Bluejacket, the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's long-awaited production brewery slash restaurant at the Navy Yard, hosted a sneak preview last night. DCBeer was lucky enough to get invited and check things out at the behemoth and beautifully appointed building that has been completely torn out and refinished. John Fleury over at DCist has a wonderful look at last night that you should definitely check out. It's so great, in fact, that we're not going to rehash everything that he said so well. Instead, check out some of DCBeer's pictures as well as John's own in the slideshows below. Following those, you can check out the tasting notes from John and DCBeer's editors on 12 of the 20 (yes you read that correctly) that Bluejacket will launch with. We'll have more coverage on Bluejacket and the Arsenal (the name for the restaurant/bar, specifically) in the coming days. Bluejacket officially opens to the public on Tuesday.
John Fleury's photos
Created with flickr slideshow.
Now for the beer notes portion of this preview post!
As we mentioned, there were 12 beers unveiled last night. These are merely our first impressions of these beers, and your mileage may certainly vary. Note that we were drinking smaller pours of these beers and in different glassware than you might otherwise expect. Still, from the overall impressions here, there's a ton of positive things to say about what Bluejacket has put out.
Forbidden Planet (Kolsch, 4.2%)
Bill DeBaun: This is probably the best India Pale Lager I've ever had, but I'm not sure about how I like it as a Kolsch. I think of Kolsch as a delicate style, slightly sulfurous, crisp, and grainy. This is crisp in the finish, but if it's a Kolsch it certainly stretches the style to its breaking points. The Galaxy hops (dry-hop only) give this a pungent tropical note that will satisfy hopheads but could perhaps dismay devotees of the stange.
Chris Van Orden: Agreed, the name is the only thing that didn't hit the mark for me. To my mind, Kolsch is defined by its crystal clarity and distinctive nose, so the unmistakable smell of Galaxy coming off the glass broke my brain a bit. But once I dropped my expectation of a traditional kolsch, it all fell into place. I find that IPLs can be a bit one-note for non-hopheads like me, so the subtle yeast character really rounded Planet out. Sidenote: I mentioned all this to Bobby Bump, one of the Bluejacket brewers, and he said that the beer was brewed 100% to style up until the Galaxy dry-hopping and that, if you held your nose at first sip, you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish it from a traditional Kolsch. Really shows the power of late additions.
John Fleury: Forbidden Planet is a reference to the science fiction movie playing in the double feature in the beginning of Rocky Horror Picture Show. So in that vein, it is a Kolsch not of this world. I talked to Greg Engert about this, and we agreed that if you take the aromatics out of the equation, it drinks very much like a Kolsch. However, if you don't separate the nose from the palate, it is much more of a hybrid and not true to any style. I enjoyed this beer as someone who isn't a hophead but enjoys the aromatics of hops (and particularly Galaxy).
Bitterschon (Rheinischer Bitter, 5%)
CVO: This one drank almost like a Dortmunder to me, although I admittedly got it right after the much hoppier Forbidden Planet and Scarecrow. With so many rich and flavorful beers, I want to revisit this one in a slightly less manic context to really dive into the subtleties.
JF: The beer makes total sense once you find out it was done with Freigeist, whom I love and are one of my favorites and are leading the German stylistic revolution. The notes of pepper on the nose playing with the smoke gave it a nice complexity but I felt it was totally drinkable and accessible to a large audience. the bitterness quickly subsided into some fruity notes and stayed quite refreshing. Side note: at this point when I was making mental notes on my phone, two servers came to ask if I knew the score to the game. Since I was wearing a Sox jersey, I assume everyone thought I was fixated on the score but was just making some texts to myself.
BD: I'm admittedly unfamiliar with the idea of a Rheinischer bitter. What I can say is this drank, to me, like a very nice Pilsner. Very crisp, laden with noble hops, and certainly drinkable, this was very enjoyable.
Scarecrow (Hoppy Saison, 5.8%)
JF: This was my favorite of the night. Those Euro hops flavors shone through and paired beautifully with a very dry yeast finish. Highly attenuated with some apples and maybe grass lingering on the palate. Reminscent of Brasserie de la Senne stuff. I could drink this all day.
CVO: I really enjoyed it. Scarecrow was poured a bit on the cold side, so I didn't get much of the yeast initially, making it taste like a super-dry Belgian pale ale. It really came to life when it warmed up a bit: the 74 degree fermentation brought out a ton of earthy, spicy phenolics and dried this beer out like crazy. Greg said they'll be pouring this one at the warmest of the three serving temperatures, so it's gonna be coming across the bar in lovely shape.
