Article By: Lew Bryson
Imade a prediction that celebrity brewers would become a major attraction to beer aficionados, and named two local examples, Dann Paquette and Todd Mott. It seemed right to follow up with an interview with one of them, and I knew where to find Dann - The Tap, in Haverhill, MA.
As it chanced, I caught him
while he was filtering, which doesn't mean much except that
I had to edit out a lot of "Hold on a second, I gotta get to
this pump" kind of stuff. Dann's a brewpub brewer these
days, but you'll want to hear what he's seeing in the market
and thinking about the future. He's not just on the edge -
to his fans, who have followed him to The Tap, brewers like
Paquette are The Edge. When he makes a beer they like, that
beer opens them up to new ideas in the beers they buy at
LEW BRYSON You started out as a journalist, and you got out of that to brew?
DANN PAQUETTE Yeah, well, I didn't get all that far in journalism. It wasn't a problem. It's like saying "I was an actor," you know? I worked at a few places, I worked in television. But my career was going down the Production Assistant route, working on crappier and crappier television shows. I just wasn't happy.
LB You went from there to Yankee Brew News. Did you do that to find a job?
DP I had some expertise in something, and that worked out pretty well. It was a good thing. I could help people in the business and they could help me. I made the transition that way.
LB Did you have any experience? I assume you were homebrewing . . . or maybe not?
DP Yeah, I did a little bit of homebrewing. I think I had just started all-grain homebrewing when I first stuck my head in a brewery and started brewing. I had one batch that was drinkable. And it wasn't one of those batches where everyone who tasted it said, "Woot, you've got to get into brewing!" - I pretty much drank it on my own. I don't even know if other people would have liked it. It was a Corny keg; I was, like, oh, I can have my own draft beer! I pretty much sat and drank that all the time.
LB The first place you went was Ipswich?
DP That was in 1992. It was right after they opened. They had the old 7-barrel Grundy kettle. I was brewing for Pilgrim (Brewing) there, although I did brew a few batches (for Ipswich). Ipswich was sort of renting the place to Pilgrim, and they were under contract to brew some Ipswich, so I ended up brewing some Ipswich as well, but I wasn't a paid employee of Ipswich. That was my first brewing job.
LB Mill City as well?
DP Yeah, about the same time.
LB That was kind of a weird setup there, wasn't it? Always seemed like a weird business model to me.
DP It was, but you know, if it had been in Boston, they would have made a lot of money. I think so. Anyway, I went back to Pilgrim full-time and helped them build their brewery in Hudson, Massachusetts. I was at John Harvard's, in Harvard Square. At the time I went there, Tim Morse called me "brewmaster in waiting", because they were waiting to build their other stores. At that point, I was going to be the guy they put at their Faneuil Hall site, which never happened. Then I got word of NorthEast Brewing going into Alston, and I jumped all over that. I was there for five and a half years.
LB That was the first time I heard about you, when you were at NorthEast. That's when you really started to get a reputation.
DP Yeah, that's when I started being able to do what I liked. I was at packaging breweries. Two of the breweries only made one beer while I was there. When I got to know the raw materials a little better, I tried to be ambitious. At the same time, I was discovering beers that I'd never had before. That was a big thing. At the beginning, I was into "microbrews", I even said, "I like microbrews", something like that. The imports I would have liked were all the Englishy things. I changed a lot while I was there. I always wanted to do something that was new and exciting. I had a great assistant brewer who could actually help me do the things I wanted to do. You know, we got all the barrels in from Jack Daniel's, and we'd put bushings on all of them. We did the whole nine yards. It took us about 6 months to get all that going. Nowadays, you just throw it in, and you rack it out with a tube or something.
Back then, we wanted to do
it right. We were really proud that we made actual lagers.
Back then, everyone was making their "Oktoberfests", with
quotes around it, right? Not really lagers. Everything's
changed, but then we felt, we're not going to make a "lager"
unless it's really a lager. It was cool. I remember one time
we had 12 beers on, 5 yeast strains represented. We had fun
with it. For most of the year it was a jammin' place. But,
you know, it was Alston, and there is July, and that's
almost a month you can close for.
LB Then you went to Concord?
DP Then I went to Concord, and that was fun.
LB What was the deal there? From a distance, it looked like you and Rapscallion were a separate company within Concord, which they certainly didn't look big enough to have going on!
