gresser says, is a perfect example of why McCormick was the first person she thought of as Fernands's successor. "She has so much energy and brings a new, youthful perspective while still having that beer knowledge. She's interested in things on the fringe, even within the craft-beer industry. I like the idea that her interests are in the more esoteric and unique stuff."
Fernands' last day will be Feb. 24. He'll be bartending, with McCormick as his barback, at a farewell party at Pizzeria Paradiso in Dupont on Feb. 16.