Impostor (Session Rye IPA, 4,3%)
BD: In the vein of the great session IPAs that have some out recently (Founders All Day, Lagunitas Day Time, Flying Dog Easy IPA, etc.), this Impostor is a ton of flavor in a very small (ABV) package. Heavily laden with citrus hops and also some rye spiciness that sets it apart from its brethren, this was a favorite for me for the evening.
CVO: Another winner. Amazing amount of juicy hop aroma on what ended up being a surprisingly lean body. From the nose, you'd expect Impostor to ring in somewhere in the 7-8% ABV range. I didn't know at first sip about the rye, but it was definitely perceptible in the best of ways. I've found some lighter weight IPA's a bit harsh due to a lack of balancing malt, and I was a bit concerned that the rye would dry this one out too much, but I got all of the pepper and none of the astringency. A difficult style executed really well.
JF: I agree with CVO as it executing a difficult style well. I was having a discussion with Mark Noble, head brewer at Aviator Brewing, on Monday about doing rye IPAs and how many of them miss the mark in terms of drinkability and balance of flavors (sidenote: their new Willett-aged rye with Jack Rose is fantastic) — so to see Bluejacket do it so well and at a sessionable ABV was great to see and, more importantly, to drink.
Tooth and Nail (Imperial IPA, 7.3%)
JF: This beer was not bad at all. That being said, it didn't really do it for me. Granted I'm not a hophead, I found this to be the only beer of the night that didn't seem inspired. And this isn't a knock on Bluejacket but more a compliment that so many did seem inspired. There are a number of breweries that push stuff out for years and I don't feel they are doing anything particularly "wow" worthy. Bluejacket does it on a huge amount of beers before day 1. In the end, I felt the beer went all over the place, and nothing really stuck out other than "Yep. that's an IPA."
BD: It's funny how the IPA style has shifted; I see that this is 7.3%, and yet I think "this is imperial?" While there was nothing wrong with this beer, it wasn't a favorite for me. A strange woody/grassiness through the mid- and back-palate made me turn back to the Forbidden Planet for my hop fix.
CVO: I'm admittedly not a big IPA guy, so I might not be the target audience for this one. Like Bill, I got an odd note midway through – perhaps some depths of dankness that my lupulin-starved palate doesn't quite appreciate.
Figure 8 (Wee Heavy with Local Figs, 8%)
CVO: Conceptually, this beer worried me a bit – wee heavy is already such a sweet style, so adding sticky figs to the party might have brought it into cloying territory. The scent didn't do much to dissuade me from this: rich, boozy sweetness, with stewed fruit and cinnamon showing strong. It could have been a quad with restrained yeast. When I took a sip, though, the body wasn't quite as viscous and syrupy as I anticipated. The figs, Greg told me, were added fresh, not dried, so the flavor is bright rather than jammy. The addition of spices really helped, as well – cinnamon dried things out and kept it from being sweet-on-sweet-on-sweet. Where it really shined was upstairs at the food pairing: alongside a super funky blue cheese with cranberry toast, the sweetness was an asset. Awesome alternative to barleywine for Maytag accompaniment.
JF: I wasn't expecting much as marketing a wee heavy with figs in it gives me a sense of indifference. However, i really enjoyed it. I loved the dark sweetness and boozy warmness interplayed with a brighter fig flavor than expected. It isn't a strong flavor, but it was fresher than I expected. At 8% the ABV wasn't restrained, but it very much felt like a delicate beer. Nothing was overpowering, and many of the flavors that one would think would dominate (spice, dark fruit, roasted malt) were reined in and kept in check. Like most of the offerings, it seemed very food-centric as it could play nicely with funky cheese (as they did) or just as easily with grilled meats, gamey flavors, or earthy stews/soups.
The Panther (Hoppy Schwarzbier, 5.1%)
JF: They key to this style is lagering. Without it, it gets those flavors I associate with painfully mediocre black IPAs: roast bitterness fighting with the hops, and nothing ever working together. This beer had none of that and had the subtle chicory notes effortlessly blending with earthy hops. Very well done.
