Notes From ‘Modern Craftsman’ — A Pop-Up Tavern Experience

I received a DM a few days ago from Matthew Cummings, a glass blower I interviewed for Uproxx last June. “Hey, David! I’m in San Francisco today, stumbling around the city and checking out the beer scene,” he said. “Let me know if you wanna grab a beer!”

It was exciting to hear from Cummings. He’s easily one of the most amicable people I’ve ever spoken with — cheerful, curious, and genuinely interested in hearing what other people have to say. He’s also one of the most knowledgeable beer nerds on the face of the planet, with an encyclopedic knowledge of brewing and beer history. He talks about beer the way historians talk about World War II, or the way liberal arts professors talk about classic literature. Beer is his passion, but more than that, it’s his muse.

Cummings, the founder of The Pretentious Beer Glass Company, is a master craftsman, specializing in hand-made beer glasses that are designed for hyper-specific beer drinking experiences. My favorite of his creations is the Hoppy Beer Glass, an ergonomic glass that features in-cut grips for each individual finger (I love it so much that it’s become a go-to birthday gift for the beer drinkers in my family).

So, did I want to grab a beer with Cummings? You bet your ass I did. Sadly, almost heart-breakingly, I was unable to take Cummings up on his offer. I don’t even remember what I was doing that night, I only remember that I couldn’t get out of it.

As luck would have it, Cummings was in town for Modern Craftsman, a pop-up tavern experience hosted by Uproxx and Coors Banquet to celebrate the second season of Human — a web series that finds and celebrates modern craftsmen. Even better, the event was on a night when I had nothing scheduled, and also really close to my apartment in the Bay. Meaning, I was finally going to get my beer with Matthew Cummings.

Well, it wasn’t just one beer. It was several, thanks in no small part to Coors Banquet’s generous presence. There was a bar in the entry to the event space and, scattered throughout the courtyard and the main hall, there were little buckets filled with bottles.

After my second beer, I made my way over to Cummings’s table. He was showing off some of his glasses and a few of the tools he uses to make them. “I went to school to study painting,” I overheard him telling an interested patron. “But after my first glass blowing class, after the very first day, I changed my major.”

It’s a story I’ve heard Cummings tell a few times — each time with a big grin breaking across his face. He’s excited about it, even though he’s been making beer glasses for years, and I think it’s an important part of being a craftsman. It’s this idea of being naturally passionate for your work, in a way that won’t burn out over time.

It’s the same kind of passion that fuels Erik Sun, a chef who takes sustainable food-sourcing to a whole new level. If Cummings is the master of beer, then Sun is the master of harvesting wild meat. Like Cummings, Sun was the subject of one of Human’s episodes, and, like Cummings, Sun also had his own table at the event.

Set out in front of him were the tools of his trade: a large knife, a cutting board, and yes, even a crossbow.

Of all the makers in attendance, Erik Sun is the one that I wish I was able to speak with more. What he does is terribly interesting to me, and even more than that, it’s exciting. Not only is he a master chef, but he spends his free time in the cold waters of California, harvesting fish. He also hunts (hence the crossbow), and what he serves at his restaurant revolves around what he’s able to catch.

In fact, there was a raffle held at the end of the evening, with prizes from each of the craftsmen at the event. While I’m pretty sure I was disqualified from winning any of them (after all, I am an Uproxx employee), I felt more than a little jealousy for the man who won a free meal at Erik Sun’s restaurant. I’ve eaten a lot of food, from a lot of places, made by a lot of interesting people, but I’ve never eaten food prepared by the chef who also hunted and killed it.

That’s got to be great, right?

Another prize that was given away at the event was a guitar. Now, I’m no musician, but simply calling it a guitar seems to fall short a bit. Made by Nick Pourfard, the guitar was hand built out of recycled skate decks. The wood layering creates this natural striped effect that is absolutely stunning. It was so beautiful, if I’m honest, that it actually made me want to learn how to play guitar (also to skateboard).

That said, Pourfard’s guitars are really well made. Not just in the sense that they’re art objects, and not just for the novelty of being made from discarded skate decks, but judged primarily on the factors that make a good guitar a good guitar, these guitars are amazing.

Pourfard has this inherent commitment to quality that shines through whenever he holds one of his guitars. You can tell that it’s a deeply personal experience for him and one that he’s proud to share with other people.

As the night went on, I found myself floating from conversation to conversation. Unsurprisingly, the three craftsmen celebrated at the event weren’t the only creatives in the building. I met a local musician, a comics artist, and even an aspiring writer. We all talked about beer, about glasses, about food, and about guitars, and in the end, we always came back to how inspiring these craftsmen were.

Not only did we respect them, we wanted to be like them.

I finally caught Matthew Cummings as the event was closing up. We were standing outside, sharing a cigarette, talking about Westworld, and drinking our final Coors Banquet of the night. We didn’t talk about art, or craft, or anything related to beer glasses. I know that might not seem terribly significant, but I’ve been lucky enough to meet and speak with several legitimate artists. They rarely get to have a simple conversation. I wanted to give Matt that.

That’s one of the things that made this event so great, that the attendees got the chance to really talk to and hang out with some world-class craftsmen — not as celebrities, but as people. There was time to just chat over a beer.

I went to the event expecting to have a few drinks, a few laughs, and maybe meet a few cool people. What I didn’t expect was to realize something that I believe is at the heart of craftsmanship, and that’s community. For Matthew Cummings, Erik Sun, and Nick Pourfard, it’s not enough to simply make something. They also want to share it with other people. Maybe it’s a beer, maybe it’s a meal, or maybe it’s a really cool guitar, but in one way or another each of these makers lives to share their creations.

It makes sense when you think about it, and it’s refreshing. It’s proof that when you strip away technique and skill and artistry, we’re all the same. We’re all human.