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DC’s Bluejacket Brewery has Quite the Arsenal

20 November 2013

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Living in Philly, it’s not hard to start taking craft beer bars for granted.  Not only does it seem like a 10-minute walk from my front step will get me to nearly a dozen places with good beer (it will), but there are also more opening up almost weekly.  When everyone in the city has good craft beer, you begin to distinguish yourself in some other way—this is why a craft beer bar with excellent food has become old hat to Philadelphians.  And also why, when traveling, I often find my snobbier side creeping out and thinking, “This is your best beer bar?”

photo_1Fortunately, when my wife and I took a trip to DC over the weekend and stopped at the newly opened Arsenal at Bluejacket, I could be impressed rather than disappointed.  Occupying a boilermaker factory from 1918, you’d never be able to tell the building had so much history.  Everything looked shiny and new, well put-together and aesthetically pleasing.  From the communal tables with their warm lights hanging above to the long bar and the wonderfully lit wall-sized beer menu—all topped off by being overlooked by rows of fermenters brewing up the next batches for those seated below—there was nothing the natural light of the outside didn’t touch through the giant floor-to-ceiling rows of windows.

The Arsenal—which is the bar/restaurant portion of the operation—had many more hits than misses, with the only real shortcoming being the fried pig tails (though the General Satan’s Sauce they were in was delicious). The Juicy Lucy burger (two dry-aged brisket patties, white cheddar, dijonnaise) was juicy, messy, and flavorful enough to be a standout burger on any menu, and my wife couldn’t stop raving about the veggie burger she’d ordered.  A patty made of black beans, chickpeas, and faro and topped with ancho mayo and avocado, this became only the second veggie burger I’ve had that could give meat patties a run for their money. On the side, we also had perfectly-prepared housemade tater tots (crispy on the outside, creamy and soft on the inside) and a taste of the violet mustard that usually accompanies the cheese plate. It was so interestingly herbaceous for mustard that I was never sure if I liked it, but I couldn’t stop eating it.  A final tip: if you get any kind of fries with your order, ask for the harissa aioli on the side. You won’t be disappointed.

photo_4The beer from Bluejacket (the brewery portion, which boasts a coolship) was the real highlight, though.  Head brewer Megan Parisi made her name through seven years (and five GABF medals) at Cambridge Brewing Co. in Cambridge, MA, so any quality should not be a surprise.  Highlights included the oud bruin Trouble, the 4.2% easy-drinking Forbidden Planet dry-hopped Kolsch, the slightly funky/not-so-slightly bitter The Duel IPA finished with brett, and The Forager, a saison seasoned with poor man’s pepper and violet wood sorrel hand-foraged by executive chef Kyle Bailey. My favorite, though, may have been the Figure 8 on cask, a wee heavy brewed with figs and spices, casked with vanilla and coffee beans.  This dessert-like beer, meant to mimic pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac’s figgy toffee pudding, was a complete 180 from its on-draft brother (which was minus the coffee and vanilla). Liquid dessert: a perfect way to end any meal.

Despite service being slow at times (the place was packed), all aspects of the bar-brewery-restaurant came together quite well in the end.  The Neighborhood Restaurant Group has really amassed a group of all-stars for this current endeavor.  Executive Chef Kyle Bailey (of ChurchKey and Birch & Barley), chef de cuisine Dan Hahndorf (formerly of Vermillion), pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac (just named Eater DC’s pastry chef of the year), Megan Parisi, and beer guru Greg Engert all combine to make this a must-visit if you are in DC. Having a talented chef or a talented brewmaster or a well-respected beer director would each be great for anyone, but to quote those ridiculously annoying Ford commercials, I like ‘and’ better.

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All pictures (except the burger) are courtesy of @leeanneeats.  Be sure to follow @Bluejacketdc on Twitter for updates.

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