‘I Don’t Get Sick of Beer’
Men drink beer; women are on billboards selling it.
That’s the stereotype Drew McCormick is trying to break. She became Pizzeria Paradiso’s first female Beer Director last February, and has spent the past year championing women in the industry.
‘Women were actually the original brewers of beer, back when it was more of a household chore. With commercialization, it got taken over as a male profession. It’s about expanding people’s understanding of what beer is and what it can be. It doesn’t always have to be the yellowy lager that you remember your dad drinking when you were a kid.’
Centuries before your father’s Yuengling, women were making gruit—a beer brewed without hops, and spiced with ‘old-style’ herbs like wild rosemary and mugwort. Today, Drew is reintroducing the style to a new generation of beer drinkers.
‘We started using hops for their preservative quality and pulled away from what were sometimes deemed ‘witchcraft herbs’ that had other medicinal factors and were used to spice gruit. I love that this style of beer, which represents a time when women were brewing, has become part of my identity in this role.’
If gruits aren’t your thing, Pizzeria Paradiso has 200 other bottles to choose from, in addition to 12 draft lines upstairs, and eight draft lines and 50 cans in the downstairs bar. Drew is responsible for ordering each one and writing its menu description—the latter often more challenging than expected.
‘When you have six IPAs in a row, it’s like, ‘OK, this one’s also very grapefruit-y and aromatic.’
Growing up in southern Maine, Drew didn’t realize a career in beer was possible. She’d worked in restaurants since she was 15, but the booming dining scene was extremely seasonal—working 12-hour days, six days a week for six months, then nothing.
‘I decided to live in a city for one year and see what happened. I always loved beer, and I loved drinking it, and then other people started caring about it. What happened to wine years and years ago started to happen with the craft beer scene.’
New York was too big, and Boston had all the tourists Drew saw each summer in Maine. She landed on D.C., and started working at Pizzeria Paradiso’s Dupont location soon thereafter—expecting to grow tired of city life sooner rather than later.
Five years later, she’s still here.
So, too, is the craft beer movement. No longer wine’s rough and tumble cousin, brews are finally getting the attention Drew says they deserve—both in the way they’re made, and consumed.
‘First you want to pour it in a way where you’re creating head and releasing some of the aromatics. You can give it a little swirl, which agitates the head again and releases even more aromatics. Then you give it a sniff, the same way you do with wine. We talk a lot about the bloodhound method, where you sniff the beer a lot of times instead of taking one deep inhale. Then you suck it through your teeth like you do with wine. Of course you can also just take a sip of it.’
Asking a beer director to pick her favorite brew is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child, but Drew does have seasonal preferences. In the summer, she leans toward farmhouse ales and saisons—‘light but still a little funky, still with a little booze in them’—as well as sour beers. In the winter, classic, hearty English porters.
‘It changes all the time. People are doing crazy things with beer, especially in today’s world when everyone wants the next hot thing; something weird, something visually appealing. There are so many different beers out there that I don’t get sick of them.’
One of the weirdest beers Drew has tried was opened during one of Pizzeria Paradiso’s monthly beer classes. It was the first one Drew attended, and the first time she felt truly inspired.
‘It was a beer brewed by Verhaeghe called Duchesse De Bourgogne, which has a distinct balsamic vinegar flavor to it that can be strange for some people. I tasted it and was like, ‘What is going on here, what am I tasting?’ In that moment, a light bulb went on, and I realized the true possibilities of beer—especially with food pairings, and appealing to people who drink wine. I’ve since convinced a few people who normally drink red wine to try that exact beer, and they’ve had that same moment of realization.’
After diving into the deep end during her first year, Drew says she’s looking forward to bringing in a lot of new beer in 2018, doing more collaborations with local breweries, and pulling away from the classic tap takeover in favor of more creative beer-centric events.
She recently made the decision to stick with cans for the new game room in Pizzeria Paradiso’s basement bar, and says it’s one trend she’s closely following.
‘There’s still a bit of hesitation from people of an older generation because cans used to taste like metal, but that isn’t the case anymore. They’re lighter to ship, easier to recycle, they block 100% of the light—which is great for beer in an illuminated cooler—and the amount of advertising space you have is larger. The design can be prettier and more visually appealing, and there’s more of it to see. There’s less brand loyalty now, and more what can looks cool. And why not?’
And yet, for every cool can and weird beer she tries, Drew says some of her favorite memories are the simplest. Back in Maine, sitting at her mom’s big, round kitchen table, opening a bottle of beer.