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Bluejacket: Changing the Face of Breweries in DC

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Forbidden Planet: a crush-able dry hopped kolsch

The beer scene of our Nation’s capital is burgeoning, and we’re all along for the ride.

With Bluejacket set to open next week as the fifth brewery within the District since 2011, this ride is about to get a facelift.

When Christian Heurich Brewing Company shuttered the doors in 1956, DC spent roughly 55 years without a brewery to call its own. Luckily for us, 3 Stars, Atlas Brew Works, Chocolate City, and DC Brau have opened for business since 2011. Two more, Hellbender Brewing Company and the long-awaited Bluejacket, plan to open sometime in 2013.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the potential that Bluejacket has, but outside of reviewing their beers, we haven’t detailed why you should be excited about this place.

Bluejacket is run by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (NRG). The people behind countless hot DC beer spots, including Churchkey, Rustico, Red Apron, GBD, and countless more. They know how to put their finger on the pulse of the beer world. The patience that director Greg Engert shows with his various beer bars and restaurants will surely pay dividends when it comes his own beer. With the styles that Bluejacket plans to focus on– sours, farmhouse ales, pale ales, IPAs, and barrel aged beers of all types, that patience should result in the most complex beers that the District has to offer.

Don’t call this brewery that serves food a “brewpub.” It’s so much more than that. This is a full 200-seat restaurant named Arsenal, that also has a bar…and a production brewery on top of it. Make sure to wear sneakers if you get a brewery tour, as it involves stairs.

“I call this setup my daily workout,” says head brewer Megan Parisi. After ascending the three flights of stairs, I can certainly attest to its difficulty.

One of the key things that sets Bluejacket apart from other local breweries is the sheer amount of equipment that it has at its disposal. Bluejacket’s maximum production volume is 5,000 barrels per year, but has an absurd 19 fermentation vessels. For comparison,  in 2012 DC Brau has 5,800 barrels but only 8 fermentation tanks. The amount of equipment, though, won’t boost their brewing capacity; their tanks are 1/2 to 1/4 the size of DC Brau’s. These smaller tanks will give Bluejacket the option to ferment a more diverse range of beers rather than of more of fewer beers. This will result in giving we drinkers more options, but in smaller quantities, and a move that is likely adding to the hype of surrounding Bluejacket’s beers.

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A sneak peak into the “Sour Room,” which is quarantined off from the rest of the brewery

Bluejacket also will utilize four things that any brewery in the United States would be jealous of: a lab, an open fermenter, 60 barrels, and a coolship. I got up close and personal with one of the most famous coolships in the world at Belgium’s Cantillon, and can personally attest to the quality of the sour beer that comes from coolships. The idea of a coolship is to cool the wort of the beer in a wide, shallow pool that allows for wild, natural yeasts to take over the process. The lab will allow Bluejacket to isolate its own yeasts, benefiting not only its sour beer making, but also allowing the brewery to create its own “brand” of yeast. The open fermentation tank will allow Bluejacket to impart more estery flavors into its beers, especially styles like lagers and pilsners. Finally, the brewery has space to house 60 barrels, at least 20 of which are dedicated to a special, isolated, sour room.

Unfortunately for NRG, all of this equipment doesn’t make the beer itself. They hit it big with the hiring of Megan Parisi, formally of Cambridge Brewing Company. She has been crossing not only the country, but a few oceans, to spread the Bluejacket name. While DC permit makers dragged their feet while grasping at the idea of a brewery that also serves food and its beer on-premise, she has been busy brewing collaborations with everyone from Cigar City in Florida, The Bruery and Stone in California to De Struise in Belgium. The beers that Bluejacket has brewed to date have piqued the tastebuds of many a greater DC area beer drinker and given us a sneak peak of the greatness that is sure to come.

What makes us most excited is the crazy goals that Bluejacket has set  for its status quo once the brewery opens. They plan to run 20 house-brewed drafts and 5 house-conditioned cask ales at all times, along with an assortment of house beers in bottle sizes ranging from 375-milliliter to the Jeroboams, which are bottles typically reserved for wine.  This sets Bluejacket apart because the breweries currently open in DC only offer one or two days of being open and focus on growler fills, aside from select bottle releases, and/or cans. For Bluejacket to commit to that many constant taps is a major step forward for District-brewed beer.

Bluejacket has no “year-round” beer. The flexibility offered to them by the reasons above allow them to let the beer do the talking. Accordingly, Megan plans to let the beer define itself; “If people come in and say ‘I need Forbidden Planet’ enough times,” a hopped up Kolsch, “then we’ll take the customer’ sword and brew more.”

This crowd sourcing approach means that if enough people like one, specific beer, then that beer will be brewed more often. It’s a model that any brewery in the world would love to follow. Bluejacket just so happens to be in the right place at the right time.

What does this all tell us? That the ever-growing DC beer scene is about to get a jolt of energy that it may never recover from. And that the beer drinkers of the District should be excited.  This beer drinker, couldn’t be more excited.

They won’t commit to an opening date, but if I told you to clear your schedules for Tuesday, 29 October…you should take my word on it.

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Written by Russ Beck

Russ can trace his beginnings in craft beer to sitting in Zeno’s Pub in State College drinking various craft beer options from across Pennsylvania. Since then, he has never faltered in finding new brews, whether they’re rare, delicious, or hopefully both. Russ will be writing on a large variety of subjects, including but not limited to: reviews, homebrewing, and how to take labels off of beer bottles. He’ll drink just about anything, but prefers a nice Stout, IPA, or Weizenbock. Find Russ Beck on Google Plus

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