In a blog post on their website Tuesday afternoon, Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project founders Dann Paquette and Martha Holley-Paquette announced that they were bringing the project to a close. The news was a surprise to me and to everyone I spoke to in the Massachusetts beer industry, many of whom are in touch with the couple regularly.
“It’s not good,” says Chris Lohring, founder of Salem’s Notch Brewing Co. “Dann was one of the champions for local beer. When he started seven years ago, a lot of Boston accounts were buying beer from far away.” The closing, says the brewer, “is definitely a hit.”
Pretty Things was everything a local brewery is supposed to be. When I took over the Globe’s beer column three years ago, it was easy to gravitate toward and write about the quirky Somerville brewers. Pretty Things showed range, brewing everything from Baby Tree, a Belgian quad made with plums, to American Darling, a German-style lager moonlighting as a lawnmower beer. Pretty Things was creative, slapping a mustache on a drawing of a grain and making it into a character, Jack D’Or, described on one of the brewery’s colorful labels as “bitter, golden, & contrary.” My friends and I would make it a point to seek out new releases. We’d bring bottles to house parties and exchange them as gifts.
At this point it’s unclear why Pretty Things is shutting down. Calls to the brewery’s office phone have gone unanswered, as have several e-mails to Holley-Paquette. Last October, Paquette sent a series of tweets condemning pay-to-play practices in the state, sparking a state investigation that eventually found fault with Pretty Things’ own distributor, Craft Beer Guild LLC. The statement on Pretty Things’ website does not offer a reason for the closing, only saying, in part, “Brewing our beers has been a great labor and a great joy. But best of all we shared it with so many great beer drinkers. It really feels like we met you all.”
Pretty Things was increasingly a litmus test for the craft beer business in the state. Because building a brewery is expensive, the Paquettes worked out of Buzzards Bay Brewing in Westport. They brewed IPAs but never focused on them, eschewing the copycat trend of so many new breweries. They sold their beers on tap and in 22-ounce bottles, even though cans are rapidly becoming the preferred packaging for many consumers.
“Dann wasn’t pigeonholed in one style or styles in general,” says Lohring. “When I got into this, craft beer was all about options. What Dann did was offer a lot of that. To lose a brewer that had had that skill set, it’s sad to see him go, it really is.”
Suzanne Schalow, co-owner of Belmont’s Craft Beer Cellar, says Jack D’Or had been her store’s bestseller since it opened in 2010. “Is this a closing down because they couldn’t make it any longer? Because the current state of the craft beer market demands beer in small bottles or cans? Because they had pressures from their distributor, that they accidentally blew the whistle on?” asks Schalow. “I’d like to think not, but I really don’t know.”
The retailers are saddened by the news, she says, adding that consumers worrying that their favorite breweries might shut down need to “go out and vote with their dollar.”Gary Dzen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@GaryDzen.