Examining Beer Glassware Part 1: Pretentious Glass Company
An article by Noah Forrest
The beer community has strong opinions about proper glassware. Some think it’s of the utmost importance, while others think it’s complete nonsense. I think that maybe it falls somewhere in the middle.
I love glassware. I collect it, and I very much enjoy tailoring the beer I’m drinking to a particular glass. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and the perfect glass can set the mood in a way that’s strangely comforting, yet hard to explain. That being said, beer is good or bad independent of the vessel that’s used to get it into your face. So, is “proper” glassware necessary? Absolutely not. However, is it relevant and interesting? Definitely.
I’m not a glassware expert (if such a thing exists). For my purposes, I’ve always broadly classified beer glasses into two categories: (1) cheap brewery branded glasses, and (2) well made, crystal (or equivalent) beer glassware. However, it was only when I stumbled upon Pretentious Glass Co., that I realized someone was making beer glasses on a whole other level.
Located in Knoxville Tennessee, Matthew Cummings runs a one man operation, where he blows molten glass into gorgeous beer glassware (he also makes whiskey glasses and other glass pieces). They are available for purchase through his Etsy page. I highly suggest checking them out.
I got my hands on three of Matt’s glasses and decided that I wanted to write about them while showcasing some amazing local Quebec craft beers. However, before that I needed learn more about these products. I got with Matthew via email in order to ask him some questions about what he does:
Besides the cheaper, brewery branded stuff, and the more “higher-end” glassware (like the Spiegelau glasses), there aren’t a huge number of options in terms of beer-specific glassware. How did Pretentious Glass Co. start, and how do you think your products fit within this spectrum.
“Pretentious started before all the craft beer-centric glassware came out; over 5 years ago at this point. When I began this company, there were only the standard glasses out that you had seen since the 70s. Pretty boring designs that you would find in any pub for the last few decades. The more cutting edge beer bars were borrowing glassware from other beverages, like the brandy snifter for high gravity, small pours. I was one of the first designer/makers to really hone in on the diversity of craft beer flavor profiles. As a beer enthusiast, it was a big responsibility, or at least I felt that way. I had been making glass sculpture for 10 years prior, but hadn’t focused on functional work. So if I was going to make craft beer glassware, I really wanted it to highlight the beer itself. That is one of the things that makes Pretentious unique. I am a glassblower, who is a glassware designer, who is also a huge fan of craft beer and about to open a brewery too. This isn’t something that I coop’ed, this is my life. And this isn’t something done on a big operation, it is small scale, craftsmanship based. Blood, sweat, tears and getting cut by glass shards, man.”
Your glasses are handmade, making the prices higher than your average beer glass. Do you feel that your glasses physically outperform thinner, crystal glassware of similar value? How so?
“Ohhh hell yeah. I am not a big fan of super thin glassware for beer. I make and handle several thousand glasses a year and never break my own. But I bought a popular “high end” glass and broke it almost immediately. This is to say that I am comfortable around glass and can’t be clumsy or I would go out of business.
One of the reasons that my glasses are superior is that I melt a superior base glass. I melt small scale batches fresh each week. This makes a stronger and cleaner glass. Massively stronger than mass produced glass. Pretentious Beer Co opened around 4 months ago (it is a craft beer bar adjacent to the glass studio that I opened and am actively transitioning into a craft brewery), and I made all the glasses that we use there. In those 4 months we have only broken 5 glasses!!! That’s less than most bars lose in a day. I have seen these glasses fall off a 40” bar top and bounce several times on the ground, not breaking and without a scratch. This isn’t a gimmick or a chemical treatment to the glass, it is old school, high quality glass made by hand without a ton of stress from machine production.”
Besides performance, your glasses are beautifully constructed, carrying an artful aesthetic. How do you balance the desire for art with the function of the product itself. Is that a challenge?
“I want my glassware to both highlight the beer itself as well as the experience. When I first began designing these glasses, I looked for cultures with a strong tradition of proprietary glassware; finding that mainly in Europe and Belgium, specifically. I bought as many of those glasses as I could, and all the “right” beer for them. I drank all those beers from the glasses and then drank all the wrong beers out of the glassware, just to see what actually helped and what was because their father and grandfather drank this beer out of this glass. I wanted to know what was tradition and what was actually functional. I did a bunch of taste sessions with my friends and beer experts in Louisville and tried to suss out what was most important for functionality. From there I determined what I needed in each glass, and where I could be creative. The avenues for creativity was were I focused on the “experience”. Each beer is different and each glass I design is made to operate differently. A handmade beer deserves a handmade glass.”
Wow, after reading that, I can’t wait to dive into these beautiful creations. To begin, we have “Bar Tulip.” This vertically focused glass has an almost vase-like characteristic. It’s got an awesome weight to it and fits really nicely in my hand. To showcase this glass’s potential, I chose No Tahoma from Brasserie Dunham. I think this hoppy brett pale ale will have the aromatic complexity and easy drinkability to really make this glass shine.
No Tahoma Pours out a slightly foggy golden orange colour, carrying a frothy little head. The nose is a fruity cocktail of bretty esters and tropical hops. The glass concentrates the aromatics perfectly, carrying them to my nose in a direct “tubular” fashion.
