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Don't Call It a Brewpub: Bluejacket's Preview Event

Logo of Bluejacket, coming to Navy Yard.
Logo of Bluejacket, coming to Navy Yard.

[Photos: Tim Ebner/]

After a week-long binge on beer, Eater decided it was only appropriate to swing by the closeout event of DC Beer Week: a sneak peak tour and tasting of Bluejacket brewery on the Southeast Waterfront.

To say that there's been some buzz built up behind Bluejacket is a bit of an understatement. There's still no official opening date for this all-in-one brewery, bar and restaurant, and yet many are marveling at the production power and level of detail going into the facility. The historic factory, now known as the Boilermaker Shops, was once part of the Navy Yard's shipbuilding operation. Soon, it will be in full swing churning out craft beers. Everywhere you look inside the space there is a shiny stainless steel tank. There are two 30-barrel fermenters and more than a dozen 15-barrel fermenters capable of producing about 5,000 barrels of beer per year.

At Sunday's sold-out event, about 200 hundred visitors lined up to sample some of the latest batches of beer. A few of the brews may even turn-up in the main rotation, Greg Engert, beer director of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, said. And, the day wasn't all about the beer either. Chef Kyle Bailey from Birch & Barley was behind the grill cooking up barbecue fare and offering a few early hints of what a Bluejacket menu might look like.

Even after seven days of continuous DC Beer Week events, it seemed no hangover, big or small, could stop the masses from sampling the variety of Bluejacket beers. "This feels very much like a coming out party for us," said Bluejacket's masterbrewer, Megan Parisi. "But, really this is only just a hint of what's to come."

1. The beers we drank: All of the half-dozen or so beers served on Sunday were from test batches that are still being tinkered with before the official rollout (Clarification: four were test batches and two were collaboration brews). Bluejacket still does not have a beer line-up ready for its opening day. But, some batches may be a very good indication of what to expect.

The Galaxy Kolsch was a smooth and refreshing beer that was brewed with Australian hops. The beer beer was a sensory trick of sorts. It smelled of hops, but the taste and finish was crisp. This is one of Chef Kyle Bailey's favorite beers on tap right now, and apparently there is such a thing as a brewer's initiation. The night before the DC Beer Week party Greg Engert allegedly made Chef Bailey shotgun the kolsch straight from the tank.

Another crowd pleaser, The Collaboration Time II, is a saison produced in collaboration with the Maine Beer Company. The beer features flavors from its red wheat and rye base. And, the Vespula Mysticus, a beer brewed with Mystic Brewery outside of Boston, was a saffron-flavored saison.

2. Bluejacket by the numbers: There's more than 12,000 square feet of space between the three floors, About 5,000 feet is vertical space that is primarily for the brewing operation. When the restaurant and brewery opens, there will be 25 beers on tap: 15 house drafts, a rotation of five guest beers, and five cask ales. "How many breweries do you know that have opened with 20 lines on their opening day? It's pretty impressive. We're pretty confident that there will be a demand for it too," Parisi said.

The dining operation is also pretty impressive. When the restaurant opens, there will be 85 seats between the first and second floor areas, plus a 90-seat bar and 100-seat outdoor patio. Bluejacket plans to have a staff of about 85 members in the front and back of the house. But, the brewing operation is meant to be small, only four or five brewers will be working at the facility.

3. Keeping it in the family: Assistant brewer, Bobby Bump, says his dad will from time-to-time chip in on what he's doing wrong or right. Bump's father, Joe, has been a homebrewer for the last four years and said he's proud to sample his son's work.

4. Beer for DC and Northern Virginia: Expect Bluejacket on tap at bars and restaurants in DC and Northern Virginia for starters. It's still too early to tell when the beer might be available in Maryland, Parisi said. Barrels will be shared amongst the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's footprint, which includes Churchkey, Birch & Barley, and GBD (Golden, Brown and Delicious) and Rustico. But, given the expected demand, Bluejacket plans to offer the beer at other third-party bars and restaurants too.

5. What makes the brewery unique? It's the open space. Unlike most breweries, where visitors have to trek out far to see the beer making process, at Bluejacket the production is all taking place in plain sight. While customers are eating at a table or drinking at the bar, all they have to do is look up to see the brewers at work. And, there will be regular on-site tours and tastings.

