Brewbound Session Showcases the Many Identities of Craft Brewers

Martha Holley-Paquette and Dann Paquette, the co-founders of Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project

One compared his product to a BMW. Another said he’d never been inside of a BMW. Say this for the craft brewers speaking at the Brewbound Session in Boston, though — they definitely made for a mixed assortment.

On one extreme, Dann Paquette and Martha Holley-Paquette, the co-founders of Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, say they don’t think much about the future. Similar to paying the rent at the end of the month, they’re aware of its existence, but they don’t let it bother them much in the day-to-day. Instead, the “gypsy brewers” revel in the joys of, as Dann said, their “Mary Poppins kind of thing.” Then there’s Simon Thorpe, president and CEO of Duvel Moortgat USA & Brewery Ommegang, who represents the other end of the branding spectrum. If Pretty Things is a workmanlike product with an egalitarian feel, Thorpe styles his approach more on the House of Windsor. Brewery Ommegang targets the luxury market of craft beer, he said, aiming to be the very finest, from the liquid to the packaging to the staff.

Both brands succeed in their own ways because they understand their identities.

“We can now find out so much more about the truth of the brand,” Thorpe said.

This dichotomy of approaches toward identity was showcased at the Session, which was held in Boston at the Revere Hotel on Thursday, providing about 150 attendees — brewers, distributors and investors — with an up-close look into the inherent differences of brands within the same industry, as well as the common problems they face when trying to succeed.

Simon Thorpe, the president and CEO of Duvel Moortgat USA & Brewery Ommegang

Duvel Moortgat, which is the corporate parent of Brewery Ommegang, is an independent, Belgian family-owned brewery producing about 700,000 barrels per year and making about $180 million in revenues. Thorpe believes that much of his brand’s success can be attributed to a significant cultural shift. He said that in the 1990s, luxury was exclusively associated with the wealthy. However, luxury today can be associated with regular people simply looking for the occasional luxurious experience. That developing idea, affordable luxury, is what Thorpe believes has led to a larger target demographic.

He taps into this demographic by identifying other successful luxurious brands, such as BMW, which projects an image of supreme class yet also offers affordable options for more standard consumers. Thorpe said that Ommegang goes for the same kind of consumer, one who hopes to elevate their entire experience, from picking up the bottle to pouring the beer.

“They need to feel so good about a luxury brand to justify the price,” Thorpe said.

The Paquettes, on the other hand, don’t seem to care about luxury, or any image for that matter. They just enjoy making beer, and this passion indirectly creates its own image. Dann had been involved in brewing for 20 years before he started Pretty Things with the $8,000 the couple had left over after moving with Martha from England.

“I saw a lot of failure and I saw everything not to do,” Dann said of his time working at other breweries.

He’s not sure if he’s a good brewer, but he knows that he’s not good at anything else, so he might as well brew, he said. This kind of thinking inspires the brand’s grassroots style. Some fans ask Dann if Pretty Things beer is sometimes hard to find because it’s always selling out. He said the truth is they probably couldn’t afford to brew the next batch. The couple said they call Pretty Things a project so they will have an excuse if everything crumbles.

“When you end a project, you just end a project,” Dann said. “You don’t run out of business, right?”

Martha said that she’s received emails from places across the country, such as Austin, Texas, that inquire about selling Pretty Things beer. She said that while Austin is exactly the kind of place that fits their brewery’s quirky mold, they simply couldn’t afford to send the beer there. They don’t think the volume would justify the cost.

However, it’s this lack of capital that Dann said has enabled him to brew creatively, without restrictions.

“We actually like limits,” Dann said.

Dave Engbers, the co-founder of Founders Brewing Company, has the same freewheeling mindset toward brewing, but added that it took some time to get there.

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