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Once Upon a Time – Beers Past/Time Present - Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project

1955 Double Brown
Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project

Some people never grow up. Grown men (often times, way over grown men) will squeeze into their Revolutionary/Civil/WWI or WWII military war uniforms to pretend to shoot/club/stab or keel over from over-exertion as they gather forth on some great historic battlefield.

Dann and Martha Paquette of Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project on the other hand, keep the past alive in a much more meaningful and tasteful way with their Once Upon a Time (OUAT) beer series. They could actually be called “Beer Reenactments” from Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project.

Dann collaborates with beer historians, (Ron Pattison from Amsterdam in particular), who finds original recipes from beer’s past, often written in the brewer’s own hand. He then carefully replicates what people were drinking at that time in history. And the most surprising part of this is; these beers were really quite good! They’ve stood the test of time! If they were being released in today’s craft brew quagmire, they would stand with the best.

Another example of great old recipes made new is London restaurant, ‘Dinner’, Heston Blumenthal’s nod to historic British gastronomy. Dinner is a World’s Top 5, Michelin 2 Star-rated restaurant. Some of the recipes date back to the 14th century. It’s solid proof that newer doesn’t mean better. The same thing applies to beer. OUAT series is living histories proof of that.

My first such historic OUAT beer encounter was at a premiere that I filmed for Once upon a Time’s 1855 East India Porter at a gala release event at Deep Ellum in Allston, MA on May 1, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGvXzDb6Ahk . The bar was transported back in time to 1855, London. Staff and patrons dressed in period garments and the bar displayed some memorabilia from that era. Most intriguing though, was an old wooden cask filled with a dark *Porter that would have enjoyed by Brits serving in India, back when the UK ruled that part of the world . One gulp was all it took to complete that deeply felt connection to the past.

This past Saturday I sat down to dinner with a OUAT 1955 Double Brown. It was way beyond the typical brown ale you might enjoy with any typical meal. It was such a truly an inspirational brew, I felt compelled to dash off to my computer to email Dann.

Here’s Dann’s take on OUAT:

-What sparked the idea of going back in time and start brewing beers from the past?

When we were living in England we would run into Ron (Pattison) from time to time at places like the Kertsbier Festival in Belgium or meet up for a pint in Amsterdam. One time after moving back to Boston we had an extended lay over and spent the night drinking with Ron and listening to him go on about old beers, something I had more excitement for than any knowledge. 19th century London would have been a fabulous place to drink beer and what strange beers you would have found too! We really love the idea of tasting the past.

-Ron Pattison has found some very interesting recipes. Have you collaborated with other brew historians?

We've spoken to a few others and the intention always was to work with more than just Ron, but Ron has so much good stuff. Another historian we knew just couldn't supply the actual documents. We really need to see those brew sheets and not just basic write-ups from books.

The other thing is that in Germany for instance, the lager beer hasn't changed all that much. So most of the historical beers would be very rustic regional ales that might be impossible to know what they tasted like.

-Have you studied any particular past brewer’s notes and thought, "this is a recipe best abandoned!” ?

Yeah, not often. But you need to remember that these historical beers aren't 19th century home brewers experimenting on a large scale, they are industrial beers that are tried and true. So it’s rare to see anything undrinkable. That said, from time to time you come across these beers with super-low attenuations (less than 50%) and you wonder why they were made and for what purpose.

-With all of your brewing studies and experience, can you pretty much tell beforehand whether or not a beer will resonate with the consumer?

We like beers that have good stories or that help prove that good beer wasn't invented in modern craft beer America. We brewed both the 1901 KK and the East India Porter partly to show that there were plenty of super hoppy dark ales a hundred years even before our friend Greg Noonan brewed his "black IPA".

Frustratingly I'm not convinced these beers do resonate. There's a small community of wackos like us who find these interesting, but these beers can be terribly difficult to sell. It's just not what most people walk into a beer store to buy.

-Are you planning to explore recipes from outside of the UK?

If anyone out there has anything interesting we'd like to see it.

-What's next?

We're not sure. Right now we're up to our eyeballs in other small projects so I'm not sure when we'll start thinking about OUAT again. One thing is for certain though, there's plenty out there to be brewed!

Cheers!!!

And Cheers back at Dann!

The Once Upon a Time Series, in addition to 1855 and 1955 includes:

KK a hoppy Black Ale brewed in 1901

1832 XXXX Mild Ale (10.5% ABV!)

East India Pale Ale, originally brewed in 1839

X Ales (these are actually 2 ales from the same London brewery brewed 107 years apart, 1838 & 1945)

If you have a curiosity about truly historic beers, you can find OUAT wherever Pretty Things is sold. They’re impressive beers to bring along to all the various War Reenactment parties you’ll be attending. To leave an even more striking impression, you can quote T.S. Eliot’s “Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future” as you dole out samples of these time-tested ales!

Cheers!

*Edit by Dann Paquette when I mistakenly called it Dark IPA