6. The devil is in the details. It's still unclear when the brewery will open, but it's looking like the restaurant and brewery should be on-track for a fall start. "I would love to say that everything is perfect, but yes, there's always problems," Parisi says. "When you're firing up something brand new like this, you're going to encounter many different issues."

Right now, the sour room is still waiting on a tile job. This is where some unique sour beers will be produced with a variety of yeast strains. Meanwhile, contractors still need to install a zinc top bar in the main dining area, and there's been a wait on the delivery of custom made furniture — booths and tables — for the two-story dining room.

7. Grilling on the patio: The food at the event was primarily barbecue fare. Chef Bailey was working the grill and cooked a porchetta with a mustard-barbecue glaze. He also served "Juicy Lucys," mini burgers stuffed with Vermont aged cheddar. And he grilled Maryland blue catfish, which is actually an invasive species to the area. "But, it tastes good. So the more you eat, the better it is for the Bay," Bailey said.

The food on Sunday was not indicative of what to expect on the Bluejacket menu — that's still very much a work in progress, Bailey said. Right now, he's working with Dan Hahndorf, former sous chef at Vermillion, who will be the chef de cuisine under Bailey.

But expect a lunch menu with a selection of burgers and sandwich offerings. Lunch is new territory for Chef Bailey. He's much more used to feeding the dinner and brunch crowds. "We are going for a beer hall feel. We want to create a fun and casual atmosphere where the food compliments that variety of beers," he said.

8. Touring the space: Beverage director Greg Engert, led tours through the brewery on Sunday. One of the unique 'wow' factors was a production facility that's entirely gravity dependent. The grain is mashed, lautered (a filtering process where the the mash gets separated from the liquid wort that goes on to fermentation) and boiled on the third floor. Then the mashing and fermentation takes place in tanks on the second floor, and the finished product is stored and ready to serve at the restaurant and bar level.

9. Whatever you do, don't call Bluejacket a brewpub. "This is not a brewpub," Greg Engert said. "Brewpubs are all about the beer first and foremost. This is really a bar and restaurant with a brewery inside of it."

Other unique features, include some "old school tanks," Engert said. These include fermenters found more commonly in Europe than in North America. The brewery has a horizontal tank, which will be used for the rye-based saison. The horizontal shape allows for more surface area in the fermentation process, helping to build flavor profile. There's also an open fermentation tank that works similarly and does not stress the yeast, so it can work quickly in the fermentation process. The end-all-goal is to produce a variety of beers with a "no rush" mantra, Engert said.

10. But don't expect growlers. Bluejacket will be hand bottling their beers, including a line of corked and caged bottles in the 750 ml. and 375 ml. variety. Engert said there will be no growlers allowed because it doesn't do the beer justice. The tap-to-growler filling oxidizes the beer, which can mess with the flavor profile, he said. Expect Bluejacket's stronger and heavier beers to be bottled, while lighter beers may one day be available in cans.

11. Barrels, barrels and more barrels. Bluejacket will be aging beers in a variety of different barrels, including rye whiskey, bourbon, tequila and red wine barrels. They have unique partnerships set-up with distillers and vineyards. And, just because this is a brewery doesn't mean there won't be wine and cocktails on the menu. Expect about 50 wines by the bottle, 10-12 by the glass, and a variety of craft cocktails (NRG's Brent Kroll is managing the program). Just don't look for beer cocktails. That's not happening, Engert said.

12. A beer with a hint of the Anacostia: A key feature to the brewery is their "coolship." It looks like a giant stainless steel tub and has windows that open to the outside air. During cooler seasons, mainly from November to March, the brewery plans to allow some of the beers to cool off in this room and accept natural airborne yeasts. This is a spontaneous fermentation process that uses the outside environment and wild yeast strains. Engert said it's possible for some to think that the Anacostia might not be the most pleasing environment for this type of fermentation, but he said, "Brussels is no better."

13. The Bluejacket bottom line: Expect beers that are one-of-a-kind and harken back to previous eras of brewing. "You're going to taste the fruits of what we've been after for a while," Engert said. "We know exactly what we want. It's going to be experimental and classic."
—Tim Ebner
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