If you’ve been in the craft beer scene for any length of time you’ll begin to realize there are certain glasses for different styles of beer. Since smell is intrinsically linked to taste it makes sense to drink beers with a heavy hop aroma from glassware that provides maximum surface area. When a local brewery began serving IPAs out of a bowl they made waves across the entire industry. It was only a matter of time before I took the drive to the shores of Lake Minnetonka to stick my nose into a bowl of beer at Spring Park’s Back Channel Brewing Co.
Most people would jump to the conclusion serving a beer from a bowl is a marketing gimmick. I can’t blame them! While I’m sure that plays a heavy role, the brewers claim it was primarily driven by a chance beer tasting in an Airbnb after running out of glasses. I’m not sure anyone but a beer geek would forgo rinsing a glass to pouring an IPA into a bowl, but now they’re running with it. Back Channel reserves the bowls for the first week of an IPA release. That means you’ve got to do some planning to ensure you can get your hands on one. For those that refuse to dive into the deep end of craft beer nerdom, you can still get the beer in a regular glass.
Back Channel has a great location, right on the lakeshore. We visited in February so there was no patio for us, especially with out little one in tow. Two ice “shufflepuck” courts were laid out near the entrance to the brewery, proving that when it comes to thinking outside the box these guys are no one trick pony. We weren’t the only ones primed for beer in a bowl. A large group of twenty somethings were posing for a photo right when we arrived, each with an IPA delicately placed to their lips. As a result, when my friend Mitch tried to order Fishin’ Tips there were no bowls available. Our wait was not yet over.
In the interim, I ordered a flight of four. The taproom has gray vaulted ceilings and reclaimed barn wood provides a backdrop on the wall behind the bar. There aren’t a ton of seats, but they make the most of the space by packing things in as tight as possible. A majority of the tables are high tops, but there are a handful of regular tables as well. The windows are a decent size and let in a fair amount of light, and a couple of glass garage doors above their rail seating look primed for warmer weather.
My flight was served on a triangular flight board that matches the shape of their logo. When the dust settled I had tasted six of their fourteen beers: Sixteen Times Munich Helles Lager, Three Soldiers Foreign Extra Stout, Ringside Doppelbock with Toffee & Coffee, Class 100 Wee Heavy (collaboration with Falling Knife Brewing Company), Fishin’ Tips IPA, and The Padre Mexican Stout. Sixteen Times was the perfect start, a good maltiness balanced by noble hop aroma and flavors. Three Soldiers was smooth and caramely with a touch of smoke. The Padre began sweet and boozy and finished spicy and peppery. A lot going on in that one!
Towards the end of our visit we did got our hands on a bowl of Fishin’ Tips. I was worried that it would be awkward to drink, but it wasn’t too bad. The extra surface area put the piney and resinous hops front and center. It wasn’t my favorite beer of the visit but it was certainly an interesting experience drinking a beer from a bowl. I’d probably do it again!
It was incredibly busy during our entire visit. Snowmobilers and cross country skiers were regularly stopping in for a pint and by the time we left there were dogs all over the taproom. They even had a dog friendly soda pop. If that’s not an indicator of a healthy economy, I don’t know what is. If you’re planning a trip I would recommend coming in the summer. The patio is bound to be open and if you’ve got a boat you can even pull it up to one of the docks behind their building. Local restaurants deliver food on bikes and the drive-in across the street will even cart food over to you. If you’re worried that Back Channel is making it by through marketing gimmicks alone then put that thought to rest. These folks are brewing great beer in a great setting. Definitely worth a visit!