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December 12, 2012

Art: With pinkies extended

Pretentious Beer Glass Company to raise ’em up this week

When imbibing in a fine, Trappist ale, is it snooty to insist on a tulip glass to better cradle the wafts of roasted Belgian malt and show the ale’s rich, mahogany tones? Of course it is. Whether this preferred vessel can truly elevate the flavor and experience of your beer is another question, one that can be explored this weekend at the Pretentious Beer Glass Company’s launch.

An accomplished fine art glassblower, Matthew Cummings will be on hand at the Holy Grale Sunday to unveil this new company and discuss his take on five classic beer glass designs.

Cummings says the endeavor grew from a want to create a more accessible, “democratic” showcase for his work, and is only half-kidding when he adds that a growing national response to his sculpture has left him with the enviable problem of not being able to afford his own stuff.

During a recent visit to his studio at the Mellwood Arts Center, Cummings provided a demo of his high-end glassware, opening with a pour of Spaten Pils in the appropriate pilsner glass. With each Pretentious Beer Glass, an appealing interplay between the respective beer style and glass itself becomes clear. The pilsner glass, for instance, holds its straight, cylindrical shape until about two-thirds of the way down, when the shaft melts elegantly into a slightly more bulbous form. In addition to a comfortable, clutchable hand-feel, these dimples create magnifications in the hues and interesting distortions when the sudsy “lace” of the pils slides down glass.

Each unit from each set features the individual variations that come with being a hand-crafted thing. Cummings’ work features a repertoire of divots, folds and creases that create a type of sculptural experience as the fluid inside depletes. Fortunately, these one-of-a-kind nuances do not come at the expense of ergonomics, as each glass tends to feel machine balanced.

Like the pilsner, the “mountain” series is a glass whose scenery changes as you sip from it. Depressions poked into the bottom form a small ridgeline. This provides a clever “sculpture moment” when the beer’s foamy head lowers over it, resembling a cloud cover descending on a mountain range. While it does a decent enough job of moving ale to mouth, the mountain glass is worth holding away from one’s lips from time to time in order to regard its artistry.

Other standouts include a two-chambered, black-and-tan glass that keeps stout separated from ale. This offers a cool surprise in aromatics, sending out two bouquets that seem to enter your head through his-and-her nostrils. Cummings points out that the partition also allows for beers of varying viscosities to be mixed where they once couldn’t, a trend that’s becoming more popular.

Perhaps the most pretentious of the Pretentious Beer Glasses (and easily the most expensive) is the tailored tulip glass. Yes, that’s “tailored,” as in custom-made to fit to the owner’s hand.

“I don’t have a little vest and tape measure, but there is a tailoring session,” Cummings says. “As far as I know, there’s nothing like a tailored beer glass anywhere else.”

After customers select the one and apply their grip, Cummings traces their fingers before cutting impressions into the glass on a vintage Austrian lathe. The glassblower describes the pleasure of clasping a custom-built beer glass as a “giggle moment,” also conjuring artist Marcel Duchamp’s concept of “infra-thin,” or the imperceptible difference between seemingly identical things.

As an owner of one, I can report a very perceptible difference between the personalized tulip glass and any of my anagrammed coffee mugs, particularly when hops and barley are involved.

Pretentious Beer Glass Co. launch
Sunday, Dec. 16
Holy Grale
1034 Bardstown Road
Free; 4-6 p.m. 

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