The Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in Bethesda — a brewpub by any other name — has seven house-made beers available for drinkers. The Dogfish Head Alehouse in Falls Church has 19, whether on tap or in bottle, all of which are produced at the massive mothership brewery in Delaware, which distributes beer to 27 states across the country.
Now get this: When Bluejacket, and its integrated restaurant and bar called the Arsenal, opens on Tuesday, the brewery will serve no less than 25 beers: 20 on tap and another five on cask. (The full list is below.) These 25 brews will be based on flavors and techniques not only tied to time-honored brewing traditions but also borrowed from the kitchen, the butcher shop, the farm and just about anywhere else Greg Engert and Megan Parisi find inspiration in the wide, wide world of beer and gastronomy.
The Figure 8, for example, is a Scotch ale made with local figs, based on a figgy toffee pudding created by pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac. Two more examples: The Butcher is a spiced doppelbock based on the half-smoke created by Nate Anda, the butcher and partner behind Red Apron, while James & the Giant is a Belgian strong blond ale made with peaches sourced from Kuhn Orchards in Pennsylvania.
Bluejacket, in short, plans to be one of the most adventurous breweries this side of Dogfish Head, with one main difference. Bluejacket beers are all crafted with cuisine in mind.
"A lot of people look at it and go, 'Oh, these people are going to make tons of different beers, everything but the kitchen sink.' It's not really that," says Engert, beer director for Neighborhood Restaurant Group, during a Bluejacket tour on Tuesday night.
"We want to have lots of different styles. It's unbelievable. I was just doing the menu today, and it's so fun," Engert continues. "We have something for every single palate and every single plate that we have [at the Arsenal]. It's not like when you have five beers, where you're reaching for what goes with that, what goes with this."
Engert later e-mailed the process by which he and Parisi, former lead brewer at Cambridge Brewing Co. in Massachusetts, create their beers. He, in fact, forwarded an e-mail thread between the two as they deliberated over the details of a barleywine. It was a nerd-o-rama of beer-making abbreviations and percentages, but the bottom line was this: The exchange demonstrated a smooth, sometimes playful collaboration between the brewing partners.
"Megan and I begin by determining what style we are looking for. This often begins with me taking a look at our brews in tank and seeing what holes we have on our list upcoming," Engert wrote me. "Then I will typically start thinking about beers I love and why I love them, which can then lead to ideas about how we can craft our very own unique brews ... or I'll look around for collaborators from our kitchens, and further afield, or Megan and/or I will start chatting with possible brewing partners from among our friends in the beer business."
"Once we get a solid idea of what style and flavor profile we are going for, Megan hits the books and crafts a first draft of a recipe," Engert continues. "I take a look, and from my own ideas and research, begin to ask questions about the ingredients we are using and why, the techniques we are employing and why, and I look to check that the flavor notes we have decided we want will be generated from the recipe at hand. I will typically suggest a few new malts or hops or a new yeast strain, and Megan will come back with a second draft that incorporates the ideas we have had after considering the first draft. This one typically sticks, and she sets upon milling in for the brew."
Sometimes, Engert noted, the beer, post-fermentation, will require a few additional "tweaks" to reach the intended flavor profile. Those tweaks, he added, are proprietary, but they could include added spices or fruits "to get the flavor intensity desired."
The opening day list, created after months and months of collaboration, is "a cadre of delicious beers that showcase seasonality, culinary inspiration, historic interpretation and an overarching desire to make it new," Engert e-mailed. "This list showcases a wide expanse of styles, ranging from intensely flavored to subtly nuanced."
The beer director expected that he and Parisi will change out three or four beers a month, but "as we build up an inventory of kegs/styles that can be aged a bit, we will rotate as much as possible, with three to four changing weekly."
Bluejacket draft list
• Bitterschön/Rheinischer bitter (brewed with Freigeist Bierkultur at Bluejacket)
• Cut & Dry/ bohemian pilsner
• Forbidden Planet/dry-hopped kölsch
• The Stroppy/pale ale
• Bombshell/Belgian blond ale (brewed with De Struise at Bluejacket)
• Trouble/oud bruin (brewed with De Struise at Bluejacket)
• The Panther/schwarzbier
• The Forager/foraged rye saison
• Tooth & Nail/imperial IPA
• The Duel/ Brett IPA (brewed with Maine Beer Co. at Bluejacket)
• James & The Giant/Belgian strong blond ale with peaches
• The Stowaway/dunkelweizen
• The Ingénue/gose with lavender
• The Butcher/spiced doppelbock
• Figure 8/Scotch ale with figs
• Impostor/session rye IPA
• Seersucker/Berliner weisse
• Suede/imperial porter with calendula flowers and jasmine (brewed with Stone & 10 Barrel at Stone Brewing Company)
• The Wake/imperial stout
• Right Hand Man/India pale ale (dry-hopped with centennial hops in the cask)
• New Zealot/pale ale (dry-hopped in the cask with galaxy hops)
• Bird of Prey/India pale ale (dry-hopped with falconer’s flight hops in the cask)
• Figure 8/Scotch ale with figs (with vanilla and coffee in the cask)
• The Wake/imperial stout (with bourbon-soaked oak chips in the cask)