DP When I came on board, I was afraid that - because it was such a small company - if Rapscallion was Dann's, then there'd be resentment, because I was kind of taking over the head brewer's job as well. So I was given ownership, sweat equity, for bringing in Rapscallion. I actually had money to invest and buy new tanks for Rapscallion, this sort of thing. And I turned around and said to myself, 'I'm going to be here the rest of my life, so were all of us, so let's all share in Rapscallion.' The Rapscallion brand was growing, the Concord line was at least staying the same, if not growing.
We built a new brewery in Shirley, and although we never quite finished it, we were into production. To make a long story short, we were in production two and a half, three months, and we got an eviction notice. We got the cease and desist, and I realized that the company is going bye-bye. I left there about as depressed, easily as depressed as I've ever been in my life, with everything going down the tubes.
Then one day, I hear
they're not going out of business! Well, they are, but they
sold the business to somebody else, and they're moving the
company to Lowell and keeping it going. So good for
LB And you're not involved at all anymore?
DP No, not at all. My name is still on the packaging, and all that, but I feel kind of weird about it. Even if it were the greatest beer in the world right now, even if it went from being Dann Paquette's crappy version to being the greatest beer in the world I still would be bothered to have my name on it. Anyway, it's kind of weird. I want to move on with my life, and people are still asking me about Rapscallion.
LB Now you're trying to make me feel guilty.
DP No, no! But people literally call me up and ask "So what's the deal with Rapscallion?" Just forget it. I've talked about it enough. Go read about it online or whatever. It's still out there, and they're still carrying it on. I don't see it necessarily as much as I used to, but I wouldn't. That's still out there, and I'm back at a brewpub again.
LB How did that get started? You've been at The Tap what, a year?
DP I've been exactly a year, today. Todd Mott opened the place and stuck around and brewed for a while, but I don't think he ever had the intention of being their full-time brewer. He was going to open the place. He's up at the Portsmouth brewery now.
When I first heard a place
was going into Haverhill, it just seemed like another odd
place to put a brewpub. And you know, it probably is, but
the facility is gorgeous, the downtown is really great.
LB The location seems perfect.
DP Yeah, it's really a neat place. I would say that one of the good things - and bad things - about Haverhill is that people really haven't gotten into trying these beers before - whether it be Sam Adams, or Dundee's Honey Brown. It's kind of like the late '8Os, as far as beer goes.
LB Square One on education.
DP Yeah. Well, there are a lot of Guinness drinkers, but there are a lot of, I don't know, Jack and Coke drinkers. That kind of thing's going on up here, too. So when people have my beer, in a lot of situations it's their first experience, which is kind of cool. I think a lot of them have more open minds than you would if you'd had it before.
LB They're not second-guessing you?
DP Yeah, but also, when I put out something like a Belgian tripel, they don't know what it is. Belgian tripel, English pale ale, they're all crazy exotic things that they wouldn't normally drink. I put on a tripel, and it was the biggest selling beer here. It is really interesting with all these new palates. The beer geeks do make the trek. There's southern New Hampshire, the North Shore, Merrimac Valley - there's a lot of people here.
It seems like I'm meeting
homebrewers every time I walk in the brewhouse. It's really
cool, obviously. It almost seems like there's more of that
than when I was at NorthEast.
LB You've flipped back and forth between production brewing and pub brewing. Do you have a preference?
DP I don't like the restaurant business, but I like having a pub at my brewery where there are people drinking my beer. I don't want to be involved in the restaurant business, per se. I know I'm in a restaurant, of course, but I'm not the owner of a brewpub. I'm not running it, and I like the fact that I'm not. To me, it doesn't look like something I'd like to do. I like the idea that I can be creative, that as soon as I put out a beer I can put it out of my mind. You know? I like the idea of transferring a beer into a serving tank and it vanishes. I don't have to be in the next day bottling for six hours.
All that being said, I'd
like to be the guy with the brand that's all over the
country. I would love to have my beer popping up in the beer
geek bars: here's my brand at the Toronado (in San
Francisco). I would love to have that. So every time I'm in
a brewpub, every day I was at NorthEast, every beer I made,
I was thinking, okay, something in here I'm experimenting
with for when I do Rapscallion! I had Rapscallion in my head
for years and years and years. Every time I get to
formulate, I'm working on what's going to be in my
LB What part of brewing gets you the most excited? Formulation?
