Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, the beloved Boston-area craft beer company owned by Dann and Martha Paquette and known for its popular Jack D’Or saison, will officially close next month, the pair announced in a blog post.
“After seven years it’s time to draw the curtains and head off to a new adventure,” they wrote.
It’s not totally clear why Pretty Things has decided to cease operations, and the company’s blog post left few answers, but the decision to shut down comes about one year after Dann Paquette publicly protested illegal pay-to-play practices on Twitter, a moment that will forever be part of his legacy.
“Boston is a pay to play town and we’re often shut out for draft lines along with many beers you may love,” he tweeted at the time.
In those tweets, Paquette accused bar owners of conducting under-the-table transactions and accepting incentives from wholesalers and brewers in exchange for guaranteed placement.
Six months later, Massachusetts state regulators opened an official investigation and accused Craft Beer Guild LLC, Pretty Things’ wholesaler, of illegally inducing bar owners. The Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission would later uncover at least 15 instances where Craft Beer Guild had made payments of as much as $12,000 in exchange for committed tap lines.
That left Mr. Paquette, and the Pretty Things brand, in a difficult position; he’d just blown the proverbial whistle on the very same wholesaler responsible for selling the bulk of his beer.
Paquette did not immediately return a request for comment, but it’s hard not to question whether the decision to speak out publicly on pay-to-play — a fairly commonplace albeit illegal practice in the beer industry — played a role in Pretty Things’ eventual decision to shutter the business.
At least one local retailer, Suzanne Schalow, the co-founder of the popular Craft Beer Cellar chain, sure doesn’t think so.
“Maybe it created some riffs that people were not aware of, but I didn’t feel it or see it,” said Schalow, who noted that Jack D’Or was the top-selling item in her Belmont, Mass. location. “I know the Craft Brewers Guild has an enormous amount of respect for Dann and Martha.”
If that’s the case, the respect appears to be mutual. In its post, Pretty Things thanked Craft Brewers Guild for distributing the brand over the last six years.
“We have the greatest respect for the reps who have pounded the street on our behalf. We are especially thankful to Craft [Brewers Guild] for never questioning who we are and who we want to be,” they wrote.
Was it Always Just “a project?”
News of the company’s closure shouldn’t come as a total shock to those who follow the brand closely. Dann Paquette has repeatedly cited the “project” component of the company’s namesake as evidence that he could, at a moment’s notice, shut everything down.
“When Pretty Things is over — which is when we retire or go out of business maybe — it won’t carry on in some other form,” he told Brewbound Session attendees in 2013. “When you end a project, you are just ending the project. You aren’t going out of business.”
Known for hand-drawn labels, distinctive style offerings and a whimsical brand identity, Pretty Things was founded on a shoestring budget of just $8,000. The company didn’t own its own brewing equipment and instead rented time and space at Buzzard’s Bay Brewing in Westport, MA.
In fact, Pretty Things’ success as a “gypsy brewer” helped to shed the stigma around contract brewing and ushered in a wave of similarly structured craft companies throughout New England and beyond.
“I hope they are applauded and respected,” said Schalow. “They had the balls to do contract brewing when nobody else would. They paved the way for contract brewing in the Northeast.”
Dann Paquette was known for spending long hours at the Buzzard’s Bay facility, brewing back-to-back batches in an effort to meet local demand. In addition to brewing every batch themselves, Dann and Martha Paquette also undertook a majority of the sales and marketing duties and could routinely be spotted sampling their products at craft beer bars and bottles shops in the Boston-area.
“They are good people,” said Jamie Walsh, the bar manager at Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale in Boston. “Dann is one of the few guys who started pounding the local, craft beer anvil early on. He made the styles he enjoyed and was always doing something on his own terms. They were in my rotation a lot and I will miss them.”
But the pair always viewed Pretty Things as more of a creative outlet and not a business venture, refusing investment or loans to scale up or build their own facility.
“Not having capital has always allowed us to keep creativity way up on the list,” Martha Paquette said in 2013. “Because it is only our own money on the line and money that we’ve generated with the business, we can risk it. We can go out there and we can be really creative and quirky.”
Not accepting outside investment or selling a stake, Dann Paquette said at the time, allowed Pretty Things to “control its own destiny.” It also gave Paquette the option of ending the project without ever having to look for a formal exit.
“You play that last concert, you make one last beer and you go off and you do the next thing,” he said in 2013, when asked if he would ever sell the brand.
As for Jack D’or, “He’ll be coming with us,” they wrote.