The Kitchen Spy: At Home with Dann and Martha Paquette of Pretty Things
Dann and Martha Paquette, owners of Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, are often referred to as “gypsy brewers,” with their various imbibe-able successes—Jack D’Or, their flagship saison; plum-embellished quad, Baby Tree; and hoppy tripel Fluffy White Rabbits—produced in brewing facilities across the state. On the non-beer front, however, they have clear a clear home base in Medford, where the two have lived for the past three years.
Being brewers, you’ll find countless boozy rarities and unusual memorabilia—but the couple also took pains to achieve a work-life balance when setting up their home. “We wanted a place downstairs where it didn’t have to be too beer-y—where we could have some time away from work,” Martha says.
Most of said “beer-y” stuff is confined to the upstairs of their home (pictured, above) and the basement, so for this special beer edition of The Kitchen Spy, those are exactly the areas we decided to raid. Ahead, take a peek at the Paquettes’ quirky sources of inspiration, their affinity for super-creepy imagery, and even the rare beer that Dann plans to drink on his deathbed.
A wall upstairs contains the lion’s share of Dann and Martha’s brewery memorabilia, organized in a semi-haphazard grid of collectibles and tin tackers. Dann scored the selection of signs from the Brasserie de la Meuse and the Brasserie de la Croix de Lorraine—prominent French brewpubs in the late 1800s and early 1900s—at an antiques shop. “It’s one of those classic periods in European brewing,” Dann says.
In this prized snapshot, Dann hangs out with legendary brewer Tod Mott (who now operates Tributary Brewing in Maine) and revered beer writer Michael Jackson, who passed away in 2007.
Above, the very first drawing Dann ever sketched of Jack D’Or, the mascot of Pretty Things’ flagship saison (and a petite grain of barley boasting a tremendous mustache). Find more of Dann’s original sketches here.
Dann and Martha scour antique shops for creepy Victorian-era imagery and advertisements, which help inform their label designs. “You don’t think of cute things in this way anymore,” Dann says. “That was the original [inspiration for] Pretty Things….The idea was that beer was made of water, but also toasted grass, fungus, and this bitter stuff. To call it ‘pretty’ seemed kind of hilarious, the same way you would describe[these] cute little men.” Martha’s favorite image? The top left in this display case. “I just love the head in a box because I think that somebody hacked her body apart and sent somebody her face [in a box],” Martha says. “She’s like, ‘I’m dead!'”
Another favorite: Bo Peep, “a little Dutch girl” sullenly clutching a wheel of cheese.
“That’s Martha’s ukulele, and I kind of commandeered it,” Dann says. “I think I busted it.”
A bottle from the very first batch of Jack D’Or. “This is all hand-labeled as well—many awful hours of sticking those on by hand,” Dann says.
Above-center, another look at the first Jack D’Or. At left, another first: “This is the original test batch that I did with Brother Brian Rooney, from the [Spencer] Trappist Abbey at St. Josephs,” Dann says. “This was a beer that was made to help convince the community–so all of the other monks–that beer might be a good thing for them to make. So it was kind of an important beer.”
The couple collectively possesses a number of ancient beers, and hope to culture some of the Brettanomyces (or wild yeast) that formed in the bottles for use in future Pretty Things projects. Two particularly impressive examples include a 1951 Russian Imperial Stout from London’s erstwhile Barclay Perkins & Co., who is credited with popularizing the style. The above King’s Ale, miraculously, dates back to 1902 (!). “The king [of England] started the brewing process, so you’re tasting something that a king made,” says Dann, who spent time brewing in England (where he met Martha) before returning to the States in the later aughts. “A long-dead king—that’s pretty cool.”
“This is Thomas Hardy, one of the great beers of England,” Dann says. “This one is from the year I was born. So, I’m hoping that as I’m dying, maybe, I’ll drink it. I guess if I get sick, I’ll just put it in the refrigerator.”
A stubby bottle of strong porter from Samuel Smith’s, bottled in 1981, boasts a funky metal pull-tab lid.
A book of old Yorkshire folk words offers the couple inspiration when brainstorming new beer names. A favorite word? Barguest. “It’s a monster. I don’t know why it’s called barguest,” Dann says. “It’s an evil spirit in the form of a dog, pig, or other animal,” Martha adds.
While beer is the Paquette’s vocation, they’re also avid cooks. Dann makes all manner of smoked meats with the help of a vertical smoker, while Martha stays true to her British roots with Yorkshire-style roasts and puddings.
Dann’s favorite dish to cook? Something that pairs exceptionally well with beer: meat pies.
The Pretty Things red shield logo was inspired by the above embroidery crafted by Martha’s grandmother (see: the tree sprouting from the left-hand side).
Mugs bearing the Pretty Things logo were a gift from Spencer Brewery’s Father Isaac Keeley, who was a potter before he took up the craft of brewing.
A slew of specialty, limited-edition Pretty Things glassware.