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One of Pizzeria Paradiso’s new beer director’s first priorities is spreading the word about a style of beer she’s giddy over called gruit (or grut). Drew McCormick, who took the reins from Josh Fernands, is ushering beer drinkers away from hop-forward suds and towards gruits, which are brewed with botanicals in a method unlike the process of making gin.
McCormick further describes gruit beers as coming from the 15th and 16th centuries. The word can describe a type of beer but also a mixture of herbs. “You brew a gruit by putting gruit into it,” McCormick explains. Gruit notes run the gamut of sweet flowery flavors, like orange blossom, to more herbaceous undertones like pennyroyal, chamomile, or lapsang souchong tea. They can be mildly yeasty or slightly tart and astringent.
She first discovered gruits at Earth Eagle Brewings in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This year she drove more than 1,000 miles to get there to bring back two small kegs of William Wallace—a beer brewed with Scottish ingredients fashioned after the medieval ale. She’s become so smitten with gruits that she hosted the only International Gruit Day event in an over 200-mile-radius on Feb. 1 at Pizzeria Paradiso Dupont, where she poured nips from one of the William Wallace kegs.
She tapped the other keg at Pizzeria Paradiso Georgetown’s basement bar, known as Birreria Paradiso, during the bar’s Monday Night Beer Club. McCormick plans to keep gruits on menu as long as possible.
Currently Gruit Vibrations Pale by Freigeist Bierkultur is available in Georgetown.
Training staff on selling the new style was one of the first hurdles McCormick faced in her new gig. “Our staff does a huddle up, a pre-shift meeting,” McCormick says. Describing gruits was on the agenda for the first two weeks. “They were getting a little upset with me … but if they explain gruit perfectly to the customer, it’s worth it.”
McCormick is now managing menu curation, draft maintenance, and server training at Pizzeria Paradiso’s three locations. She’s the first-ever female beer director for the company, which has locations in Dupont Circle, Georgetown, and Alexandria. She’s time constrained but wants to make sure she’s able to pursue things that are important to her including collaborating with female-run breweries.
Pizzeria Paradiso has teamed up with others in the past, but McCormick says she’s stoked for a forthcoming collaboration with Denizens Brewing Company and its co-founder, Julie Verratti. The two first worked together for the Women’s March on Washington, when Pizzeria Paradiso sold Denizen’s Lowest Lord ESB and donated the proceeds to the League of Women Voters.
McCormick says both Pizzeria Paradiso owner Ruth Gresser and DC Brewers Guild Executive Director Kathy Rizzo have been supportive of her in her new role. “Kathy has been really encouraging … and I am very excited to work with her to bring women and beer together a little bit more and make it less of a boy’s club.”
Pizzeria Paradiso, multiple locations, eatyourpizza.com