The Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project in Cambridge, MA, is a classic example of ingenuity, love of suds, and a splash of alehead nerd-dom coming together to produce some truly terrific beers. A far cry from the typical style-driven brewery model, brewmaster Dann Paquette finds his inspiration in “times, people, places, and ingredients.”
Unusually, the Pretty Things flagship is a saison, Jack D’Or, which joins an equally unexpected pantheon of offerings from Fluffy White Rabbits, a springtime seasonal, to Baby Tree (inspired by, among other things, “lambs, Yorkshire and children in trees”), to a line of historical beers – the “Once Upon A Time” series. With vivid, beautiful label artwork featuring amusing tasting suggestions – for its Confounded Mister Sisyphus Vienna-style lager malt, it suggests: “This is a beer to drink at sunset, be it in the quietness of a darkening forest or with the stillness of the city surrounding you” – we are inclined to conclude that Mr. Paquette is one seriously quirky brewer… which is, of course, to say that we are very, very fond of him.
With a wintery New England shiver in my veins, I tucked into a bottle of Pretty Things Babayaga – a winter offering described as a 7% export-strength woodland stout inspired by Russian folklore, woodland, streams, cold dark nights, and woodsmoke… oh, and 4,000 lbs of rosemary-smoked malt. A wildly eccentric bottle even for the reclusive and daft Baron.
The brew poured deep and dark, like the heart of a Russian witch bent on cannibalism… but that may have been the 22 oz at 7% ABV talking. The aroma was toasty with hints of chocolate, vanilla, smoke, and just a hint of candied fruit. The taste was surprisingly thin for a stout; flavorful and sweet at first, but with a lingering bitter dryness on the finish. As the beer warmed, it took on fascinating undertones of herbs and earth while all the while maintaining a certain balance of cocoa sweet and fireplace smoky. The mouthfeel was unusually complicated by intense carbonation; astringent, yet not altogether unsatisfying. I finished the brew with a smile on my lips and a degree or two of winter cold shed from my skin. Ultimately, Babayaga proved to be a smaller beer than expected but delicious and, importantly, consistently challenging on olfactory and gustatory levels.
Extra credit to Pretty Things for its video homage to winter, link below, which reminds us of nothing so much as watching The Blair Witch Project after eating those brownies way at the back of your crazy uncle Zoot’s freezer. Pretty Things Babayaga earns three hops – the kind of beer you’d take home to mom… especially if you came from a conservative, waspy New England family and really want to piss her off.