Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tripel Dubbel Q&A: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

And so it returns. After a four or five month hiatus for no reason other than lack of sending out questions on my part, the Tripel Dubbel Q&A has descended upon us once again. Bob Sylvester from Saint Somewhere Brewing tackled the first session here, and this time we've turned to a Massachusetts/New England fixture (except for when he decides to brew overseas): Dann Paquette of the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project.

Dann has been brewing professionally since the early 1990's and his career has included stops at Ipswich Brewing Company, The Pilgrim Brewery, Mill City Brewing Company, John Harvard's Brew House, North East Brewing Company, The Concorde Brewery, The Haverhill Brewery (all located in Massachusetts) and The Daleside Brewery (in North Yorkshire, England).

His latest labor of (beer) love is Pretty Things, a "Beer and Ale Project" that was founded with his wife Martha and which brews a small but growing lineup of artisanal beer that includes, amongst others, flagship Jack D'Or (an American-Belgian saison hybrid), Baby Tree (a quadrupel brewed with dried plums) and Saint Botolph's Town (a "big malty brown ale"). All of Dann's beers are not contract brewed at Buzzards Bay Brewing in Westport, MA, which he will explain to you, well, now:

What made you choose Buzzards Bay as your production facility for Pretty Things, and please explain to those who might not understand the business side of the brewing process how you are NOT in fact a contract brewed brand.

Well, I've been friends with Bill Russell from Buzzard's Bay before there was even a brewery. For a while back in the mid 1990's when I was a brewer at North East Brewing Company in Allston, MA we were the only brewery in New England doing wood-aged beer. Since I've always been a weirdo, sour beer in wood was on my radar. I called Bill at his winery and he let me take a lovely French wine barrel off his hands. We made several of the first sour beers made in the US, using lactobacili for acidification in that barrel. By the way if you want to see it, last I knew it was sitting in a corner in the dining room of The Tap in Haverhill.
Anyway, there's a really amazing brewery down in Westy, on a 500 acre farm. Why wouldn't I like to be brewing there?

Why is Pretty Things NOT a contract? Well a contract brewing situation is where you pay someone to make beer for you. I make beer for us in someone else's brewery. That's why!

You've done the brewpub thing, been a brewer at production facilities both domestically and overseas, and even developed Rapscallion, a unique artisanal line within the structure of an existing brewery: which has proven to be the most valuable challenge for you and why?

Yorkshire was a decent challenge. It took me ages to understand my coworkers' accents and it felt (brewery-wise at least) that I had gone back in time. But I have to admit that I'm not eager to brew at brewpubs. I've worked at three over the years. With brewpubs you can be only as good as the neighborhood that drinks your beer wants you to be, and if the nachos come out cold then my beer sucks. It's all about all of that restaurant stuff. I prefer to be in the brewing industry where you connect with people who love beer - not good table service.

Anyway, I've done a lot since 1992. The biggest challenge was ages ago when most people didn't want good beer. We were marketing to anyone who would even pretend to want us. I remember many tastings, charity events and festivals back in the day (like many dozens) where I wasted a lot of time setting up, pouring and driving home late at night for people who would never even think of drinking good beer again (at least anytime soon). We're all spoiled now with the great consumers here in our market. We all need to thank Jason and Todd Alström for bringing it all together. The only problem is that these days, consumers that have been drinking beer for three months are spoiled for good beer, it's a different place than where my generation is from. For instance, growing up in good beer in my late teens I knew almost no one else who was into it or knowledgeable - so it was largely a personal thing. Now it's ALL about other people's opinions. I think that's sad.

Pretty Things has grown steadily but fairly quickly. Besides your home turf of Massachusetts, you're now available in Philadelphia and parts of eastern Pennsylvania, New York City and Minnesota. What's next in terms of distribution expansion? Is there even capacity to do so within your current facility agreement?

There's plenty of capacity and Rhode Island is an obvious place to go to. We're also in an agreement with a new distributor in Vancouver BC. But our biggest growth market is Massachusetts and that's our focus.

Which Pretty Things beer is your favorite and why?

Jack D'Or is my favorite. It was the first and just like children you always love the first one the best.

If you could brew a collaborative beer with any other US brewer/brewery, who would it be an why?

Am I the only one who doesn't get the whole collaboration thing? You fly a thousand miles to make a throw-away beer for what: ego and one shelf space? But if someone were to ask me I'd like it to be in a brewery I was interested in brewing on their equipment. How is Yuengling for an answer?

What is your proudest moment as a professional brewer?

With Pretty Things I've had some great moments. It's been like a rebirth for me. Around the time John Lennon was killed I remember hearing and reading all of the interviews about how happy he was at 40. I remember as a young kid wondering how anything could be better than standing there in a green Sgt Pepper's costume knowing you had just recorded "A Day in the Life" with the Beatles? But there comes a time when it is your time and it's all positive. Listen, I do things my way and I'm happy to have the opportunity with Martha to put this all together. We brew beer to our tastes, based on real experiences in Europe and the US as beer-lovers. There's no style, no nonsense like that. Just flavours and ingredients we know. Style is essentially a bunch of numbers that don't translate into flavour and imposed on culturally-authentic beers in the past tense. They were never meant to be "recipes", just historical records. Beer is an ephemeral thing - it's got a very short relevance. In other words: styles are meaningless in the present tense to American brewers. Doing my own thing with Martha and having people out there to enjoy it? That's the best thing ever.

Thanks to Dann for a quick reply with answers that were both thoughtful and insightful, and keep on the lookout for the next round of Tripel Dubbel, which I assure you is not months away this time...

Beer, Hopback, Pretty Things, Massachusetts, Dann Paquette, Jack D'Or, Baby Tree, Saint Botolph's Town, Yuengling, New England, Buzzards Bay, Rapscallion