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Meet the Bluejacket Brewing Team, Part One

As you know DCBeer recently had an extensive sit down with Greg Engert in which we talked about beer culture, DC's craft beer scene, ChurchKey's fifth anniversary, and much more. We are now getting to know Engert's cohorts and comrades at Bluejacket, which coincidentally celebrated their first anniversary this fall. Brewers Bobby Bump, Josh Chapman and Owen Miller, along with brewing apprentice Ricky Cheatham, make up the brewing team at Bluejacket and, along with Greg, are responsible for the over 120 beers brewed this past year. Today we start with Owen and Ricky. Check back tomorrow to hear from Josh and Bobby.

Owen Miller

What are you drinking right now?

When the weather turns this time of year I can't help but choose dark beers, so I'm trying King Titus by Maine Beer Co. at the moment. It's balanced and full-bodied with a classic roasty malt profile. I'm digging it.

How long have you been working at Bluejacket, and where did you work before?

I've been with Bluejacket since February of this year (2014). I've jumped around small breweries quite a bit in the last five years, starting with an apprenticeship tour of sorts of European breweries, including De Struise, Thiriez, BrewDog, Marble, and Thornbridge. When I returned to the states, I worked for Shaun [Hill] at Hill Farmstead through a summer and winter, and then packed my bags for San Francisco, where I picked up some hours at a small brewery called Mill Valley Beerworks, which then expanded into Fort Point Beer Co. I'm a bit of a rambler.

Bluejacket is known for having a collaborative environment. Do you think this eases or complicates the brewing process?

It has the potential for both. Bobby, Josh, and I are fortunate enough to get along surprisingly well, and this is really the key to a successful collaborative brewing environment. It's not necessarily a work dynamic that comes easily, but we all have a genuine interest in the development of each other and ourselves as brewers – and perhaps more importantly, as people – so we make the effort to build a successful operation. Responsibilities are shared, allowing for flexibility but also requiring a broader discipline.

Is there a hierarchy within the Bluejacket brewhouse?

Theoretically, no. Functionally, there are tasks that require one person to take the lead, so moment to moment there are hierarchies built into our system, but we make the effort to share responsibilities.

What is the most challenging aspect of working at Bluejacket?

I think what can be challenging as a brewer is exactly what gives Bluejacket its strength and uniqueness, which is the variety and number of beers we create. It's an incredible learning opportunity, but it requires immense focus and care.

What is the most rewarding aspect of working at Bluejacket?

What I find most rewarding is in the creative process of learning as a brewer. I love the freedom we have to create a variety of beers, but one of the most gratifying aspects of the job is to implement tweaks to a particular beer and see the change, see the improvement.

For which beer(s) did you create the recipe/which beer(s) are you most proud of?

Nearly all our recipes have some collaborative element to them, so really no one takes full ownership of a beer. That said, I'm most proud of our hoppy ales, and I also think we've made a couple of stouts and porters that have been quite good.

What do you make of the DC beer scene? What are the most endearing aspects of being a brewer in the small town of DC?

Small town! You're talking to a kid from New Hampshire. DC's beer scene is great! I can't compare it to anywhere other than New England, mainland Europe, and San Francisco, so I've been a bit spoiled you see, but it's a growing scene here, and people are making a good effort to build it up.

Can you share a time when something went wrong, or not as planned but was still salvaged?

Nope.

What else would you like the DCBeer readership to know?

I guess I'd just encourage everyone to stay curious, open, and constructive with their drinking and discussion. And safe! Safe drinking is important.

Ricky Cheatham

What are you drinking right now?

The last beer I enjoyed was the Gold Leaf Lager brewed by Devils Backbone Brewing Co. It's a very delicious, dangerously drinkable Helles Lager perfect for any occasion. Doesn't hurt that's it's a multiple GABF Gold Medal winner to boot. I sometimes wonder if they renamed the beer after all their awards.

How long have you been working at Bluejacket, and where did you work before?

