This is the fourth installment in a series following Neighborhood Restaurant Group as it builds and opens its new brewery and restaurant, Bluejacket. You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here .
Megan Parisi, Bluejacket’s head brewer, is keeping herself busy even though the Neighborhood Restaurant Group brewery is still a Navy Yard construction site. She says she recently brewed a malty French-style biere de garde with honeysuckle, rose and hibiscus — in collaboration with Baltimore’s The Brewer’s Art — and just this morning began brewing a gratzer, a Polish smoked wheat beer, at DC Brau. Both will be released during August’s DC Beer Week.
But the real milestone of late is the debut of Bluejacket’s Sidewalk Saison, available Wednesday, Aug. 1, at Birch & Barley/ChurchKey, alongside four Bluejacket collaboration beers. A “gypsy-brewed” beer, meaning brewed at a facility with excess capacity but without the brewery’s collaboration, Sidewalk Saison is the first Bluejacket beer that’s solely the creation of Parisi and NRG beer director, Greg Engert.
Actually, “solely” isn’t the right word. The beer, the first in a series containing foraged plants, is the creation of Parisi, Engert and Birch & Barley/ChurchKey chef Kyle Bailey, who will also be the executive chef at Bluejacket’s restaurant. What’s fascinating about Sidewalk Saison is the interplay between beer and food, which is part of the essence of Bluejacket.
“Cooking and brewing are one and the same, and we’re seeing so many more cool botanicals and ingredients going into beers, so I started thinking about what we could utilize,” Engert says.
Bailey, who has increasingly put foraged greens and other plants on his menus — and recently went so far as to fill a window box at his apartment with medicinal herbs — introduced Engert to violet wood sorrel. This purple wildflower with cloverlike leaves is packed with oxalic acid, which makes it unusually sour; the plant’s occasional habitat also gives the beer its name.
“The flavor’s very lemony,” says Bailey, who currently pairs the plant with foie gras, rhubarb puree, brandied blackberries and candied almonds. “The idea is that these are sidewalk greens. You see them on the edge of gardens a lot if you’re in the city, and you’ll see it come up through the cracks in the sidewalk.”
In this case, though, the ingredient’s pavement provenance is more romance than reality. The violet wood sorrel in the beer came from the grounds of NRG’s Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture in Alexandria.
To brew the approximately 70-gallon batch, Parisi drove to the Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in West Chester, Pa. She and Engert paired five ounces of the wild plant — a one-quart plastic container foraged by Bailey — with other ingredients often used in Belgian saisons, a style they selected because its fruity, yeasty and spicy flavors lend themselves to additional botanicals. The beer also contains dried orange peel, fresh and dried lemon peel, lemon juice, black pepper and coriander.
Engert says that Bluejacket’s “sidewalk series” is meant to pair well with food and embody the seasonal, farm-to-table ethos of NRG’s restaurants. In the same way that a tasting menu might change nightly based on what’s fresh and local, future saisons, and possibly other styles, will vary based on what Parisi, Engert and Bailey can procure.
Plus, Engert adds, “There’s a kind of fun to including these cast-off ingredients and showing how well they work, not just on the table — as has been happening with locavore food for some time now — but also with brewing.”
After all, violet wood sorrel is no heirloom tomato. It is often, Engert points out, a weed.