Photo courtesy of Boulevard Brewing Company.
This past April, Dann Paquette, Martha Holley-Paquette, and Anya Kanevsky of Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, and their friend DJ John Funke, packed up the car and drove from Somerville to Kansas City, Mo. to brew a beer with one of the largest breweries in the country, Boulevard Brewing. What they came up with is a historically rooted, complex, malty, and slightly sour English-style ale called a Stingo.
From a size standpoint, they’re an odd collaboration couple. Pretty Things tenant brews on a 50-barrel system and employs four people; Boulevard is the 10th biggest brewery in the US with a state-of-the-art 150-barrel brewery, employing more than a hundred people. But it was the kind of collaboration that pushed each brewery out of their limits: Pretty Things had never done a collaboration beer before, and Pauwels had not brewed an English-style beer—or sought out English ingredients—since arriving at Boulevard more than 10 years ago.
Dann and Martha met Boulevard brewer Jeremy Danner and the Chief Operating Officer Steve Mills at the American Craft Beer Fest in June 2011 and hit it off. Then during the Belgian Beer Fest in September, Danner introduced Dann and Martha to Pauwels, who promptly said: “Very nice to meet you, I hear we’re doing a collaboration together,” as Martha told the story one afternoon at the Pretty Things HQ in Fringe Union.
“We were like, ‘Wow that’s crazy,’ but of course we weren’t going to say no, we love them and we love their beer and they have a really fancy brewery,” she said, laughing.
Because Pauwels is a native Belgian, they knew they didn’t want to brew a Belgian-style beer, explained Dann. “We knew we were going to have to do something English because it would be insane for them to do something Belgian with us. We were like we should bring something to the table and what we have to bring to the table is the link between Yorkshire brewing and Belgian brewing.”
That link is the Stingo, and it starts with a not-oft told story of Eugene Rodenbach, that Dann shared: “In the mid-1800s Eugene Rodenbach, who was maybe the third generation of the brewery was sent to do an internship in the north of England and when he came back to the brewery he brought with him the beer we know today, this blended, aged, brown, malty beer. So obviously Rodenbach in almost no way resembles anything that’s presently brewed in the north of England.”
“But it did back then,” Martha continued. “So the roots were borrowed from Yorkshire. Which really isn’t what people want to think so nobody really talks about it. But it’s true.”
They had always wanted to go more into detail with this, and kept coming across a beer called a Stingo, like in the book, Praise of Yorkshire Ale. It’s a style hardly ever brewed today, aside from the Samuel Smith Yorkshire Stingo.
“It’s not a Once Upon a Time [their collaborations with beer historian Ron Pattinson] thing, we had to sort of reimagine it and what sort of flavors it would be. And having brewed in Yorkshire for many years, I kind of knew all the starting points,” said Dann.
When they mentioned the idea of brewing a Stingo to Pauwels in a conference call, he burst out laughing, Martha said, and then quickly agreed to it.
Photo courtesy of Boulevard Brewing Company.
Boulevard, after all, has a track record for brewing collaboration beers that depart from the norm. The first collaboration in the Smokestack series was an Imperial Pilsner that Pauwels brewed with Orval brewmaster Jean-Marie Rock; the second, a White IPA brewed with Larry Sidor of Deschutes.
“We tried to make it completely unpredictable who we were going to do a collaboration with and I think so far we’ve succeeded,” said Pauwels.
“One of the nice things about collaborations that I like is you always learn something from the other brewer. It’s not always about how to make the beer, even though this time I learned a lot from them, It’s also about how you approach things and how their brewery works.”
For this collaboration, the approach meant brewing with English ingredients, and working more like a small scale brewer than Boulevard is used to. Case in point: they used 100 percent Thomas Fawcett malts, which meant they had to mill in the grain bag by bag—whereas usually Boulevard would use a silo. It was a “monumental milling-in session,” said Martha.
Individual grain bag dumping aside, Pauwels said the brewing experience sparked a renewed interest in English ingredients.
“When I started 13 years ago we were using these cheesy old oxidized hops. The first thing I did was pick out some fresh American hops that we could control the quality of and I think in the meantime the hop industry has changed a lot. We started using these East Kent Goldings and I was sort of surprised about the quality of them, so now I’m back on board with English hops,” he said.
Don’t expect Boulevard to brew an English Bitter anytime soon, but Pauwels said he did love the malts and hops they used for the Stingo, and that there’s a possibility they will use them in future Boulevard beers.
While Pretty Things re-introduced Pauwels to English ingredients, Boulevard and Kansas City was a crash course for Pretty Things in BBQ.
“Oh God, we had so much BBQ,” said Pauwels.
“I remember the last day that they were here they went out to dinner to have BBQ again and I said, ‘I can’t do it.’ Even though they were going to my favorite place, I just couldn’t do it. There was a lot of BBQ involved.”
Photo courtesy of Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project
Between plates of BBQ and beers shared before, during, and after brewing sessions, the whole trip just seemed, well, fun, and for anyone who’s been to a Pretty Things event, or party, or even to their website, that’s no surprise.
“If you think about it, we’re making beer that people drink when they’re having fun and that reflects the brewing industry. But I think what Dann and Martha do, they’re a step up. They’re so positive and so fun to be around. They just approach things in a different way,” said Pauwels.
“That to me was eye opening because we’re a bigger brewery and it’s not like we’re not having fun but we’re a little more serious and we approach things in a different way. Not that they don’t think things through, they do and I think they’re really smart, but it’s a different company. If you have four people versus a hundred people, there’s a difference.”
For Dann and Martha, the collaboration was an opportunity to see a high-tech (Pauwels can operate the brewery using his iPhone) 150-barrel brewery with employees to oversee every detail of the operation.
“They allowed us to do what we wanted when we were there. We had a sit-down sensory training—took their beers, dosed it with different chemicals—we saw how they run as a company, they took us to a management meeting. We got to meet everybody. It was a huge learning experience,” said Martha. ”It was inspiring. You see that they’ve got a person to do that and you’re, like, ‘Wow we should really have a person to do that, or a role in our company to do that sort of thing.’”
After brewing two batches together, Pretty Things set back on the road for the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego, and Boulevard brewed several more batches. Both breweries then had two blending sessions, where they had to find the ideal blend of the sour element and the wood-aged element.
“If you went a little bit more with the sour bit, all of a sudden the great malt nose would go away. So there was a sweet spot where you would get the perfect amount of sourness plus this great nose,” said Dann.
Photo courtesy of Boulevard Brewing Company
The Stingo will be available starting the first week of August on draft and in 750-mL bottles. Pauwels described it as very malty and complex, and warns drinkers to enjoy it slowly.
“The first sip I took was like, ‘Oh I gotta take another sip because there’s so much going on in this beer,’ and as you take sip, it becomes clearer. And in the end, all the flavors work together. But at the beginning, you’re like woah, what is this all about?
And as you keep drinking it, everything kind of flows together and makes sense.”
WITH MARTHA, DANN, AND JEREMY DANNER
CRAFT BEER CELLAR
55 LEONARD ST.
STINGO LAUNCH PARTY
4 CAMBRIDGE CENTER