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Artist Matthew Cummings
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A selection of both beer and (new!) bourbon glasses adorn the wall of Matthew's studio
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Photos by Wales Hunter
Matthew always has home brews on tap at his Mellwood Arts Center studio
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Photos by Wales Hunter
A chalkboard announces the home brews on tap at the Pretentious Beer Glass Company's studio
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Photos by Wales Hunter
Coming soon: the Pretentious Bourbon Glass Company!
It started, as it so often does, among friends at happy hour. In fact, Matthew Cummings’ brainchild—the Pretentious Beer Glass Company—was born from an inside joke.
Cummings, a Centre College graduate who majored in art with a painting emphasis, became interested in glass sculpture after one class with renowned glassblower Stephen Powell. Upon graduation, Cummings continued his studies at the Appalachian Craft Center and completed his Master of Fine Arts at Illinois State University.
“I was lucky with gallery sales right out of undergrad,” says Cummings. “One of the biggest glass collectors in the country bought one of my pieces when I was 21 years old.”
Cummings’ success with sales and gallery shows—including exhibitions at SOFA (Sculpture, Objects, Functional Art and Design) Chicago and the Ken Saunders Gallery—necessitated that he rent studio space. He found that space at Louisville’s Mellwood Art Center. “There are a whole bunch of tenants here,” the 31-year-old Cummings says. “We decided that on Fridays, we should stop [working] at 3 and talk and de-stress and drink some really good beer. Somebody would bring in some really good limited-release beers, and we’d sit and enjoy each other’s company. One time, somebody had a little too much, and we decided, ‘I’m a glassblower, so we should have special beer glasses for the club.’ ”
With that, Cummings created for each member of the club a tailored, tulip-shaped glass—a customized version of what is now known as the Hoppy Beer Glass, which includes four engraved finger grips. “I can carve your exact handprint out of the glass,” Cummings explains. “That glass can make a grown man giggle.”
And giggle they did. In fact, after he made the first round of glasses, the group’s enthusiasm prompted Cummings to create the company, whose name and logo have garnered a lot of attention.
“Beer is probably the most Everyman drink,” he says. “It’s the most universal, John Doe drink. It doesn’t have the prestige of bourbon. It doesn’t have the highbrow connotations of wine. Everybody enjoys it, and there’s not a whole lot of pretension around it. But if you try to give a craft beer enthusiast a Budweiser or a Natty Light, you will see how pretentious they are. So the name was a very tongue-in-cheek decision.”
The logo, which features a bowler-style hat, a monocle and a mustache, was created by Louisville graphic designer and glass artist Amy Pender. “I told her what I wanted—this kind of air, this old-school, vintage, 1920s style,” says Cummings. “I think I remember telling her I wanted the pretentiousness of the John Waters mustache. I wanted the logo to look like what ‘muahahahaha’ sounds like.”
The Research Phase
After the fateful happy hour, Cummings got to work. He researched the chemistry and flavor profiles of different brews, identified characteristics of traditional glassware associated with each and then decided how he could create his own versions. He then made 30 prototypes, narrowed them down to six, and further researched those styles to determine which ones would give the full glass set the most versatility.
The set, which, according to the product description on Cummings’ Etsy shop (etsy.com/shop/PretentiousBeerGlass), provides “the ultimate Pretentious Beer Glass Company experience,” includes a Hoppy Beer Glass, an Aromatic Beer Glass, a Malty Beer Glass, a Subtle Beer Glass and a “traditional” Ale Glass.
“In the Aromatic Beer Glass, there is a thin layer of beer over the mountain in the bottom of the glass. When the beer is really thin, it’s bright red. While you’re drinking it, the peak slowly emerges and you see more and more of the mountain,” Cummings says. “The head almost makes clouds or fog that are rolling down the mountain. It’s like watching a movie unfold.”
But the “mountain,” he says, has a practical purpose, too. It gives the glass a larger surface area, which keeps friction and maintains the head.
“With wine, people swirl. With beer, you do want to swirl a little bit to maintain the head and release the aromatic molecules.”
The only glass that isn’t included in the full set is the Dual Beer Glass, which is designed to accommodate two kinds of beer in each of its chambers, allowing them to combine toward the lip. A secondary benefit to this glass is that you can smell the bouquet of both beers simultaneously; normally, you smell only the beer that settles on top.
According to Cummings, this degree of study is what a good beer deserves. “I have a ton of respect for a very well-made beer. I release each glass with a lot of respect and a lot of consideration to make sure this is a proper container,” he says. “Every time you pour your beer into it, you should have something wonderful happen. The Subtle glass, for example, has these undulations on the bottom that aren’t just ergonomic, they show the beer at different densities. It’s like seeing a Rothko Color Field painting. It’s a much more thoughtful process to drinking beer than pouring it in a red Solo cup and chugging it at a beer pong table.”
Press, Patrons and Pretentious Proponents
Recognition of Cummings’ work started with the beer bloggers, then the food bloggers, then The Huffington Post. Word spread on product design blogs, including a few in China, and the men’s lifestyle beat picked up the story. And then the Pretentious Beer Glass Company arrived in Man Central Station: Maxim.com’s list of holiday gift ideas for Dad.
“Before September, I had 300 orders off Etsy, and I thought it would have been awesome to finish the year with one order a day on average,” says Cummings. “Then, after all the coverage, on the morning of the one-year mark—December 4, 2013—I had sold over 2,000 orders.”
Some of the best descriptions of Cummings’ work have come from his growing fan base. “I have two taglines I love. One is: ‘Handcrafted beer deserves a handcrafted glass.’ Good beer is made by hand and by small business owners. That’s what I am,” he says.
The other, he says, is from a comment on his Etsy page: “ ‘It’s formalwear for beer.’ I’m getting T-shirts with that on there,” he says. “It’s just too good.”