We’ve seen some interesting combination businesses arriving downtown recently: East Coast Fashion/West Coast Fashion, Beer and Coffee. We’ve long had Coffee and Chocolate, which is a pretty good combination. This one takes the combination idea to an unexpected level: A Brewery and Glass Blowing Business making fine art and beer glasses while you watch. Of course, you’ll be drinking from the glasses while you watch. And that’s just the start of what is planned for Pretentious Glass Company on Central Street in the Old City.
Matthew Cummings agreed to meet me a few weeks ago and graciously gave me the background of the business. It seems it all started with an elective class at Center College where he majored in art with an initial focus on painting. Forced to choose between a glass and a ceramic class, he took the lesser of the two evils: glass. He then changed his major to focus on glass. Loving it from the beginning, he’s pursued it ever since – including obtaining an MFA from Illinois St. in Glass Sculpture – and his fine art, costing an average of about six thousand dollars, sold out at SOFA exhibitions in Chicago. You can find his glass art here. That’s pretty high-brow, right? So, beer brewing and glassware?
Several years ago he had a group of artist friends who would slip away from their day jobs on Friday to enjoy a craft beer together before their weekend showings. At one of those Friday meetings, a friend pointed out that, given the fact that Matthew works with glass, it only made sense that he should make glasses for each of them to use in their Friday meetings. He agreed and began researching.
Realizing he wanted a general purpose glass appropriate for a number of beers, he began to explore why certain glasses matched certain brews and separating the essential elements from those with which he could be creative. His first creation was a Tulip glass. It struck him that craft beers were being consumed in borrowed glasses and they deserved their own. Standard glasses were designed primarily to be easily stacked. His search, begun in Summer 2012 became the beginning of a quest and he launched his company in December of that year.
The glasses were a hit and he was hooked. The eventual outcome was the Pretentious Glass Company and fourteen different designs which you may view and purchase on their etsy site. There’s often a wait list there and he hopes to increase production. He’s expanded to also include bourbon glasses and all the glasses are different from anything you’ve seen before. Whimsical and functional, a piece of art with a purpose, they are pretty amazing. It takes about a year to develop a new line.
Originally from Clinton County Kentucky, he’s moving here directly from Louisville where he started the business. He’s been blowing glass now for eleven years and he’s been into craft beer for several years. He mentioned Rogue Brewing as one of his favorites.
The new venture will take two addresses and includes a sheltered beer garden in the back. At 131 S. Central (across the courtyard from Crown and Goose), a bar will be to the right as you enter. Tables are stacked and waiting for the other side. The brewing operation will likely be in the same room. As you enjoy your hand-crafted beer, you may browse an area in the back of the brew pub set aside as retail for the hand-crafted glassware as well as t-shirts.
A beer garden/courtyard in the back adjoins the Crown and Goose courtyard and from there the glass blowing operation located in the rear of the other building will be in view while guests enjoy their beverages. In the front portion of the building containing the glass studio (133 S. Central), glass sculptures will be displayed and for sale in a contemporary art gallery.
Matthew hopes to have glass artists taking shifts in the bar in exchange for studio time. He notes that building a studio or even purchasing studio time is extremely expensive and in this way he can support local glass artists. He’s already started: Thoryn Ziemba, who has been helping him get the place ready is an example. You’ll find his blog here. The two of them met at the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tennessee. Joining them is Sam Meketon, an award-winning glass artist in his own right.
The draw to the area came via his wife whose family lives in Knoxville. Dr. Stephanie Cummings, OBGYN, got a job at Park West and the couple moved to the city. The move offered opportunities for Matthew in Knoxville’s emerging craft beer scene and particularly in the glass field. He noted there are no glass studios open to the public in downtown Knoxville, whereas there are four in downtown Louisville. He pointed out that, as a contrast regionally, Asheville has numerous breweries and six glass studios.
The various portions of the business will open in phases. The approvals have all been lined up and the studio will be the first project. It will open as soon as it is built out, which Matthew hopes will be by the end of the year. It’s quite a project and he’s been working on clearances for six months, which he thinks is reasonable because the city has never dealt with a glass studio in downtown before and precedents are being set. The tap room will follow sometime in late spring to early summer. Brewing may take a little longer, but it will follow. In the interim he’ll hope to offer other locally or regionally produced beers, perhaps for brewers who don’t have a space of their own for tastings.
And what can we expect from the beer? It will definitely be an artisan craft beer with small batches (maybe people will plan beercations to Knoxville to get it and the others coming online!). He plans to brew very adventurous flavors new to Knoxville – or simply new to anywhere. He wants to push the flavor profile while making beer that’s accessible to anyone.
He describes his beer as American style Belgian and he experiments with boutique hops from New Zealand and Australia. He says they bring new hop flavors that can be “very surprising.” He assures me he can brew a beer that I would not be able to distinguish from a Savignon Blanc, made from Nelson Sauvin Hops. I’m looking forward to that challenge.
He sees the two sides of the business as integral to each other. “The design of the beer glasses is to be functional to match the style of beers. The beer is hand-crafted just as much as the glass. The glass has to highlight and pay homage to the beer being poured into them.” He wants the glass to add an artistic experience to the beer without sacrificing the functionality needed for each distinct brew.
Considering the experience of drinking draft beer, he plans to control all the variables that go into a memorable experience. The experience of drinking beer is “influenced by ambiance or the character of the space, the quality of the beer, the people you are with and the vessel.” He can control three of the four. Bring good friends and you should be set. He also suggests that both glass artists and people who value craft beer tend to be good people. He cites our lack of a distinct beer-making tradition – we’ve only recently hit the same number of breweries we had in the country prior to prohibition – as an opportunity to make our own traditions.
You can catch some of the action early and have a chance to see some of what is to come. They are participating in the First Friday Gallery Hop. They will use 131 S. Central for this event and Matthew, Thoryn and Sam will have sculpture displayed. Next weekend they will host an open studio holiday sale, Dec. 13 from 10AM – 5PM offering a limited number of beer glasses for sale. These are glasses that sold out online just over a month ago, but he set some aside for local sales only.