by Clare Leschin-Hoar
We should probably get this out of the way first: That cute little fellow on the label of a bottle of Jack D’Or, the flagship brew of Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, is not an egg with an oversized mustache. He’s not a lemon either. He’s a bigger-than-life grain of barley standing in a mash tun, sprung from the pen and whimsical imagination of
local brewer Dann Paquette.
Besides the giganto grain of barley that’s sporting some serious facial hair, there’s plenty about Paquette’s line of small-batch suds that’s grabbed our attention. The hand-drawn labels filled with quirky artwork and happy hops; the notable flavor profiles and offbeat names like Baby Tree, St. Botolph’s Town and American Darling; the brand’s
tagline—“Good Times Artisanal Beers”—and the fact that the beer has inspired his wife and partner,Martha Holley (anMIT scientist) to pen some Pretty Things poetry.
At the brewery, Paquette moves nimbly past brewing vats and conditioning tanks while explaining the beer-making process. It’s a chemistry lesson on converting starches to sugars, with some talk of enzymes, ratios and fermentation thrown in too. At one point, Paquette disappears behind a pallet of large sacks, emerging a few minutes later clutching a handful of barley and oats. He fans the grains out in his left hand to display the different shades of brown. The crystal-malted barley brings sweetness and color, he says, while the oats provide sweetness and head retention.
Fuzzy green pellets of hops smell incredibly fragrant and play a crucial role as well. They provide the bitterness, floral characters and aroma that help make these carefully handcrafted beers stand out.
While Paquette’s Pretty Things beer line is still fairly new—it was launched quietly in late December 2008—his presence in the Boston beer scene has been long-running, reaching back to the early 1990s, when he brewed at places like the Ipswich Brewing Company, Pilgrim Brewing and later as head brewer for North East Brewing Company, Haverhill Brewery and others. In Boston’s beer circles, he’s renowned as the creator of the cult classic Leatherlips.
After spending a few years in Yorkshire in northern England, Paquette, now 40, is back and had been renting space from the Paper City Brewing Company in Holyoke to craft his beers. (In August, Paquette transitioned to Westport and is renting space at Buzzard’s Bay Brewing, which belongs to the Russell family ofWestport Rivers Vineyard andWinery.)
“When we first started, we tried to be hush-hush because I didn’t want people waiting too long for the beer to come out, building up expectations,” says Paquette. But expectations are hard thing to rein in. Fresh out of the tap, the beers promptly generated a local buzz.
“They’re fantastic beers,” says Paul Schiavone, president of BostonChefs.com and serious home brewer. “And I’m most excited about where they’re going to go, because I know he’ll keep tweaking and changing them, but even where they are right now—they’re just fantastic.”
Count Todd Alstrom, craft-beer expert and co-founder of BeerAdvocate. com—the go-to site for all things beer—among Paquette’s admirers too.
“I’m a big fan of Dann’s,” says Alstrom. “A great beer starts with an attitude, but it’s everything from the quality of ingredients to the message of your brewery brand that are crucial. Boston could use more local beer and it’s great to see Dann’s creative brand on the market.”
Max Toste, co-owner of Deep Ellum in Allston, known best for its impressive craft beer selection, agrees: “Dann knows what he’s doing, and he’s made some serious contributions to the regional beer scene over the years that’s earned him the respect and reputation that has. He’s always been ahead of the curve and doing something before anyone else.” “The concept for Pretty Things is very artistic and very creative, and it plays into Dann’s way of thinking, which is really positive, very enjoyable and really hip too. And the best part is the beers themselves are delicious,” he says.
Are they ever.
The Jack D’Or is a dry, complex table beer made with several types of hops and four strains of yeast, including champagne yeast. The Belgian- style quadruple, Baby Tree, is a look towards the big Trappist beers, and is made with dried plums. Another (and our personal favorite) is St. Botloph’s Town. This rustic beer is chock-full of malty
character, and is a nod to Paquette’s time spent in Yorkshire.
While he continues to develop new varieties as the seasons change, Paquette says he is trying to make the most rustic product possible. He does that by using the best yeast strains and American hops he can get his hands on, and by pulling from old-European beer traditions without being traditional. Clearly Paquette is going for specific flavors, and
experts agree he’s hitting it on the money.
“It’s just a great, honest story behind what he’s doing, and people can connect to that,” says Alstrom.
There’s no doubt local beer lovers are smitten. Beer festivals, beer tastings and dinners at local restaurants have fans clamoring to bump elbows with Dann and Martha, who are delighted by the direct interaction with their customers.
“The most surprising thing is the local market is much more sophisticated than we could have dreamed,” says Paquette. “The reason people have taken to this brand is that it’s local. There’s an audience here willing to seek you out, and a community that’s willing to support you. I haven’t had such positive feedback from a rollout in my career ever.”
Pretty Things beer is sold in 22-ounce bottles at a number of local liquor stores. They’re also increasingly found on tap throughout the city at places like the Lower Depths in Kenmore, VeeVee in Jamaica Plain, Highland Kitchen in Somerville and many more. (The Pretty Things website provides a detailed listing.)
Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project
P.O. Box 416037
by Martha Holley
Hops and yeast and malted grain
Are rich in heart, and life, and pain:
The hops are jagged weeds of spite,
That blunt the sugars, try to bite:
But Jack of Gold does quell their sting
Uniting All The Pretty Things!
by Martha Holley
All aboard the baby tree!
Where else could you rather be?
Good larks we’ll have and more besides
So climb yourself up and take a ride.
These smiles won’t last, so fair thee well,
And catch them now, and rest a spell.
Stop thy harking
Quell they sting
A baby tree
Is just the thing!
Clamber aboard the baby tree!
Soak it in, there’s much to see.
What’s inside those babies’ heads?
Heaven knows, and we shan’t guess.
Stay with us in the baby tree!
We’ll rest a while, then it’s time for tea,
Fat rascals abound, but hark to the sound:
It’s beer we’ll be supping, you’ll see.
Clare Leschin-Hoar is at home trying to think up words that rhyme with beer. See her other stories at leschin-hoar.com.