DP Yeah, it's formulation, but it's when you nail something and it's more than what you expected. Not better than you expected, because that happens a lot of times. More like, somehow you get a lot of - I don't know. I like finding these weird combinations, like, oh, this one fermented out too much, and whoa! There's something! I like when I'm surprised not by the quality but by the depth of the beer. I guess that's formulation.
LB So brewing is definitely more art than science for you?
DP Yeah, definitely. That's why I probably belong more on the pub side.
LB What are your favorite kinds of beers to drink?
DP Right now I'm enjoying things like the St. Bernardus Prior 8. Old Peculier, sort of those 7%, dark, malty beers. That's what I'm liking right now. In fact, that's what I'm brewing!
LB Well, that was my next question: what beers do you like brewing?
DP Yeah, those are the beers I like brewing now! I've been making a lot of them. I made the King's Slipper, which is kind of a . . . I called it an Abbey brown, but "Strong Dark" would do. Creation was along those lines, and Scheherazade was a sort of Flanders bruin version of that. They've all been incredibly different, the grain bill's been different, but it's all approaching the same sort of beer from different directions.
LB It's an interesting way to go about it.
DP I was really pleased with King's Slipper, I thought it was fantastic. Scheherazade didn't turn out quite the way I wanted it, but I'm in a brewpub. I learn from it, and next time I'm sure I can do it right.
LB And none of it goes to waste.
DP None of it goes to waste, right! I put Scheherazade on here, well, I kegged it off, because I knew it would be a slow seller; it was designed to be, I used Rodenbach yeast. Then I counted up all the beer festivals that I planned on bringing it to, and the few people I'd promised it to on tap in Boston, and I realized I had to take it off the tap. I didn't have enough. It's kind of like 'the beer that never was.' It's like, "Oh, Dan, I really love that Scheherazade, so I can only get it at your place?" Well, no. Are you going to the Ommegang Festival? I'll have some there!
But you brew to so many different segments of your audience. Scheherazade was for that 3% of the 3%. Lately I've been thinking about going back to colors, back to the olden days. A Golden, a Red, maybe I'll make a "Dark". But you know, I feel like 1988 sometimes. So I'll brew like 1988.
I have a lot of really approachable beers on here in Haverhill. I have an English Mild, a hefeweizen. But by definition, they're hard to approach. Yeah, I can explain to someone what a mild is: "Well, it's dark, but it's light!" and all this stuff. And hefeweizen, no one even knows how to pronounce that. I made this Gouden Schoen beer for the Beer Advocate festival, and talk about unapproachable. I was looking at the description the other day and thinking, why would anyone want to drink this? "West Flanders Trappist plip-plap," it was one of those times you wake up and go, "What the hell was I thinking? I don't want to drink this!" It's a miracle if anyone wants to drink this!
I'm going to try to
simplify. After today. Starting tomorrow. I'm doing
something crazy today.
LB Talk about the future. Belgian styles are popular with American brewers right now, big hoppy beers are popular today. Where do you see those trends going?
DP I think the "Belgian", with quotes around it, is going to go bye-bye. We basically call something "Belgian" if it's phenolic and weird. That's just going to become part of what we do. The Belgians don't wake up in the morning and think, "I'm going to go brew my 'Belgian' beer!" If you look at what the American brewers were doing at the Belgian Beer Festival (in Boston last November), very few of them did 'styles'. They all did wacky stuff.
I ran into a judge who judged in the Belgian category at the Great American Beer Festival, and I asked him, what were most of the submissions like? "Every beer was either aged in oak, or has Brettanomyces! There were beers in our category that were aged in oak that should have been in the Wood category, and they would have won; others that should have been in the Experimental category, and they would have won." It's interesting that we're inspired by what Belgian brewers do, but we don't try to duplicate what they do. So I think that as a definition "Belgian" is going to go away, and that's a positive thing.
And hoppy beers will never, ever, ever go away. I used to think they would, but I got over that.
It's really our thing. It's almost a tragedy that the English use the term IPA. It's amazing. We have taken that and co-opted it. For years I hated hoppy beers, I was sick of them. But now we've got all these new hops coming and going, some of them better than others. Some of the most beautiful beers in the United States are hoppy. We also seem to have a palate that no one else in the world seems to have for hops. And that's the kind of thing that builds beer styles.
You can do any crazy thing
you want, but are people going to drink it in droves?
