Ever wish your gazpacho was hoppier?
Or that you had a more convenient way to spill beer down the front of your shirt?
Of course you haven’t, but the rapidly evolving culture of America IPAs has begotten some strange innovations. Last Friday, Back Channel Brewing set local craft aficionados abuzz when they offered patrons the option of slurping their pull of IPA from a bowl.
The thought is that by maximizing the surface area of a densely hopped beer, you’ll also maximize the aroma. A Frisbee offers more surface area, but also holds much more than 16 oz. Instead, the rookie Spring Park brewery decided to serve last July 13’s fresh batch of Ten Letter Word IPA in small glass bowls.
“It really does accentuate the aroma,” says Back Channel brewer/owner Josh Leddy. “When you’re smelling beer, you’re supposed to have your mouth open a little bit. When you’re using the bowl, you’re just inhaling, and it’s a whole sensory explosion.”
The idea came during a recent trip to Asheville, N.C. After spending the day touring local breweries, Leddy and his cohorts went back to their AirBnB to polish off some of the day’s finds. But by the time they got to their sample of Heist Brewery’s Citraquench'l NE IPA, they had run out of glasses.
“We poured the beer in a bowl, and we were just sitting there, not really saying anything about it,” Leddy remembers. “But as we sipped the bowl, we said to ourselves, ‘There’s something really special about this.’ It was delicious.”
One of Back Channel’s founding principles was to serve every style of beer in the appropriate glassware. This one was a leap even for them. As far as Leddy knows, no one in America is currently serving beer in bowls. He sees it as an opportunity for his brewery to test it on the commercial level.
While Back Channel did not set out to besmirch the good name of American craft brewing, the hardened beer nerds of Minnesota have not been immediately receptive. Gimmicks in American IPA brewing have become the object of ridicule in beer circles, with traditionalists turning their noses up at everything from lactose to mango to unflocculated yeast. Back Channel's announcement met with plenty of skepticism.
“IPAs in dog bowls,” one Facebook commenter said. “I'm just gonna knock it and not try it,” another chimed in. “That's alright,” a more positive comment read, “but you haven't lived ‘til you've drank it off a curved rock in the wild.”
In a followup post, Back Channel stressed drinking from the bowl is optional. If you don’t want to take down your pour of Ten Letter Word like Joey Chestnut in a ramen-eating contest, you’re welcome to go traditional with your glassware.
The fact is, the bowl has been a certified beer vessel for thousands of years. Civilizations from the French to the Egyptians have utilized bowls to get their buzz, and as Leddy points out, the customary Minnesota drinking salute “skål” actually translates to “bowl” or “bowlful” in Old Norse.
“We didn’t want to just sound like crazy assholes trying to be ridiculous,” Leddy says. “We wouldn’t have done it if it didn’t actually accentuate something in the aroma and flavor profile of IPAs. But the fact that it did made it justifiable.”
Leddy says there is no schedule for when bowls will be available, but they will only pour them during the first week of an IPA’s release. That means Back Channel's next scheduled bowl service comes with the tapping of the Gant Lifter double IPA in early August.
In the meantime, you can stop by St. Paul's 12welve Eyes, where they’ve gone the other way, suggesting people drink their Mango Milkshake IPA out of beta fish globes.