The palate matches the nose, but feels more restrained in the fruit department. Mango and passion fruit dominate, but they are cut down by a pretty potent bitter finish that combines bittering hops and dry bretty phenols. There is a dusty characteristic, and a nice earthiness as well. I feel like this latest batch of No Tahoma is a bit more one dimensional, with a more subtle hop base than I recall the first time around. That being said, it’s still lovely and incredibly easy to drink.
The glass is slick and smooth, with a rather thick rim, however it also lends a sleekness to the mouthfeel that’s hard to describe. The shape really helps concentrate the aromas upon each sip, making an enjoyable fruit bomb each time you dive in. Holding the Bar Tulip is a lot of fun. The balance of the glass is on point, with a heavier low centre that pivots perfectly when taking drags. It makes this funky pale ale dance in my hands.
Dual Beer Glass
So, I’m guessing you saw the cover photo, said to yourself “what the fuck is that glass!?”, and then scrolled down to see what the hell this thing is. Well, this is the Dual Beer Glass, the only blending glass that I’ve ever seen, let alone used. You pour half a beer on one side, another beer on the other, and bam, you’re blending!
I wanted to do this glass justice, so I decided to drink two exceptional beers from Brasserie Auval, Québec’s sexiest brewery at the moment. On one side, I chose the very fresh and aromatic Arcane 17 IPA, and on the other side, I chose Ribes Nigrum (cassis), a black currant infused, barrel aged sour. I was hoping to create an incredibly juicy fruit bomb – something like a fruited dry hopped sour.
The nose carries a aroma of tart red fruit, combined with big and bold dank hops. Black currants blast my senses, carrying tart and sour aromatics, while the hops lend a tangy and bright citrus funk. I’m impressed how each section combines with the other while still doing its own thing.
On the palate, the duo is incredibly dry, with a tart bitter finish that echoes huge grapefruit and cherry. It’s not as bright as I would have thought, but instead throws out a tangy and tart, fruity dry hopped explosion. Currants, cherries, grapefruit and underripe tangerine are the leading flavours here. There certainly is a battle over which side dominates, but they do blend well. That being said, although enjoyable, I think ultimately these two are probably best on their own.
As for the glass itself, this experience is pretty brilliant. Besides the fact that the glass is gorgeous to look at with each colour lending a side, it is also incredibly fun to drink. Just like the tulip, the glass has a glossy soft feeling on my palate that feels like a big hug during each sip. Because of the dip in the separator, the aromas are allowed to combine on the nose, so you can experience the blend properly without having to physically combine each beer.
What’s more amazing is that you can actually sip this without one spilling one beer into the other, and depending on how you angle your sip, you can take one side a bit more than the other. This could be handy for brewers who want to blend beers for r&d, it would allow them to test ratios. After getting the hang of it, I think two parts Arcane 17 to one part Ribes Nigrum is ideal. It allows the hops the shine, with a subtle tart and fruity backdrop.
Imperial Beer Glass
I love the look of this glass. It’s a giant snifter, but has a circular base, allowing it to land somewhere between a stemmed and stemless glass. The purpose of this monster is to showcase large and luscious beers. I decided to go with a Québec classic for this one: Les Trois Mousquetaire‘s Porter Baltique, Édition Spéciale 2016, aged in Bourbon and Brandy barrels.
The nose carries that vanilla and sherry note, alongside a big oak barrel presence. There are the usual nutty chocolate and light coffee components as well. Some musty yeast elements also come through, lending a certain earthiness to the beer.
On the palate, an abundance of vanilla bourbon flavours complement all the layers of dark roasted complexity. Black cherries, and some plums come though, coupled with lots of milk chocolate. Although this comes off sweeter than an imperial stout, the finish is still dry, with a nice lingering vinous note.
Although the body isn’t huge, it’s still slick. The glass helps with that, guiding it down into my mouth nicely. It’s soft, and the small opening allows the aromatics to flow into my senses perfectly as I take each sip. Holding the glass is nice, it fits in your hand perfectly, warming the luscious beverage inside.
In the end, these hand-made glasses from Pretentious Glass Co. provide a drinking experience like no other. They don’t drink like those crappy branded glasses we are all accustomed to, nor do they drink like thin crystal glassware either. These glasses are really their own thing.
At first, the extremely thick walls of these glasses kind of turned me off. To me, better glassware meant thinner rims. However, there is a certain soft magic that happens when you use these glasses. The polished and slick texture make for this amazing gentle mouthfeel upon each sip. As well, the sheer aesthetic and design are certainly amazing, with each glass perfectly engineered to showcase a particular beer’s flavour profile. Not to mention that there is this amazing feeling staring at a drinking vessel and knowing that it was made by a person and not by a machine. I honestly didn’t really think I’d care about this all that much, but when you’re holding a hand crafted glass, drinking a hand crafted beer, there is a certain magic that happens.
I very much recommend grabbing some of these glasses. However, I do have to warn you that they are a bit pricey, and the shipping to Canada only adds to this challenge. I would recommend getting with some other interested beer-geek friends and place a large order to reduce shipping costs (I may want to get in on that, too!), I don’t think you will be disappointed.
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest