Brewery Overview: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

Pretty Things Line-up

Location: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project is based out of Somerville, MA but they don’t have a physical brewery. They rent out brewery space to brew all of their beers. I would love to see a Pretty Things brewery/taproom at some point, but the contract brewer setup seems to fit the philosophy of the brewery and it’s founders.

Website: http://www.prettythingsbeertoday.com/wp/

Leadoff: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project is the brainchild and passion project of husband and wife team Dann and Martha Paquette. For six years they have been producing some of the highest quality beers in Massachusetts. Dann and Martha find inspiration in their travels and through collaborating and studying with other brewers. They make beers using a combination of classic and modern brewing techniques. They also take pride in researching old recipes and bringing back styles that have fallen by the wayside. Although Pretty Things makes a wide range of beer styles they have an affinity for maltier beer, an anomaly in the hop-centric American beer culture. This was one of the first local breweries that inspired me to learn more about the beers I was drinking, a path that eventually led to me starting this blog.

Pretty Things Bocky Bier

My Favorite Pretty Things Beers

Jack D’Or: The beer that made me a fan of the saison style. This beer is complex mixture of expressive Belgian style yeast, a number of diverse grains and substantial hops, but everything meshes in perfect harmony.

Meadowlark IPA: Many people were surprised when Pretty Things first launched an American IPA, but it quickly became one of their most popular beers. Bright and hop forward but still balanced, this is one of the best local versions of the IPA style.

Barbapapa: Pretty Things uses a complicated and time consuming double decoction technique to extract maximum malt flavors for some of their big beers. Barbapapa is a bold and boozy imperial stout that celebrates dark and roasted malt flavors.

Bocky Bier: I think the bock/dopplebock styles of German lagers are underrated and underexplored by American brewers. Pretty Things released Bocky Bier this winter and it immediately became one of my favorite versions of this style, I really hope it becomes part of their regular lineup.

Pretty Things Lovely Saint Winefride

Other Beers You Should Try:

It was hard for me to limit myself to only four “favorite” Pretty Things beers, I enjoy so many of their offerings. Baby Tree is their flagship quadrupel featuring huge malt flavors that perfectly complement the Belgian yeast. Their spring seasonal Fluffy White Rabbits is a Belgian tripel with a liberal dose of tasty hops. The early winter brings double-decoction mashed Our Finest Regards, one of the best local barleywines. Their other double decoction beer is Grampus, a hoppy ale with lighter color but big boozy flavor. Other flavorful malt-forward offerings include brown lager Lovely Saint Winefride and brown ale St. Boltoph’s Town. All of these beers are worth picking up if you are a fan of the respective styles.

Pretty Things There's No Place Like There

Collaborations: One of the advantages to contract brewing is that it allows Dann and Martha to travel more and from these travels many collaboration beers are born. One of my all-time favorites was a Stingo they brewed with Boulevard Brewing Company. Stingo is a nearly extinct dark and malty British ale style, after tasting this beer I really hope it makes a comeback. More recently Pretty things brewed a deliciously hoppy double IPA called There’s No Place Like There with Spanish brewer Naparbier. I look forward to seeing what collaborations are in store for the coming year.  

Pretty Things Jack D'Or

Artwork and Glassware: Ever wonder who comes up with the interesting and eclectic cast of characters that adorn the Pretty Things beer labels? Dann and Martha do all of the artwork for the brewery themselves. Sometimes they even come up with a design and a name first and have to develop the proper beer to complement their art.  Pretty Things also makes some very unique glassware, including the pint glass boot that I was finally able to add to my glassware collection.

Final Thoughts: It amazes me how many people forget about Pretty Things when they list the best breweries in New England. I don’t think I have ever had a bad beer by this brewery, and many of their beers are amongst my favorite versions of a particular style. I highly recommend tasting any and all beers this brewery produces, I know I will continue to be a frequent customer!

Pretty Things Jack D’Or

Tomorrow I am planning on posting the next entry in my brewery overview series featuring Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project. I had no problem choosing which beer I would review for my lead in article. When I made the transition from chugging Natty Light at a Bowdoin campus-wide party to enjoying flavorful craft beer there were some styles that I enjoyed immediately and others that required more time. Pale ales, IPAs, porters and stouts were all immediate favorites, but at first I didn’t really like Belgian style beers. The fruity and spicy esters gave these beers a much different flavor profile from what I was used to, and my first experiences weren’t great. I spent years insisting that I didn’t like Belgian beers. Later on, after moving to Boston, I began reading the old 99 Bottles blog on Boston.com, and Steve Greenlee routinely sang the praises of the upstart local brewery named Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, in particular their flagship saison Jack D’Or. That blog had introduced me to numerous great beers, so I gave Jack D’Or a try and it completely changed my opinion of Belgian beers. Saisons are now one of my favorite styles of beer and Jack D’Or is a huge reason why. Pretty Things brews Jack D’Or with a diverse set of ingredients including wheat, oats, rye and 4 varieties of hops. It is available year round on draft and in 22 oz. bombers.

Pretty Things Jack D'OrPretty Things Jack D’Or pours straw yellow with a solid white head. The scent is a complex mixture of spicy Belgian style yeast, floral hops and a little light malt. The yeast leads the flavor, notes of green apple, coriander, white pepper and apricot. There is also a substantial hop profile, more than many saisons, with touches of cut grass, lemon and forest floor with a hit of bitterness. There is also noticeable malt body in this saison, crackers and toast along with spicy rye and wheat. There are a number of complex and diverse flavors mingling in this beer but it all fits together seamlessly. Pretty Things Jack D’Or is light bodied, super easy to drink, and at 6.4% ABV it is right around the norm for a saison. Like many saisons, Jack D’Or is great to pair with food – it is a go-to beer for me when I eat out. If you haven’t caught on by now this is one of my all-time favorite beers, highly recommended in every way. Hoppy Boston score: 5.0/5.

Previous Pretty Things Reviews:

Pretty Things Lovely Saint WinefridePretty Things Bocky BierPretty Things/Naparbier There’s No Place Like TherePretty Things Grampus, Pretty Things Barbapapa, Pretty Things Meadowlark, Pretty Things/Yeastie Boys Our Turn, Your Turn.

Narragansett/Revival Lovecraft Honey Ale

When Narragansett re-launched their brand I assumed they would focus on their lager, a well-made and local alternative to big beer adjunct lagers. I was a little surprised when they pushed heavily into the craft space with their seasonal and special release beers. Part of this has been a focus on their home state of Rhode Island, many of their beers feature tie-ins to local businesses or people. This is again the case with their recent Lovecraft Honey Ale. Lovecraft is named in honor of horror author H.P. Lovecraft who spent the majority of his years writing in Providence. Lovecraft’s work wasn’t appreciated while he lived, but later inspired many famous authors, musicians and filmmakers. Narragansett brewed Lovecraft Honey Ale as a collaboration with local upstart Revival Brewing Company. It is an American amber ale brewed with significant amounts of honey malt. Lovecraft Honey Ale is available for a limited time on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.

Narragansett Lovecraft Honey AleNarragansett/Revival Lovecraft Honey Ale pours a deep copper with a monstrous off-white head. The scent is subtle, some mild maltiness along with a bit of floral hops. The malts lead the flavor, touches of graham cracker, toast, caramel and a little honey. This is followed by a solid hit of hops, touches of grass and earth along with a bitter kick. The beer is medium bodied and goes down smooth, I was a little surprised it was 7% ABV. The finish has a little malt sweetness along with crisp hoppiness. Lovecraft is a solid beer, a good selection for springtime. I am looking forward to further specialty releases by Narragansett. Hoppy Boston score 4.0/5.

Previous Narragansett Reviews:

Narragansett Autocrat Coffee Milk StoutNarragansett Fest LagerNarragansett Del’s Shandy

Evil Twin Ron and The Beast Ryan

Saturday was apparently “Saison Day”. There seems to be a designated “drink this beer day” for every popular (or even not so popular) beer style now. I have no idea who decides this and I have no interest in figuring it out, it seems pretty contrived to me. That being said, I love the saison style and I need no excuse to drink a saison to celebrate the start of spring (even if it snowed in MA and feels nothing like spring yet). My “Saison Day” selection was Ron and The Beast Ryan by Evil Twin Brewing Company. Evil Twin’s lead brewer Jeppe has named a number of beers after his frequent brewing partner Ryan, and since I have a particular fondness for that name I have a tendency to pick them up. Maybe it’s a subconscious desire to have a popular beer named after myself. Ron and The Beast Ryan is a saison fermented with Brettanomyces, the wild yeast strain that adds a rustic funky flavor to many traditional ales of continental Europe. Evil Twin Ron and The Beast Ryan is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 22 oz. bombers.

Evil Twin Ron and The Beast RyanEvil Twin Ron and The Beast Ryan pours a bright orange with a solid snow-white head. The smell is very funky, barnyard with a little spice. The Brett yeast comes through strongly in the flavor, notes of farmhouse, wet grass, crabapple and pepper. There is a solid malt backbone too, touches of toasted bread and just a hint of honey. Not a ton of hops here, just a touch of earthiness and some crispness at the finish. The beer is light bodied and easy to drink while still being complex, and packs a little punch at 7% ABV. Ron and The Beast Ryan really showcases the flavors produced by fermentation with Brettanomyces, while some beers use a little Brett for subtle complexity this beer hits you over the head with the flavor. If you like Brett fermented beer this is a must-try. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Evil Twin Reviews:

Jack’s Abby/Evil Twin Jack’s Evil Brew

Mayflower Porter

As more breweries open and competition increases for market share many brewers seem to be resorting to gimmicks as a way to attract customers. Some are making bigger and bigger beers, higher alcohol, higher IBUs, ultra-hoppy triple IPAs or booze-forward barrel aged imperial stouts. Some have crazy in-your-face label art or bold to borderline offensive beer names. Others put every adjunct ingredient under the sun into their beers. Some of these beers are still legitimately great, some are fun to try once in a while, and some are just strange. What many of these brewers forget is that the best way to attract and retain customers is to just make great beer, no gimmicks necessary. Mayflower Brewing Company makes classic versions of traditional beer styles with straight forward labels and names that are typically just the brewery and beer style. One of their flagship beers is Mayflower Porter, their take on the popular British porter style. I usually make you wait until the end of the review to find out what I think of the beer, but I already let the cat out of the bag when I mentioned last week that this is one of my all-time favorite beers. Mayflower Porter is available year-round on draft and in 12 oz. bottles, so I highly recommend that you go and buy some now. It is a great beer to drink for any occasion, even for sitting around and reading a craft beer blog!

Mayflower PorterMayflower Porter pours cola brown with a moderate tan head. The scent is a big hit of roasty dark malts, chocolate, coffee grounds and a little freshly baked bread. The flavor is full of tasty dark malts, touches of cocoa, mocha, espresso and caramel. While the malts are at the forefront there is just enough earthy hops to provide balance and dry out the finish a little. The beer is medium bodied, goes down smooth and it isn’t overly boozy at 5.5% ABV. This beer is great, no crazy ingredients, no gimmicks, just a near-perfectly constructed version of a classic beer style. If you like porter and haven’t tried this beer yet it is highly recommended. If you are familiar with it and haven’t had it in a while you should try it again. Hoppy Boston score: 5.0/5.

Previous Mayflower Reviews:

Mayflower Scotch AleMayflower Spring Hop, Mayflower Oatmeal Stout

H2H Beer Review: Hoppy Lager, Sierra Nevada Beer Camp vs. Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union

Hoppy Lager SN vs JA

Many craft brewers are starting to brew lagers now, accepting that the longer fermentation times are worthwhile to add diversity to the styles of beer they can make. Budweiser apparently missed this fact when they made their Super Bowl ad, which seemed to assume that all craft beer was ale (amongst many other untrue assumptions). It’s no surprise that one of the most popular types of American lagers are beers brewed with large doses of aromatic and flavorful hops. Called India pale lagers or just hoppy lagers, these beers are a truly American creation. When done correctly the clean fermentation leads to a crisp and refreshing beer that highlights the pungent aromas and diverse flavor profiles of the selected hop varieties.

The Competitors: Beer Camp Hoppy Lager, the new spring seasonal from national powerhouse Sierra Nevada and Hoponius Union, one of the flagship lagers from local stalwart Jack’s Abby Brewing.

Sierra Nevada celebrated their touring Beer Camp festival series this summer with a 12 pack of collaboration beers they brewed with brewers from all over the country. One of these beers was a hop-forward lager they brewed with Ballast Point. For their new spring release Sierra Nevada tweaked this recipe for a slightly different take on the hoppy lager style. Jack’s Abby has been a lager-only brewery from the beginning, but they frequently venture outside the boundaries of traditional European lager styles. Hoponius Union is one of their most well known and popular beers, hoppy enough for any IPA fan but with a clean profile due to the cold fermentation with lager yeast. I thought it would be fun to compare the new offering from one of the most popular national breweries to a local favorite in this head-to-head review.

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Hoppy Lager

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Hoppy Lager pours straw yellow with a moderate white head, and the scent packs a solid punch of floral and dank hops. The hops lead the flavor, notes of grass, pine and lemon. This is balanced by some mild malts that offset the subtle bitter punch. The beer is clearly a lager, crisp and clean with a very smooth finish. Overall this is a really good beer, tons of hop flavor and aroma in a easy to drink lager.

Jack's Abby Hoponius Union

Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union pours slightly darker, a more full orange, with a mild with head. The first thing you notice about this beer is the huge burst of hops in the aroma, floral with a hit of citrus fruit. The flavor is also hop forward but a little more fruity, touches of grapefruit, mango, tangerine and resin. There is some malt balance here, but this beer is clearly a vehicle to highlight the hops. The bitterness in Hoponius Union is a little stronger than Beer Camp, much closer to IPA level. While it has many of the characteristics of a well-made IPA, this is also clearly a lager, there are no yeasty esters involved and the finish is pristine. Jack’s Abby are truly masters of lager beer, and this is one of my personal favorites amongst their selections.

The Verdict: Despite making some of the best beers in the country, Sierra Nevada can get overlooked by beer geeks because they don’t have many hard to find “unicorn beers”. The thing they excel at is consistency, and Beer Camp Hoppy Lager fits seamlessly into their portfolio of well crafted and delicious selections. As much as I liked this beer, it wasn’t quite as good as Hoponius Union, one of my favorite local beers regardless of style. I’ll give Jack’s Abby the win, but both beers are definitely worth a shot.

Previous Sierra Nevada Reviews: Sierra Nevada Snow PackSierra Nevada Celebration

Previous Jack’s Abby Reviews: Jack’s Abby Barrel-Aged FraminghammerJack’s Abby Bride MakerJack’s Abby Brewery/Hopstitution BAMJack’s Abby Copper LegendJack’s Abby Session Rye IPL, Jack’s Abby Mass RisingJack’s Abby/Evil Twin Jack’s Evil BrewJack’s Abby Wet Hop LagerJack’s Abby Pro-Am Pilsner

Wachusett Milk Stout

Tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day (although many drunken college kids have been celebrating for the better part of a week already), and most people will enjoy a couple of “traditional” drinks. One is green beer, typically a cheap adjunct lager mixed with green food coloring. No thank you. The other is Guinness, the beer most associated with Ireland. I don’t mind a Guinness here or there, I’ll probably have a pint tomorrow. If you’d like to celebrate with a stout but feel like something more local, you do have a few options. It seems like most craft brewers focus on Imperial and/or barrel aged stouts, while I enjoy these beers on occasion I am not usually looking to drink a bomber at 13% ABV on a Tuesday night. A few breweries still make traditional varieties of stout, either the dry Irish style stout or sweet/milk stout. Milk stouts aren’t actually brewed with milk, they typically have added milk sugar (lactose) which isn’t digested by the yeast leaving a residual sweetness. One local example is brewed by Wachusett Brewing Company, fittingly named Milk Stout. Wachusett Milk Stout is brewed in the winter and sold on draft, in 22 oz. bombers and now in 12 oz. cans.

Wachusett Milk StoutWachusett Milk Stout pours nearly black with a substantial sandy-colored head. The smell is all malts, dark and roasted. The taste is also very malt forward, touches of milk chocolate, mild coffee, caramel, toasted bread and just a touch of sweetness. There is also subtle but noticeable hop flavor that adds some earthy notes and balance along with a little crispness to the finish. The beer is full bodied but goes down smooth and isn’t overdone at 5.8% ABV. This is a nicely done version of a milk stout, lots of flavor without being overly sweet or boozy. I would definitely recommend Wachusett Milk Stout as a local alternative to Guinness on your St. Patrick’s Day. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Wachusett Reviews:

Wachusett Larry DIPAWachusett Green Monsta IPA