Pretentious Beer Co. is a bold name for a brewery. Craft beer has certainly earned a reputation of pretension and holier-than-thou-ness. The beer trading, fandom that borders on obsession, and the habit to turn one’s nose up at beer deemed “unworthy” definitely makes the community seem exclusive. Would a casual drinker want to order a Pretentious beer?

Matthew Cummings, Pretentious Beer Co.’s founder, certainly hopes so. Contrary to the brewery’s name, Cummings has worked to make beer more democratic and accessible. A former sculptor, Cummings found a passion for glass blowing, crafting strange and eye-catching shapes that accentuate the flavors and aroma of a beer. He approached the craft from a place of creativity and curiosity and has done the same with brewing.

Pretentious Beer Co. has made a name for itself by brewing compelling and expressive New England IPAs. But Cummings isn’t content being yet another hazy IPA brewery; he’s concerned with innovation and experimentation. We chatted with Matthew Cummings ahead of Juicy Brews Summer Invitational in Portland, Maine, about his start in the industry and what he reads for inspiration.

John A. Paradiso: How’d you get your start in the brewing industry?

Matthew Cummings: I started working in the brewing industry by making glassware for craft breweries. A lot of that early work was on the sensory side: meeting with brewers, breaking down different glass shapes, and seeing what made their flagship styles taste better. During that process of developing the glassware lines, I got hooked on homebrewing in an effort to dive deeper into the field.

JP: What made you want to launch a brewery?

MC: I started making craft beer glassware over seven years ago as a way to make handmade glassware a bit more democratic. My sculptures were selling for much more than I could afford, than my family or friends could afford, and I wanted to make something that was my life’s passion that more people could use and appreciate. From there, I started taking my homebrews to beer festivals and saw the opportunity to connect with even more people. I was selling handmade artwork for $35. With craft beer, it’s a luxury item $5 at a time; it’s a form of expression, a form of art that even more people can enjoy.

JP: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for future success?

MC: Glass is such a difficult material. Even after 15 years in the craft, it still teaches me how little I know. When I get too confident, the glass will fight me and find a way to humble me. That really informs how we approach our brewing and recipe development — not taking the material at face value and always testing and refining ideas. It gives us a sense of patience to take an idea and really refine it. Instead of saying, “oh this beer was dope; we’re done,” we keep tweaking and testing variables. Take our hazy IPAs, for example. We’ve made 50 or 60 different batches over the last year, and we’re still learning new techniques and approaches. The brews we’re bringing to Juicy Brews Summer Invitational feature an experiment into extreme hop biotransformation and gave us such a great hazy hop flavor without any hop burn.

JP: What are your thoughts on the state of hazy IPAs in the industry?

MC: I love it! The biggest complaint I hear about New England IPAs is that brewers can use hops to cover up bad base beers because of all the dry hopping. Man, I don’t agree with that at all! Yes, there are a ton of hazy beers on the market and not all of them are great. But to make a great hazy IPA, it takes a tremendous amount of craft. The base has to be on point, the fermentation is very specific, the hopping is very tight, and, most importantly, the hop storage protocol has to be really spot on. So, sure, hazy can be used to cover up a bad beer, but it won’t be a great example of the style. Look at the really well-known hazy producers, those guys make great beer all around.

JP: What’s your favorite beer to drink right now?

MC: Old Style. My favorite Izakaya in Knoxville keeps them in stock and always has one waiting for me when I walk in the door.

JP: Are you reading anything interesting?

MC: Laughs. I’m a bit of a bibliophile. My office has every square inch covered in books about art, glass, geology, beer, whiskey, productivity, and sensory. Right now I’m reading a few good ones: Flavor Matrix by James Briscione, Smugglers Cove by Martin Cate (to prep for this fest), and Viewing Stones of North America by Elias. My all-time favorite beer book is Brew like a Monk by Hieronymus — lots of practical info and it makes you feel like you’re walking through a monastery.

JP: Give us a few songs to add to an all-star bottle share playlist.

MC: “REEL IT IN” by Aminé to start, “Yeah Right” by Vince Staples if someone brings a whale that doesn’t turn out quite right, and “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire for an “after-everyone-is-a-bit-drunk-and-feeling-good” dance party.

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