Bluejacket Brewery is gearing up for a period of major expansion. The three-year-old brewery is searching for a site for a second production brewery outside Washington, as it aims to almost double the annual output at its Navy Yard brewpub from 2,200 barrels to around 4,000 barrels, add a canning line, and begin distributing its beers around the country.
To manage this growth, the brewery has hired Ro Guenzel as its first Director of Brewing Operations. Guenzel comes from Colorado's Great Divide Brewing, where he was the brewery manager. He was previously the head brewer at Left Hand Brewing, also in Colorado.
Greg Engert, the beer director for Bluejacket and its parent Neighborhood Restaurant Group, says the goal is “sending more beer beyond the walls of Bluejacket.” Last year, Engert says, “We did 2,200 barrels, and 99.9 percent of that was sold on-site. We think we can get up to around 4,000 in-house.”
However, Engert and team are already planning beyond that upper threshold. “We're eventually looking for a site outside of D.C. to build a second facility,” Engert said, adding that there's “no timeline” for purchasing land or breaking ground. He describes the production facility as “another smallish brewery that's also a great place for people to gather and drink. It's not so much about volume as much as being able to do the things we want to.”
For example, a second facility could handle the bulk of production of Bluejacket bestsellers Lost Weekend IPA and Forbidden Planet Kolsch, freeing up space at the original brewery for more experimental beers, including the new lagers and dry-hopped IPAs that were recently introduced.
The other problem, Engert says, is simply space: “We're running out of room for barrels,” with wooden vessels filled with sour and aging beers taking up valuable floorspace. “We want to brew more with the coolship, more mixed fermentation beers, and age them as long as it takes.”
While a new brewery is a longer-term goal, Bluejacket is still setting up to increase production for sales both in and outside of the brewery. The most promising announcement is the canning line, which would allow Bluejacket to sell 16-ounce cans to go, as many other breweries do. Engert is also talking about expanding distribution for bars both locally and in locations as far-flung as New Orleans, New York and Massachusetts. Again, there's no firm date for canning or ramping up production: “All I can say is 'soon,'"" Engert said.
This is where the hiring of Guenzel comes in. Engert says Guenzel's priority will be “getting operations in order for the eventual increase in capacity. We've been flying by the seat of our pants.”
Guenzel is no stranger to the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, having met Engert at a Left Hand tasting at Rustico 10 years ago. He also collaborated with Nathan Anda of EatBar and Red Apron on a seminar at the Savor festival in 2010, discussing how to pair beer with charcuterie. That's one of the things Guenzel is looking forward to at Bluejacket: “Working with a chef, and experimenting with the flavors” of food and beer. (“My first brewery job was at a brewpub in Vail,” he said.) Eventually, he'd like to work on some “classic German styles” and “an easy-drinking bitter,” but for now, he says, “It's a learning experience for me. I can't come in and just shake things up. "
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