In 2016, instead of talking about the nuances of Cascade versus Saaz hops, we’re going to spend the year talking about how a concave bottom and bulbous top maximize aromas and help keep a beer’s head foamy.
And it will be really, really pretentious.
“This is pretentious as shit,” were the actual words Matthew Cummings used to describe his first foray into craft glassware. Cummings is a glass-blowing artist who likes to drink beer with his artsy friends. On a whim, they decided to blow some glasses that would fit perfectly into their hands. As they sat around drinking from their creations they realized they’d stumbled onto something amazing—albeit outrageously over the top.
“If you’re drinking your beer in a chilled shaker pint, you might as well be drinking water,” says Cummings, who now owns The Pretentious Beer Glass Company. “Shaker pints were designed to fit into cocktail shakers and stack well, not to make your beer taste better.”
The line of specialty beer glasses Cummings created are striking in their oddity. Bulbous in parts and angular in others, the creations are as much a conversation piece as anything else. “We don’t do anything for aesthetics. Everything has to help highlight the beer in the glass,” Cummings says. Each glass is made to showcase a particular type of beer. For example, his hoppy beer glass helps release aromas by having more surface area at the top of the glass. “The more surface area you have, the more friction you have, so it keeps the head going, which is where all the aroma is,” says Cummings. The malty beer glass features several “waists” that trap bubbles and ensure you get a bit of carbonation with every sip. Currently Cummings offers seven beer glasses, plus a special “dual” glass for pouring the perfect black and tan.
Don’t expect to see Cumming’s glasses at your local bar anytime soon. While he is starting to sell to commercial ventures, outfitting a bar with his creations is an investment since each glass is handmade. But that doesn’t mean your local watering hole will continue using shaker pints forever, either. Brett Joyce, the president of Rogue Ales & Spirits, is a notable advocate of dropping the shaker pint. Last year, he worked with German glassware company Spiegelau and Colorado-based Left Hand Brewing to design a glass specifically for porters and stouts. “I’m not one for hyperbole, but the difference it made was mind blowing,” he says.
Joyce says it took three iterations of the stout glass to get it right. During each round of testing, six different glasses were brought to the table. For the first two rounds, no one could agree on which glass was the best. On the last round it was unanimous. In the right glass, a beer’s flavor is deeper and subtle characteristics you might otherwise miss become clear. “It presents the beer in the way the brewer imagined it,” Joyce says.
These days, the only thing that comes in a shaker pint at one of Rogue’s 10 tap houses is water—the brewery currently sells 10 kinds of beer glasses. “If you stick your nose into a shaker pint, the aroma will be non-existent or faint,” Joyce says. “It basically takes all the aroma out of the beer.” He expects to see more bars switching to flavor-forward glasses in the future, though he says “we still have a long way to go—at least when compared with the Europeans. (In Belgium or Germany almost every beer has its own glass, and bars will sometimes refuse to serve you a beer if they don’t have the proper glass for it.)
Things look good from Cummings’ perspective, too: His glassblowing business has exploded. He just opened up his first retail shop in Knoxville, Tennessee and he’s hired three other full-time glass blowers to keep up with demand. America wants better glassware and we want it now—even if it is pretentious as shit.