5 Stupid Questions With DC Beer Legend Greg Engert

, 5 Stupid Questions With DC Beer Legend Greg Engert

(NRG’s Greg Engert / photo: Jeff Chenault)

If you live anywhere around the mid-Atlantic and you care about beer – you already know who Greg Engert is. He’s the voice and face of craft beer in the nation’s capital and the man behind some of Washington, DC’s best beer venues.

But that didn’t happen overnight…

While working on his masters at Georgetown University, Greg spent his evenings working at Washington DC’s legendary craft beer emporium, The Brickskeller,  were he quickly rose through the ranks while gleaning just about everything that he could about beer.

, 5 Stupid Questions With DC Beer Legend Greg Engert In 2006 Greg was hired as the Beer Director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (NRG) a powerhouse organization that now oversees numerous restaurants, bars and retail outlets, including beer-centric venues like the award-winning ChurchKey.

Greg, now a Managing Partner for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, oversaw the opening of Bluejacket, one of Washington DC’s impressive boutique breweries.

We first sat down with Greg almost a decade ago, and because he remains one of craft beer’s most vital voices, we’ve republished an edited version of that original conversation, because it still resonates…

ACB: You’re clearly “The Man” when it comes to craft beer in the Nation’s Capital and you’ve fast become a player throughout the industry. In 2010 you were named one of the “Top 10 to Watch” by Restaurant Hospitality magazine, you garnered a James Beard Award nomination, and Food and Wine named you as one of their “Sommeliers of the Year” – the first beer professional to ever have been honored. Why in the world would you ever have agreed to be profiled by us? What were you thinking?

Because my good buddy—and American Craft Beer Founder–Tom Bobak begged me to! I can’t say no to him…

And I love what americancraftbeer.com is all about. They’re one-stop shop for all things craft beer—news, editorials, in-depth pieces—and they are bringing a nuanced style to the table that is refreshing

. I am also in very fine company for this column: my old friend David Walker gave a dynamite interview for “5 Stupid Question” a while back…

ACB: Having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Middlebury College – and entered a master’s program at Georgetown University – you seemed destined for an academic’s career. What happened to you? Were you parents pissed?

You know, while I was up in the ivory tower at Middlebury, I really had no idea what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life. Academia seemed the proper career trajectory as that was all I really knew; plus, the idea of studying and teaching in perpetuity at some bucolic liberal arts college in New England appeared to be a pretty damn good professional goal.

But my mind, and passion, began to wander once my graduate work commenced in DC. The intense pressure to publish in academia–combined with far less impetus placed on teaching—as well as the realization that jobs in English Literature were neither necessarily as glamorous (nor as available), as I’d imagined, led me to consider new paths. Having already picked up some shifts at The Brickskeller, I found my intellectual drive renewed, and I gradually refocused my energy—and critical attention—to craft beer.

The Brickskeller, (which closed in 2010) with its 1000+ bottled beer collection, became my new library, and the staggering coterie of visitors, luminaries like Michael Jackson, Tomme Arthur, Garret Oliver and Sam Calagione, became my new teachers. I tasted, talked, traveled and began to live craft beer in full, all the while honing my understanding and appreciation of what craft beer could be.

Were my parents pissed? Ask them!

, 5 Stupid Questions With DC Beer Legend Greg Engert

(Bluejacket: Washington, DC)

ACB: Tell us about Bluejacket which opened in 2013. How did it come about?

While at The Brickskeller, I also began to imagine how craft beer could be further realized within bar and restaurant settings, and –once I had the opportunity to join the Neighborhood Restaurant Group—set upon realizing these notions. This lead to Birch & Barley/ ChurchKey, as well as Bluejacket.

Michael Babin, NRG Founder and Principal, is an amazing guy with boundless energy, passion and intellectual acuity.  He and I have been collaborating on concept development since I joined the group, and establishing our very own craft brewery had long been a dominant focus. We knew we wanted to create a singular production brewery with boundless potential, one where any and all flavor possibilities could be continually made manifest. Bluejacket was designed to offer endless opportunities to develop our very own craft beer identity, and to add our voice to the brewing scene at large.

Nearly 20 fermentation vessels–including specialty vessels like an open fermenter, a horizontal fermenter, and a coolship–as well as nearly 60 different oak barrels and a brewing lab allow us to develop and produce a wide-ranging array of ales and lagers to suit any palate as well as any plate; we have begun to more specifically concentrate on properly matured lagers, aromatically hoppy ales, strong Belgian-inspired beers, and all manner of funky-sour brews.

ACB: What’s next for Greg Engert? Any prime-time or reality TV shows pending? Or do you find yourself thinking about disappearing into a Himalayan Ashram as Stone founder Greg Koch is rumored to have done?

No reality TV shows pending…thankfully…. This has also long been a dream, and I can’t imagine a more fitting way to fuse my former and current professional paths, though once seemingly so divergent.

ACB: Everyone has a “house beer”- a beer that’s their staple at home – What’s yours? C’mon give it up.

I get this question quite a bit…and it never becomes easier to answer. I will say that I always have a handful of uber-fresh Pale Ales and IPAs on hand, a myriad of Saisons, as well as a stockpile of traditional Lambics and other sour ales. My shelves are stocked with anything Maine Beer Company, Prairie Artisan Ales, Jolly Pumpkin and Crooked Stave send my way…along with mainstay Lambics from Cantillon, Tilquin and 3 Fonteinen.


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