The recently opened brewery-restaurant Bluejacket Brewery and its internal restaurant The Arsenal is something of a dream project for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group. Given the immense popularity of its other beer-centric duplex, ChurchKey and Birch & Barley, opening their own massive brewery was only natural. The brewery side is headed by NRG's resident beer nerds Greg Engert (beer director) and Megan Parisi (brewmaster); the kitchen by husband and wife duo Kyle Bailey (executive chef) and Tiffany MacIsaac (pastry chef), and the setup is ripe for collaboration. One of the ways the teams are working together is by using the same grains in both brewing and in the kitchen. "I love the idea of full utilization of a product," says Bailey.
Grains, of course, are an integral part of making beer (more on that below), but even after they've served their purpose in the brewery, they're still useful in the kitchen. "We call them spent grains," says Parisi, "because they have given us all that we needed from them in the way of sugars." Beginning typically as a mixture of pale malted barley and a blend of other roasted versions of barley, wheat, rye, and oats, the grains are milled to release the starches inside. Parisi uses up to 1400 lbs of malt in one full batch of beer.
Once the grains are mashed with water in large kettles to release their sugars, they're drained and disposed of. At this point, Parisi recycles the grains in one of two ways: by partnering with local farmers to use in their feed, or to provide Bailey and MacIsaac with up to 200 lbs of spent grains per batch that they can then prepare for use in various doughs to add a depth of texture and flavor.
"Spent grains add a great texture to the pasta and breads," Bailey explains. "The grains have a nuttiness that carries through when cooked fresh." Once handed off to Bailey, the grains are dehydrated and milled into a fine powder. From there, Bailey and MacIsaac employ the grains in a variety of dishes, often toasting to use as a thickener for sauces, to build a crispy crust for pastas, or "pretty much anything you'd use flour for."
We had an opportunity to walk through the whole facility, from brewhouse to kitchen, and see how Bailey takes the spent grains and uses them in his "Spent Shells" mac and cheese: spent grain shells, house-made Cheese-Its, and a white cheddar béchamel sauce. The final product is a pasta that's rich but not heavy, with a noticeable earthiness from the addition of the spent barley. Complemented by the cheddar in the béchamel and Bailey's crushed Cheese-Its, the Mac and Cheese is playful, but still more restrained than your typical mac and cheese gutbomb.
To see the grains go from malt room to macaroni, click through to the slideshow.
About the author: Brian Oh is a Washington, DC based international development professional and a food, photography, and travel enthusiast. In his free time, you can usually find him stuffing his face in our nation's capital. Follow him on Twitter @brianoh11