We spent a few days off to celebrate my birthday in D.C. and for some much needed time catching up on our blog, not to mention avoiding the 6-8 inches of snow that fell overnight and shut down the government for a day. After the weather had cleared up and returned to its typical cold and gloomy self, we took to our sole brewery visit in the District of Columbia at Bluejacket on 3/19/14. High rent and limited warehouse space nearly drove them to the suburbs before they found an exciting space in 2008 and they have rented 7,000 sq. ft. of a nearly century old 73,000 sq. ft. boilermaker facility in the D.C. Navy Yard’s Annex. After several years of detailed planning, the brewery opened in late 2013. We met with Greg Engert, beer director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, an organization that is responsible for over 18 different businesses in the area including the popular craft beer destination ChurchKey/Birch & Barley.
Bluejacket is looking to produce around 2,000-2,500 bbl in its first year but was built with the capacity for 5,000 bbl. The production brewery is beautifully displayed on the 5,000 sq. ft. of space on the 2nd and 3rd floor mezzanines while the ground floor features The Arsenal restaurant. Much of the equipment was specially build to fit into this unique space, including the Premier Stainless 15 bbl direct fire brewhouse. The 2nd floor fermentation space consists of 18 different fermentation vessels that include a horizontal fermenter that is strictly for lactobacillus beers, an open fermenter for Belgian strong ales, and even a cool ship. Currently all beer is served through the restaurant on site but they plan to bottle 750mL bottles with cork and cage in the very near future for distribution to outside accounts. A quality assurance lab is already fully operational on site to ensure quality, consistency, and stability of beers when they begin distribution.
Greg is well known for his development of a craft beer flavor profile consisting of 7 categories: Crisp, Hop, Malt, Roast, Fruit & Spice, Tart & Funk, and Smoke. Beers on tap always span the variety of flavor profiles with a wide spectrum of ABV in order to have something to pair with any meal. The Bluejacket website succinctly explains their mission: “understanding of and respect for the traditions and techniques of classic brewing coexist with a spirit of constant experimentation, innovation, and collaboration, leading to delicious beers that showcase seasonality, culinary inspiration, and historic interpretation”. This mission is executed by an experienced brewing staff of 3 gentlemen: Bobby Bump, Owen Miller, and Josh Chapman. Something very unique about a tasting experience at Bluejacket is the attention paid to temperature control. All beers are stored in the cooler at 37 deg but that doesn’t mean that is how they should be served, right? The cooler boasts two inputs for every line and the beers that have been kegged off from the bright tanks for storage can be served appropriately with 5 lines for pilsner and kolsch styles at 42 deg, 10 lines at 48 deg for porters and IPAs, and 5 lines at 54 degrees for imperial stouts and Belgian strong ales.
The Arsenal serves 25 beers at all times, 5 of which are cask conditioned. To this point, there have been 5-6 beers that serve as standards with the remainder of taps constantly rotating through new beers. The large number of fermentation vessels allows the brewers to create plenty of lagers without the pressure to rush the process, spending 6-8 weeks conditioning. Even the ales are crafted with a slow careful hand, many taking 3-4 weeks to make it into a patron’s glass. Some of the beers that find a consistent place on tap among the other rotators are: Forbidden Planet Kolsch, amply dry-hopped with Australian Galaxy; a spiced sweet stout called Mexican Radio made with lactose, vanilla beans, cacao nibs, cinnamon, and ancho chilies; Lost Weekend IPA featuring 100% Citra hops; and Sweet Science Helles Lager. Other notable beers that we were privileged to sample during our visit were The Betty Imperial Apple Crumble Ale made with spices and 100lbs of Newtown Pippin apple pomace, Siren Song Saison with Mastic (tree resin from the Greek island of Chios), and The Arsonist Smoked Oud Bruin (a collaboration with De Struise Brouwers). Bluejacket has also been quick to work with various breweries around the country, including but not limited to Schlafly, Pizza Boy Brew Co., and Stillwater, with collaborations with Hardywood Park Craft and Brooklyn on the horizon.
The brewery began an extensive barrel aging program from the very beginning and houses their barrels in two separate areas: one for the wild barrels and the other for non-wild spirit and wine barrel aging. Lots of red wine barrels are utilized to deliberately encourage aggregation of a sour beer drinker’s favorite microbes: brettanomyces, pediococcus, and lactobacillus. The cool ship has not yet been used but should very soon now that the required pump has arrived. Above the cool ship are white cedar planks that build up microflora and are saturated from the steam coming off of the hot wort pumped in from the brewhouse one level up. Vents next to the cool ship can also be opened to let out steam and let in wild yeasts and bacteria. Separated from the wild room are another group of barrels ranging from Sherry to Tequila. Bordeaux barrels were filled up with a new version of James and the Giant Belgian Strong Blonde ale with Tangerines (the original concoction was with peaches), High Sighted Barleywine is aged in bourbon and Chardonnay barrels, New Order Nutella Imperial Brown currently resides in Bourbon barrels, and Kashmir Belgian quad sits patiently in Rum barrels.
On top of serving up great beer and food side by side, the Arsenal also utilizes beer in the bread and their mustard. Until distribution of Bluejacket’s brews begins, curious beer drinkers will need to pay The Arsenal a visit and we strongly recommend that they do. The restaurant is open seven days a week and the lunch, brunch and dinner menu as well as an up to date beer list can be viewed here. The brewery and restaurant are conveniently located just a few blocks from the Nationals Park and will make an excellent site for ‘pre-gaming’ in style. We could not be more thankful for the time to tour this state of the art facility with Greg as our knowledgeable guide and want to also thank Assistant General Manager, Anne Marisic, for speaking with us and our bartender, Dave, for helping us sort through the extensive list of beers for samples.
Author: Brandon Wurtz