Bluejacket: A D.C. Microbrewery With Macro Plans

Greg Engert was all set to become an English professor. Megan Parisi was a classical musician. By some crazy accident or fate, they are now heading up one of the most ambitious beer projects in the D.C. area — if not the entire East Coast. As beverage director for Neighborhood Restaurant Group (Birch & Barley, The Evening Star Cafe, Tallula), Engert was charged with mapping out plans for a new brewery and restaurant. He enlisted Parisi as brewmaster and the two are now gearing up to open NRG's new brewery Bluejacket in the spring. So, what are they doing until then? Making beer, duh. The two have taken to gypsy brewing: collaborating with their friends in the industry to brew at other people's facilities. We got the lowdown on what's in store when they're up and running.

Tell us about the new brewhouse.

Greg: It's located on the waterfront of Washington, D.C., in an old boiler factory in the reclaimed Navy Yards. It's a beautiful building, about 7,000 square feet and over 50 feet high in the center. We are investing in equipment that is allowing us to craft specific beers, which is not something a lot of microbreweries do when they first open. Like, special fermentation vehicles and a coolship, which is what the Belgians use to make lambics. Plus, we have at least 60 different kinds of oak barrels to start.

And your beers will be available in the restaurant as well as local bars?

Greg: We're going to be pouring 15 of our own beers on draft at all times. We're also going to have five of our own cask ales, plus large-format bottles of beer for table-side service, like magnums and jeroboams. We plan on selling the beer to great bars and restaurants locally, but also throughout the country. I think it would be really cool to tailor certain beers to certain cuisines and really push the envelope there.

What's one of the most exciting beers you've worked on?

Megan: I did a collaboration with other female brewers in 2010, which actually started a whole trend of all-women collaborative beers. It was also the year I used an ingredient that I'd been dying to work with for a long time: saffron. It comes out as this flavor that's rich and creamy and, gosh, you wonder what is this thing. But it's kinda pricey.

Greg: We brewed a beer called Snack Attack with Funky Buddha in Boca Raton. It was a strong imperial sweet porter reminiscent of sea salt caramels. It had lots of chocolate and caramel overtones, then we added vanilla beans, peanuts and sea salt to it. While it had all these crazy ingredients, it still tasted like an intense, delicious imperial porter. It wasn't gimmicky at all.

What are some of the drinking trends you're noticing?

Megan: There's a few obvious ones. Anything hoppy, any IPA or double IPA or super-duper-triple IPA. There's also a growing appreciation for the sour beer category. I often find that wine drinkers are drawn to that type of beer. It's versatile: you can put it in a barrel and serve it after three or four weeks or even a year or two.

Greg: Thanks to the media, it seems like the only thing people are drinking are sour beers or session beers. These are definitely trending. But hoppy beers, pale ales, IPAs still dominate the landscape. Strong ales are hugely sought out and are not going away, either. One thing you're going to see more of is seasonal or limited-edition beers — even from larger breweries like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada.

Is the beer world still a boy's game?

Megan: Predominately, yes. But there are more and more women who are getting into the industry and getting into higher positions. And there's a whole lot of women who are interested but don't necessarily have to be brewers. If they want to they totally can, but if they have a science degree they can work in a brewery lab.

Greg: Megan's unique because she has nearly a decade of experience brewing. But I definitely see more women beer writers, bloggers, beer sommeliers. There's certainly much more balance when you look at the guests coming into the restaurant on a daily basis. More and more women are enjoying the possibilities of craft beer.

What's next for craft beer?

Megan: I'm not sure where it's going to go from here. The whole local concept has really taken off. People have pretty high standards at this point. Local is great, but it's only great if it's better than something else. The real challenge for microbreweries is to know what they're doing and go at it as completely and professionally as they can.

Greg: Craft beer will continue to grow at a very steady pace. Small breweries will continue to open, but I don't think all of them are going to be hugely successful. They've just announced that there's 2,751 breweries in the U.S. today, which is the most ever. It used to be "the most since Prohibition." So, we're going to not only see more and more beer, but more great beer — because the greatest beers will survive.

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