I have worked at Bluejacket since the opening in October 2013, and begun my brewing internship in January 2014. I have been working at our sister restaurant ChurchKey since July 2010, and I am still currently employed there.

Bluejacket is known for having a collaborative environment, do you think this eases or complicates the brewing process? 

I believe that the collaborative environment of Bluejacket is in the interest of brewers and patrons alike. The knowledge and experiences shared by the different collaborating breweries helps with the continuous development of Bluejacket's beers and the skills of our own brewing staff. The patrons benefit because they can enjoy beers brewed in efforts with some of the best and most interesting breweries in the world like De Struise from Belgium or Funky Buddha of Florida.

Is there a hierarchy within the Bluejacket brewhouse? 

Well, the brewhouse is on the top floor so I guess that is the overarching lord commander. But as far as between the brewers, everyone is on the same page. Each brewer has their personal strengths, but everyone has equal input and the ability to assist the others for the betterment of the beers. It's a win-win for everyone.

What is the most challenging aspect of working at Bluejacket?

My inability to grow facial hair, which I have been told is what separates the assistants from the brewers. But in seriousness, I believe the most challenging aspect is meeting the expectations of our guests as well as those we have set for ourselves. We hope to provide people with the best beer, food, atmosphere, and service possible. And when we have done everything to achieve that goal, we will raise the bar higher and keep climbing.

What is the most rewarding aspect of working at Bluejacket?

Other than the knowledge that most people are envious of our jobs, I think the most rewarding aspect of Bluejacket is the creative environment that has developed. Yes, we must brew the standard go-to IPAs and lagers that can please everyone. But we also get to brew more experimental recipes that some breweries may not develop as a result of lack of resources. Having 19 different fermentation vessels, one being the coolship, allowing the brewers to play around and test the boundaries of what beers can be produced at Bluejacket.

Which beer holds the most meaning to you? 

The Stroppy is a personal favorite of mine. A somewhat sessionable, predominantly Pacific Jade pale with just a touch of Citra hops. Loads of stone and tropical fruit notes with a touch of citric zest.

For which beer(s) did you create the recipe/which beer(s) are you most proud of? 

I personally have yet to create my first beer on the Bluejacket system. We will soon have a pilot batch system for us to be able to tweak current recipes, as well as experiment in smaller quantities with new, more obscure recipes. Once delivered and operational, I hope to re-brew one of my favorite recipes; a Belgian strong dark ale with blueberries, lavender, and nutmeg. Of course [that will be] after the Fireball beer, a desired inaugural pilot batch recipe formulated by our brewer Josh.

What do you make of the DCBeer scene? What are the most endearing aspects of being a brewer in the small town of DC? 

The DC beer scene is one of the most interesting areas to be a brewer and beer drinker. Since it is such a transient city, the DC populace demands many different beers from breweries all over the country and world. You can enjoy a beer from back home without the cost of transportation. DC is a special environment because the brewers here in DC are all about the same goal: not only to brew the best beer they can, but to also create a community and beer culture that rivals that of any other "beer-town" around the globe.

Can you share a time when something went wrong, or not planned but was still salvaged?

The "little, vanilla-filled 'hop-sack' that could" thwarted our cleaning efforts; clinging to a side of a cask waiting for its next beer to flavor. The Lost Weekend on cask, usually dry hopped with 6 oz of Citra hops, emitted an intense aroma of vanilla mysteriously. We were surprised to say the least, because the beer had been transformed into a delicious cream soda IPA. It was one of my personal favorite "oops" moments.

What else would you like the DCBeer readership to know?

The DC beer scene has exploded in the last couple of years, but it is still in its infancy. The beer scene will only get better in the years to come, and everyone can do their part in enticing more and more breweries from around the world to come to DC. If you’re traveling, bring some local beer to share. Get the word out about the great offerings from the area, and only good things will come.

Any other additional information you'd like to share would be most appreciated?

Owen's robot dance will put any other brewer's to shame.

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