CVO: I was surprised at how much of an impression The Panther made on me. Schwarzbier is a great style – all the roast, none of the heft – but it's not a bruiser, so I thought it might get lost in the mix. But no, the roast was so chocolatey, the body was so restrained, and the hops were so perfectly married to the roast; it really stood out for me. I've had so many unbalanced black IPAs with hop-roast bitterness clash or odd 'flowery chocolate' situations; this is the right way to do a dark hoppy beer.
The Wake (Imperial Stout, 9.1%) –
CVO: There are so many great imperial stouts out there – it's a naturally impressive style – that I wasn't sure what the Wake would bring to the party. But the way the rich progression of flavors keeps from becoming cloying puts it up there with the best. Can't wait to see what this one will taste like after a little rest in some of their barrels.
BD: Although I thought from the nose that this would be too dry for me, I was pleasantly surprised by the robust mix of vanilla and chocolate sweetness through the mid-palate ending in an assertive, but not acrid, roast in the back. This disguises its 9.1% well and will appeal strongly to dark beer fans the District over.
Fruit and Spice
Bombshell (Belgian Blond Ale, 5.6%)
BD: This was thirst-quenching and very drinkable. Slightly spicy and a little fruity, nothing about this was out of balance, which is true to style.
CVO: Not much to say here – lovely little beer that hits all of the right notes. Enough carbonation to keep it from being leaden without being prickly, fruity and almost creamy on the tongue, plenty of Belgian character but not so much that you can't handle a few of these in a row.
JF: Also not much to say, and that's in a positive way. Well-executed BBA that seemed true to style and that I would eagerly revisit.
James and the Giant (Belgian Strong Blond with Local Peaches, 9%)
JF: I found it pleasantly aggressive in terms of not hiding the booze. It added a layer of warmth that went well with the subtle peach flavors. The peach was more skin and stone than juicy flesh but that worked well since the beer itself has plenty of caramelized sugar sweetness. Spicy phenolics were hinted at, yet still very perfume-like.
Tart and Funky
The Ingenue (Gose with Lavender, 4.3%)
CVO: The blue cheese is so strong here, I was almost reluctant to taste it. Glad I didn't – the taste drops the funk for flowers and sweet tarts. Very interesting arc. I took a few ponderous sips as I asked Bobby about the brewing process – kettle sour, all lactobacillus, no other critters, traditional salt and coriander used – during which time the beer warmed. When I went in again, all of the funk had driven off, leaving gose's more recognizable savoriness and lactic tang. It was like drinking two entirely different beers. I think I like the latter better, but the former was a thinker for sure.
JF: I had this beer in my hand for quite some time before actually drinking it. Admittedly, I was playing in the QC lab and paying more attention to the laminar flow hood than the beer. So when I got to it, the beer had warmed up and the nose was huge. Almost offputting since I had forgotten which beer I had. Immediately upon my nose getting stuffed with roquefort, I was taken aback and needed to join for another blue cheese uptake. Much more pleasant after getting my beer bearings and actually tasting the beer. The lavender comes on strong but quickly phased into a more typical salt and lacto finish. I didn't taste the coriander but that may be combining with the lavender on my palate. Thoroughly enjoyable once the initial shock of the scent passed.
BD: I was also surprised at the level of blue cheese in the nose of this beer. Very funky, which wasn't unpleasant, just unexpected. The funk in the nose turns to pure floral in the taste of this beer. Bordering on perfumey, the fruit and flowers of this beer drops at the very end to resolve into the slightly salty finish typical of the gose style.
Trouble (Oud Bruin, 6.5%)
JF: I can't wait for this beer to get …ouder? Is that a word? But yeah. Definitely a beer I enjoyed and would order again. A delicate acetic notes was very welcoming and markedly not acidic in the grand scheme. The sweet and sour came out on this beer, and I got some dark fruits, maybe grenache or tempranillo grapes, and even a little mild tobacco.
BD: I enjoyed this beer and can't wait to see how it develops with some age. This had some residual sweetness that reminded me a little bit of cider. If I wasn't looking for it, I might've noticed the touch of acid in the finish.
CVO: I love the style, and I loved this take on it. Not quite as many cherries as you sometimes get, but they're still there with the oaky vanilla. The acidity, residual sugar, and restrained carbonation (compared to bottled versions) really hammered home why this is considered the beer closest to red wine. I was wondering how they pulled this one off in time. Debuting with 20 styles is no small feat, especially when some are long-barreled affairs like oud bruins. This must have been one of the first batches brewed so it could sit up for a little while.
Have questions about Bluejacket, the beers, or the opening? Let us know in the comments and we'll do our best to get them answered for you!