Back to the Future Brewing With Bluejacket

When dreaming up Bluejacket Brewery, Neighborhood Restaurant Group Beer Director Greg Engert said he “wanted to create a place that was limitless.” Almost two years and 150 different beers after its opening, Engert and his crew show no signs of limiting their production anytime soon. Engert says he sees Bluejacket’s role as not only “an incubator for beer ideas and experimentation,” but also to serve as an anchor in the developing Navy Yard neighborhood. “We’re actually returning brewing to a space that enjoyed it way back when D.C. was young,” Engert said. Navy Yard was home to one of the first breweries in Washington, D.C., the Washington Brewery, until the 1830s. Bluejacket has recently expanded its scope by adding a bottle shop and tasting room next door to the brewery, which boasts six rotating drafts and 20-plus varieties of bottled beers for sale. Created in the brewery’s lofty mezzanine brewhouse, current standouts include Mexican Radio, a spiced sweet stout brewed with locally roasted cacao nibs, and Fields of Friendly Strife, a farmhouse ale fermented with Bluejacket’s house strain of the contentious yeast Brettanomyces bruxellensis. Josh Chapman, Bluejacket’s head brewer, says he loves being “a part of the evolution” of craft beer. He said the rapidly growing craft beer community in D.C. is a collegial one, with plenty of room for lots of different breweries with their own specialties. So far he’s experimented with spontaneous fermentation, dry-hopping, aging beers with various local fruits and naturally souring beers in a horizontal lacto tank. Looking ahead to autumn, he is already in talks with local farmers to procure apples, pears, cranberries and brown cherries for upcoming creations. Once the first frost of the season hits, Chapman with roll out an old-school brewing vessel called a coolship. Utilizing reflecting pools and inviting the wild yeast present in the rafters of the building to enter into the mix, he speaks reverently about last year’s coolship batches. “It was like Christmas; I can’t even describe it,” he said. The spirit of friendly collaboration among D.C. breweries was apparent in this year’s Snallygaster, a craft beer festival put on by Bluejacket. More than 300 craft beers and ciders were available for tasting as diehard fans donned rain ponchos and umbrellas to ward off the weather at The Yards Park on Sept. 12. This year the festival added an adjacent lot to its map and live music. In a fitting nod to the musical roots of the District, famed go-go group Rare Essence played to an enthusiastic crowd waving homemade pretzel necklaces and beer maps. The event is also an annual fundraiser for Arcadia, a food sustainability nonprofit in Alexandria, Va., with a demo farm, two mobile markets and a new veterans farmers program. Indicative of the changing neighborhood and the accordingly evolving mentality of beer drinkers in D.C., Engert is pleased Bluejacket has helped people to become hip to craft beer. "We had season ticket holders who came in asking for Corona not even realizing that we brew all of our own beer and those same season ticketholders now come in and say, 'What sours do you have on draft?’ So we’ve been able to proselytize and convert craft beer drinkers over there in the stadium; so I think it’s fun,” he said. Related: Rolling With the D.C. Brew Crew See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.