Patrons enjoy a recent night at Garden Grove Brewing Company during its ongoing Taproom Dinner Series.

Garden Grove Brewing Company to host sustainable and invasive species dinner benefit for Rice Rivers Center

Beer and food selections themed to capture the center’s environmental work

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Most local diners haven’t feasted on fried snakehead fish or drank beer infused with spice bush leaves that have a summery, citrus taste. Food and beer aficionados will be introduced to these and other adventurous offerings during a Rice Rivers Center benefit, part of the Garden Grove Brewing Company’s monthly Taproom Dinner Series.

The event will be held Monday, Aug. 28, at the Garden Grove Brewing Company. Tickets can be purchased on Garden Grove’s website.

Garden Grove head brewer Michael Brandt and Southbound restaurant chef Craig Perkinson will offer beer, wine and food selections paired or created to capture the Rice Rivers Center’s mission to conserve and study Virginia waterways. Each offering will consist of either a native or invasive plant or animal species found in Virginia.

Greg Garman, Ph.D, director, Rice Rivers Center.
Greg Garman, Ph.D, director, Rice Rivers Center.

“Guests will try species that are invasive that they have probably never heard of before unless they are getting a magazine from the Nature Conservancy,” Brandt said. “They will find out these species are tasty and that their impact on the environment is something that is important to learn.”

Greg Garman, Ph.D., director of VCU Rice Rivers Center, will speak to guests about the environmental significance of what is on their plates, and VCU’s work restoring Virginia sturgeon populations, wetlands, oysters and improving water quality.

“This unique ‘eat an invasive’ event is an opportunity to raise awareness about several non-native fishes, such as the blue catfish and northern snakehead, which have the potential to negatively impact native Chesapeake Bay species,” Garman said. “At the same time, we will be raising support for the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program (VOSRP), which helps restore Virginia oysters in coastal rivers. It’s a win-win for diners and the environment.”


The brewer and the chef

Mike Brandt, head brewer, Garden Grove Brewing Company.
Mike Brandt, head brewer, Garden Grove Brewing Company.

Brandt, who graduated from VCU with a master’s degree in environmental studies in 2009, said the benefit is a way for him to give back to the university. Before he was head brewer and owner of Garden Grove Brewing Company, Brandt was an agricultural research scientist at Virginia State University and a pioneer in organic wine grape viticulture in Virginia. 

His zeal for plants and their environs informs his approach to brewing.

“I really love plants, foraging for them and growing them. It makes a more interesting brewery when you have a whole host of ingredients to choose from with different flavors, not just hop heavy, which seems to be the trend at the moment,” Brandt said.

Todd Janeski, director, VOSRP.
Todd Janeski, director, VOSRP.

Brandt also supports his alma mater by volunteering with the VOSRP. He works with crews to place recycled oyster shells on the bottom of Virginia waterways to create a substrate on which oyster offspring, called spat, can adhere. Creating these habitats is essential to oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, said Todd Janeski, director of VOSRP.

Perkinson partners with VOSRP as a chef from one of more than 60 Virginia restaurants that recycle oyster shells. He said supporting the environment is key to his work and partnering with VCU is central to that endeavor.

“I am passionate about where the ingredients I cook with come from. It is important to work with producers that care for the environment that provides the ingredients we consume every day,” Perkinson said. “Working with VCU is important to me because they help foster and develop students and programs that support sustainability.”

Perkinson is the 21st chef to be featured as part of the Garden Grove Brewing Company’s monthly Taproom Dinner Series. The goal of the series is to be an incubator for new cuisine that is meant to entice chefs to stretch their creativity without risk, for one night, Brandt said.

“The chefs get to do something completely different than what is on their restaurant’s menu,” he said. “We have customers who have been to every single dinner.”

Craig Perkinson, chef, Southbound.
Craig Perkinson, chef, Southbound.


The innovative menu

*Items subject to change
A whole hog dish made with Autumn Olive Farms Pork paired with a saison made with berries from the invasive Autumn Olive tree.
Virginia oysters paired with a Peach LemonAID Sparkler, which is a honey wine vinted to support the Anthem charity.
A Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich made with fried snakehead fish, local sea-bean pickles and a crab toe pate paired with a Czech Pils.
The Spice Bush Belgian Gold, a twist on the classic Belgian Gold made with native spice bush leaves foraged by Rice Rivers Center scientist Ed Crawford, Ph.D., paired with a lionfish and Virginia clam ceviche.
Smoked blue catfish paired with a Belgian Dubbel entitled “Minor Threat and the Funkadelic 4.”
A surprise dessert paired with a Thai-inspired ginger ale crafted with lemongrass and sweet orange peel.

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