When Spring Park's Back Channel Brewing announced they’d be serving freshly tapped IPAs in cereal bowls, the internet splintered into tribes.
The most vocal were the beer purists, who decried the glassware experiment as canine-level debasement. Then, there were the early adopters, who took to the phenomenon as the One True Vessel for IPA drinking. Between the two is the field, the normies, the folks who walk into a brewery and are down for whatever presents itself to them.
On Thursday night in Spring Park, it was this latter group that was in full force. It was the night Back Channel tapped their newest Reinheitsgebot-bucking hazy IPA: Recreational Foam. And, as they’ve been doing for the last month, the brewery was offering it up in 16-ounce bowls.
In line in front of me, an early-50s man bent into a negative 90-degree angle laughing at the idea of drinking from a bowl. Still, he ordered two, one each for him and his wife, and carried the offering delicately, with both hands, away from the bar. A foot to his right, a couple sat in front of their wide-faced servings of hop juice, a stack of empty soup bowls between them. Every direction you looked in the taproom, someone was giving the format a try.
I decide to go for it. Owner Josh Leddy pours me a pull of Recreational Foam, being sure to hit the nucleation point on the bowl. He cradles it in one palm like an offering of incense. I take it in both my hands, sucking in my first sip two-handedly like a weak-ass Donald Trump.
It’s definitely strange. Is the bowl a gimmick? You’re goddamn right it is. At first, I wonder whether, a year from now, people will be pouring their juice bombs into decanters and extolling the virtues, but I vanquish that thought as dickheaded.
For one, it’s definitely more difficult to drink from a bowl than a glass. Bowls are the antithesis of cans or bottles. Whereas the latter compromise aroma for portability and shelf stability, the former compromises its ability to stay cold and carbonated in order to enhance the nasal qualities.
The aroma of the beer sits like a fog on a marsh, levitating in a breathable layer over the surface. Normally, you’d press the rim of a glass to your lip, breathing in the scent of beer. Then, in a separate step, you’d take your first sip, delineating the experiences.
The bowl allows you to do both at once, flooding your facial cavities with the grapefruit and mandarin orange of the Galaxy and Cashmere hops. The first sip is so strong it makes me want to sneeze. It’s not the most pleasant experience, but drinking a bowl and a glass back-to-back provides a quintessentially different experience. I’m not convinced it’s necessary, but I do enjoy the discrepancy.
So does Bob, a mid-50s regular of Back Channel who picks up a bowl for the novelty. He’s happy to be trying something new, especially at a brewery he visits once a week. Dave and Andie, a twenty-something couple who rolled up to the patio with their rambunctious mutt, love the story of the IPA bowl. They split one with their bruschetta, loving that the flavors feel so “immediate.”
Then there’s Rod, a member of the illustrious Minnesota-centric Beer People group, who faces a bowl of Recreational Foam alongside his wife, Melissa. He claims it's an “odd experience” and admits he’s not sure how the bowl enhances the flavor. But he’s attracted to it over the glass because it forces him to pay attention to what he’s drinking. The pour goes down slow, but it’s a deliberate experience every time he brings the vessel to his lips.
Rod’s point is well taken. To drink from a bowl, you have to stop everything. Your body is called to attention. Every sense on your face—taste, scent, sight—is absorbed in hops. It’s absolutely ridiculous looking, but that’s the glory of the format.
There is nothing definitive about drinking an IPA from a bowl. Back Channel isn’t trying to reset America’s drinking habits, nor seeking to kick mud in the eyes of the folks who laid the groundwork for them. They’re here for expanding experiences, and the bowl certainly accomplishes that.