For any new brewery, tiresome regulatory hassles, finding financing for equipment and overhead, and the constant fear of folding are all just part of the business. But some brewers have slightly more unique pressures to deal with before they sell beer.
Eight-plus years in the making, Bluejacket aimed not only to meet the demands of the District’s increasingly ravenous marketplace of thirsty beer nerds, but also make beer that stood up to the high standards its leadership established and maintains at more than a dozen bars and restaurants. Sure, Neighborhood Restaurant Group Beer Director Greg Engert and his team could serve world-class beer—but how would they produce it?
No one can accuse them of being unadventurous.
“We decided to start from square one on all facets, collaborating on everything all the time,” Engert says. Since opening in October 2013, the brewery has shown impressive scope, producing over 80 unique beers, from Berliner weisse to barleywine. Initially, that prodigious effort caused a beer attention deficit of sorts; the beers were tasty, but an overarching focus could be difficult to identify.
“When you have a concept that’s built around innovation, exploration, and experimentation, that runs counter to being able to re-brew and hone in,” Engert said. “After three or four months, we got to brew new stuff and re-brew.”
Those months enabled Bluejacket to discover its cynosure: always-available beers that encourage users to stretch their palates, rather than intimidate them into indecision.
Forbidden Planet—a clean, aromatic ale whose Galaxy hops transport its classic Kölsch base to the tropics—is a beer to fawn over. Lost Weekend, a Citra-heavy IPA, is borderline irresistible when wet-hopped or on cask. The brewery’s adventurous offerings also presented new entry points for budding beer connoisseurs. Take Twit, a refreshingly tangy warm-weather quencher featuring Lactobacillus and witbier yeast, which appeals to baseball fans and beer geeks alike. It’s both fine tribute to Engert’s long pedigree of supplying a constant drumbeat of wild ales and a positive sign of Bluejacket’s open fermentation adventures to come.
“Every single batch of beer we brew is based on learned experience of what we’ve done before,” Engert says. (Forbidden Planet has gone through 20 batches, give or take.) Bluejacket’s approach—what Engert calls the “infinite possibility” of brewing—now benefits from top-quality hop contracts, new generations of in-house yeast strains, and one of the most energetic brewing teams in the region. Brewer Josh Chapman, for example, learned cooperage—the craft of building and maintaining wooden vessels, like barrels, that is usually studied over the course of decades—on the side last year.
Bluejacket spent the past year offering the tried-and-true and thought-provoking in equal measure. “There’s that balance, which is what I think most people want out of their drinking experiences,” Engert observes.
Adding consistency to one of the District’s most sophisticated beer laboratories, at no cost to its rampant creativity? Now that’s an achievement worth lifting a glass to.