On a list of the top beer programs in the DC area, Pizzeria Paradiso is, and has been for years, in the very upper echelon. The three locations in Dupont Circle, Georgetown, and Old Town Alexandria are consistent sources of quality events, thoughtfully curated bottle lists, and constantly rotating drafts. For ten years, Greg Jasgur has been a part of making Pizza P’s programs shine. Alas, all good things come to an end, and later this month Jasgur will move onto a new opportunity.
According to Tammy Tuck at the Washington City Paper, Jasgur will leave to open and run Oxbow Brewing’s upcoming barrel house and tasting room in Portland, Maine. The Newcastle, Maine brewery is expanding into a new facility with room for blending and bottling.
We had a chance to speak briefly with Jasgur over the phone. Below is our lightly edited interview with him.
DCBeer: What are your general thoughts about leaving Pizza P? What has being the beer director there meant for you personally and professionally?
Greg Jasgur: I am super proud of what I have done here at Paradiso. When I took it over, it was a much different thing. It was one bar in Georgetown. We didn't rotate our drafts, but we did have 60 bottles. My career has been these bars. It allowed me to get to the point that a brewery I really, really respect has asked me to join their team. I love this place. I love these bars. I took the job when I was 21, and that's a really long time. I just wanted a new challenge and to try something different. I came to George Washington University when I was 18, and I've been in DC a very long time. It's not a comment about DC or a referendum about this city, it's more about something new. I love Oxbow and those guys. I'm a big fan of the beer and what they're doing. There aren't too many breweries I would do this for.
D: Was the arrangement with Oxbow something that was in the works for a while?
GJ: It didn't really come out of the blue. We talked about it in theory. He was down here in February and because we got snowed in, he wound up staying a bunch of time with me. We talked about the project of developing the tasting room. It got a little lightbulb over my head. I asked who was running the taproom, and they had no one in mind. We started the conversation then. In May, I brought my girlfriend up there. She had never been to Portland before…luckily she liked it. We talked about the opportunity, and the job was offered to me the week after that.
D: Can you describe a little more what you expect to be doing day-to-day with the new venture?
GJ: First and foremost, my responsibility is running the tasting room. Our new facility in downtown Portland is going to be all of our conditioning of the barrel-aged program as well as bottling and blending. I am going to be responsible for that space. Half of it will be tasting room. So my foremost responsibility is the staffing and managing of the tasting room, and the other half is logistics with the brewery and distribution and running the events. It's a really small company; Tim [Adams] and Geoff [Masland, Oxbow's co-founders] are busy guys. I'll be taking things off their plate wherever I can help out.
D: What do you think some key differences are between the DC and Portland beer scenes?
GJ: Portland has more breweries to choose from in terms of local Maine beers. It's pretty hyperlocal up there. There seem to be less bars doing beers from all over the world, which is something that I definitely pride myself on at Paradiso. [Portland's] strength is is also its weakness. Really, really good exposure for beers and local breweries but less so for the world of beer. I could be coming from a place of ignorance on that as I haven't had that much to drink in Portland. When I go up there, it's normally to specifically drink local stuff like Oxbow, Maine Beer Company, and Allagash.
D: What was your vision in building Pizza P's beer program to how it is today? Are there specific beers or types of beers you wanted to be known for carrying?
GJ: I always wanted to serve the best, most interesting beer that I could find. Ten years ago when we started there were very few people who were doing this. Having that mentality and ethos was different, so it was easy to stand out. The scene in DC has come such a long way, Paradiso is one of many places doing it now. I wanted anyone who was into craft beer to be able to sit down and have a nice varied program of styles on draft and in bottle as well as a mixture of prices. I wanted to get my hands on the most interesting beer I could get my hands on, especially the new and weird. I personally love dry saisons. Over the years it went from a style where I had to explain to everyone at the bar what it was to one of the most ridiculous styles out there [in terms of variety]. I'm glad to have played a small role of the development of that style in the city.
D: What do you think some of the benefits and challenges of operating a beer program in DC are currently?
GJ: What is a strength to the consumer is a challenge to publicans. There are a lot of places doing really good beers. It has become difficult to stand out from all of the different programs around the city. That is definitely a challenge because there is only so much beer out there.
Fortunately for Pizza P and the DC beer scene, Jasgur is leaving the beer programs in good hands. Sam Fitz, former beer director of Meridian Pint and Smoke and Barrel, will man the helm. Fitz, who left the Pint in April, has been bartending at Derek Brown’s Eat the Rich in the interim.
We also had a chance to catch up with Sam and get his thoughts about the new move.
DCBeer: What attracted you to the Pizzeria Paradiso position?
Sam Fitz: Pizzeria Paradiso has long been recognized as a world-class beer establishment. When I took my former job at Meridian Pint I looked to Pizza P and Greg Jasgur for a model to emulate. The program I built there focused on exciting events, knowledgeable staff, and an ever-changing beer list featuring the best brews in town. These are all hallmarks of Pizza P which, combined with its reputation, made it a perfect fit for me to continue my career. I jumped at the opportunity to take this job!
D: How does the Pizza P program differ from Meridian Pint's, if at all?
SF: It would be interesting to answer this question again in a year, but from an outsider's perspective I would say beer selection. Meridian Pint, focusing on American craft beer in a neighborhood setting, needs an accessible, all-encompassing, draft list. Pizzeria Paradiso, in bustling Dupont Circle, stands out with its selection of unique, rare, and obscure drafts from all over the world. A larger and more diverse bottle list at Pizza P helps afford this mentality as customers can usually find recognizable brands and products on the shelves.
D: Each of the top beer programs in the city has its own feel, its own preferred breweries to work with/styles to stock. What do you associate with Pizza P now, if anything, specifically?
SF: The world's most prominent beer importers. Shelton Brothers, B. United, and 12 Percent have incredible catalogues, and Pizza P has been at the forefront of showcasing their wares in addition to cutting edge American breweries like Oxbow, Perennial, and The Bruery.
D: What are some of the more memorable beers you've had recently?
SF: I've spent the better part of the past two months learning cocktails from Rob Tinney and Derek Brown at Eat The Rich. It's been a real pleasure getting an education in something completely new from two experts, and it has reinvigorated my desire to branch out in the beer world. New offerings from Off Color have been exciting, and Greg has exposed me to some awesome stuff from Freigeist. With that being said, Ornette at Right Proper is still a true pleasure, Ways and Means from Port City knocked my socks off, and Bell's Two Hearted in a can is an experience I feel like I should have been afforded years ago.
D: Looking at the landscape of the DC beer scene, what do you think some current strengths and challenges are for a beer program/director?
SF: It wasn't too many years ago that finding a good craft beer in DC required a calculated trip to one of a few quality watering holes. Now good beer is the norm, and craft beer is featured in most every establishment from fun dives to upscale restaurants. It is a real challenge to stand out in this scene and be known for going above and beyond and not just picking good beer. Overseeing a program that prides itself in doing so requires creativity and a commitment to excellence, and succeeding in this challenge is a huge boon for any bar or restaurant in a very saturated market. Accordingly, bringing customers in the door and sending them out happy should be the biggest strength of any beverage program.
Our very best wishes and sincere thanks to Greg Jasgur for his role in building the DC beer scene to what it is, and best of luck to Sam Fitz in his new role!
Be sure to look for a listing on DCBeer for a final shift for Greg commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. Jasgur notes that his last shift coincides with the 45th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, so he's going to pour "six beers with a moon theme…the other half of the lines will be some secrets that I've been holding onto. I want to leave Sam with a strong cellar program, but I'm going to take some off that list for my last shift."