Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Pretty Things Jack D'Or

I picked this out for review because a reader (Swineshead) asked for pretty pictures, and this beer is pretty on multiple levels. It is a "Saison Americain": an American take on the classic Belgian saison, which is a bit of an oxymoron as the five sources I consulted for a definition are contradictory and/or vague. In fact, if you dig into the history of practically any beer-style hoping for a concrete definition, you'll be disappointed. "Saison" means "season", and the beer was traditionally brewed at harvest time as a refreshment for the farmhands, which explains why saisons are also called "farmhouse ales." Anyways, these days it is brewed for 31-year-old dads who drive Honda Civics.

What I expect from saison is a very fresh-tasting, spicy, lively beer with tremendous powers of refreshment that come from the sourish tang these beers usually have. Randy Mosher says the tang is likely due to the use of strains of yeast usually reserved for red wine-making, or even brettanomyces — wild yeast found in oak and on fruit skin. In most beers, the presence of "brett" denotes an undesirable yeast infection which ruins both the flavour, and any romantic plans the beer had that weekend (sorry). But some beers are encouraged to be promiscuous because wilder strains of yeast can — if controlled — produce a funky and mysterious allure.

The Pretty Things website admits to "three strains of yeast", but doesn't name them, despite going into extensive detail about all the other ingredients (oats feature, interestingly.) Whatever the secret ingredients are, Jack D'Or is one tasty beer. It's funkier and spicier than many farmhouse ales I've had: like cajun champagne, but still lemony-fresh and addictive.

The Jack D'Or is one of seven beers brewed by the Pretty Things "Project". That's right, it's not a brewery, but a "gypsy brewery without a permanent brewing home". Dann Paquette and wife Martha — a brewer and a scientist-cum-tea-brewer, respectively — are behind the Massachusetts-based project. Dann used to live in Harrogate, Yorkshire, where he developed his passions for brewing, Lewis Carroll, and the summoning of ethereal beings (I'm serious). Naturally, that spurred him to move to Cambridge, MA, and begin brewing beers to traditional recipes dating back to 1832.

Jack D'Or is great. You could drink a few of these if they weren't $10 a pop. From what I've heard/tasted, the entire range is exceptional also. But I suspect they won't all be available forever in BC, so, to quote one of Swineshead's favourite bands — Belle and Sebastian — "Do something pretty while you can."


  1. I don't like Belle and Sebastien. But I like this beer bottle's label.

  2. Yes, I was kind of teasing you. I remember you saying how much you hated them on a Watch With Mothers blog post many years ago.

    The Pretty Things labels are gorgeous, you're right. I might do a feature on my favourite bottle label designs shortly.