Pretty Things is one of the most sought-after new brands of beer on the East Coast. But it's not a brewery. There's no facility or warehouse; the entire staff consists of Dann and Martha Paquette, the owners, and Jim Barnes, the New York sales rep.
Instead, Pretty Things is part of a small but growing breed of itinerant—or gypsy—brewers, a list that includes Stillwater Artisanal Ales, based in Baltimore, and Mikkeller, from Copenhagen. Gypsy brewers invert the conventional startup model: instead of sinking close to a million dollars into equipment, leases, and payroll, they rent space, time, and often manpower from other breweries.
"Everyone has different reasons for starting this way," Martha said, "but for us it was partly financial. We brewed our first batch and we were broke. How many conventional breweries can do that?"
It was a decision born of experience. Dann has been a professional brewer for nearly 20 years, long enough to remember the craft beer boom and bust of the mid-90s. "I saw too many guys lose all their money, even their houses, when their breweries failed," he said.
I met the Paquettes and Barnes at a Midtown Manhattan café on a rainy September morning. As I sat down, Dann was on the phone with Pretty Things's current home, a brewery in Westport, Massachusetts. That kind of flexibility is another advantage of gypsy brewing: The only time Dann and Martha need to be on site is when they're actually brewing; otherwise, they can run everything from their home in Cambridge—or a New York City coffee shop.