Probably not. Your brettanomyces, oak-age beer? You're not
going to make a new beer style with that. What you're
probably going to do is have a beer that no one else in the
world is going to want to drink. You know, the British
consider our IPAs 'dare beers'. The hoppy beer is the living
birth of the American style. A lot of interesting things are
happening with those beers, doubles, imperials, whatever it
is - the names right now are kind of annoying - but I think
in the end there are going to be some beautiful things
coming from that. I had two IPAs on this summer, and I feel
that if you're a brewpub you should have at least two IPAs!
I wish I had the tanks, I'd do it.
LB New England has generally tended towards the more classic ale styles. Is that changing, is it still true?
DP That's where the breweries are still at. We spend a lot of time up here thinking, you know, when are the New England brewers going to catch on to what's going on? Seems like Smuttynose really has taken off because they have started acting like a national player. They've started making bolder beers with big flavors. Harpoon's trying to do the same sort of thing with their 1OO Barrel series.
But I wouldn't blame anyone
for being conservative. Eight years ago, it was all
raspberry wheats, things like that. Maybe the "Belgians" and
the imperials are the raspberry wheat of the future, and
breweries are smart to have the pale ale and the IPA.
LB And these things may well roll over and people will go back to drinking what they used to drink?
DP Yeah. Why not be conservative, because we're not like the rest of the country. It's hard to get taphandles in Boston. We are the Old World.
LB Breweries like Harpoon, Long Trail and Magic Hat continue to grow, yet the past three years have seen some new production breweries opening, and smaller brewers like Berkshire and Wachusett doing well. Where is the industry headed: big or diverse? Can the smaller breweries stay in the game?
DP Big or diverse? I don't know. Because it's weird here! You go into Boston, go into the bars, and you don't see Wachusett, you don't see Berkshire. They're in the western part of the state. They're doing real well. I took a tour at Wachusett last summer, and they told me the number of barrels they're doing, that's pretty incredible. And Boston is a potential gold mine for breweries like that. Harpoon's done a fantastic job, but there was a time when Tremont had their brewery and they were going in a great direction with Boston. You have a few pretty good beer bars, but outside of that you have Guinness, Bass, Stella, and Magner's, Magner's "on ice".
I don't know. It's amazing that there are people who plugged along all these years, and they're still growing. You don't see them at the beer festivals, you don't read about them in Yankee Brew News or Ale Street, and no one's talking about them in Beer Advocate. But they're growing every year, their beers are getting better and better, and they're employing brewers!
It really couldn't be
better. I just wish there were better outlets for what's
going on. Draft, there's not a lot out there. I'm really a
draft beer drinker, because I go out a lot. I don't really
hoard a lot of bottled beer and drink it at home in front of
my computer. Unless it's on draft, I fall out of touch
completely with the brand. That's why I'm seeing a lot of
this: go to a bar, and people are excited that they're
serving Rockies. This is a Boston beer bar, and I'm drinking
stuff from out there?! It seems wrong, people doing this
stuff. It's not the fault of the beer bars, they want local
product, but the exciting stuff is not generally coming from
here. With a few exceptions: Smutty, Harpoon. I'd put Magic
Hat on that list. They've really come along.
LB Let's talk about the role of the brewer in all this. Want it or not, you've become a celebrity brewer. Once you develop that reputation, people are going to follow you around, and that's happening to you.
DP Thanks, I appreciate it. Just over the last month I've been getting a lot of calls to get in print. It's been really good. I thought that after Rapscallion my time in the business was over, regardless of what I wanted to do.
I was talking to (former Anderson Valley brewer) Fal Allen the other night. We were talking about the differences between the east and the west. One, it's just harder to sell beer out here. But the other one is that the east coast brewers are more influenced by Europe. We get more of the beers here, and we get them fresher, and we spend a lot of time over there. In the west, they're just bouncing off each other, being influenced by each other. We had some really creative beers come in for the Redbones Northwest Fest, like Elysian's Jasmine IPA, and a nettle beer, made with buds, and it tasted like raspberries. It was great to see, because I thought, well, I'm gonna have hoppy pale ales, hoppy red ales, hoppy barleywines, okay, here we go, but this time it was waaaay - hey, you guys are actually doing something out there!
Hey, my pump just hit
bottom, I gotta go. Great talking to you.
LB Good talking to you, Dann, thanks.