Rush River Bubblejack IPA

Rush River BubblejackSince I was a graphic designer in a former life, I have a mild fascination with beer labels and packaging (note: anyone cursed with a similar affliction should take a gander at Oh Beautiful Beer). It should come as no surprise, then, that I have major affection for Rush River Brewing Co. For a good long time, Rush River suffered from ferociously ugly branding. With a little help from a fancy-pants Minneapolis marketing firm, however, Rush River is now one of the finest looking brands in the cooler case.

Fortunately for those of us who are easily swayed by pretty pictures, Rush River also makes some darn tasty beer. Located in River Falls, WI, Rush River has been around for just over a decade, but only began bottling about five years ago. I first became acquainted with Rush River at a Great Taste of the Midwest festival in the distant past, during their pre-bottling days, and was thrilled when their wares became available in the Madison area.

A solid little brewery, Rush River eschews flash and glamour and instead offers reliable, well-crafted beers in a range of styles.Though it’s been a while since my last Rush River experience, I recall equally enjoying Unforgiven Amber, Lost Arrow Porter, and Double Bubble Imperial IPA. Bubblejack IPA, as it turns out, is another winner.

Bubblejack is light-bodied, effervescent, and quite hoppy. Citrus notes on the front are nicely complemented by a mildly bitter bite at the finish, resulting in a nearly perfect grapefruit effect. A refreshing, easy-drinking (or “highly sessionable“)  IPA, Bubblejack could easily serve as a house standard.

Rush River Bubblejack IPA

Style: IPA
Availability: Year-round
ABV: 6.5%
Hops: Yakima Valley
Notes: Light-bodied, effervescent, and hoppy; mild citrus and bitter notes provide a nice grapefruit effect
More Info:
My Take: Refreshing and easy-drinking; could become your new house IPA.

Great Dane Pub Carpenter IPA

The Great Dane Pub reminds me quite a bit of my favorite pair of ancient jeans – comfortable, casual, and reliable, with total disregard for contemporary fashion.

Fittingly, I’ve been frequenting the Great Dane just about as long as I’ve owned this now-ragged pair of pants. In the 10 years since my first visit, the Dane has grown from a single brewpub in downtown Madison to an empire of 5 dining and drinking establishments scattered across the city and suburbs, and even into the wilds of Wausau. A sixth mini-Dane fortifies weary travelers at the Dane County airport.

Sadly, my favorite pants have not realized comparable achievements during the past decade, but they do remain mostly intact. In a curious alignment of the cosmos, today’s tasting obligations were fulfilled at the Great Dane while wearing these beloved pants.


Classiest shuffle table in town

I love the Great Dane for many reasons, including its cozy, comfy atmosphere, reliably tasty pub food, and, of course, a first-rate shuffleboard table. Its beer, however, is not among these reasons. While the Great Dane’s high-alcohol beers, like Stone of Scone Scotch Ale, tend to be pretty decent, others are inconsistent or just boring. Emerald Isle Stout, for example, is one of the least-interesting stouts I’ve encountered; its lack of depth leaves it tasting something like stout-flavored water.

Today’s selection, Carpenter IPA, was unfortunately only slightly more appealing than the lifeless Emerald Isle Stout. A seasonal offering, Carpenter was light-colored and light-bodied, with minimal carbonation. Lack of fizz, combined with a strong soapy flavor made for a fairly unpleasant experience. A yeasty (but not in a good way), slightly metallic aftertaste compounded the suffering. For a more palatable IPA experience, steer clear of this seasonal and stick to a standard, like Speedway IPA. Or better yet, forgo the beer all together and head straight for the barley wine.

Great Dane Carpenter IPA

Style: IPA
Availability: Seasonal
ABV: Not specified
Hops: Not specified
Notes: Light bodied with little carbonation; soapy-tasting with a metallic, yeasty aftertaste
More Info: No info on this particular beer, but here’s some on Great Dane beers in general:
My Take: Skip this and head for the barley wine.

Flying Dog Wildeman Farmhouse IPA

Flying Dog Wildeman Farmhouse IPA

Flying Dog Wildeman Farmhouse IPA: Like a tasty mullet made of beer.

As I’ve mentioned previously, my beverage preferences have long fallen solidly on the malty side, with bocks, stouts, and porters prevailing. Shockingly, as this endeavor progresses, it seems that my tastes are beginning to shift (or at least expand) a bit. Take today’s selection, for instance. Not so long ago, anything with IPA in the name wouldn’t have elicited much excitement on my part. In fact, mild whining would have been more likely. On this occasion, however, Flying Dog Wildeman Farmhouse IPA was my first choice from a mixed six-pack brimming with malty goodness.

A familiar face on the craft beer scene, Flying Dog has been perfecting its art for over twenty years. Back in 1990, Flying Dog opened as a tiny brewpub in Aspen, CO. Six years, a few awards, and a cross-country move to Frederick, MD later, Flying Dog is a nationally distributed brand with a capacity of about 100,000 barrels per year. It comes as no surprise, then, that Flying Dog puts out some pretty tasty beer.

The elusive beer mullet

The elusive beer mullet

Despite Flying Dog’s respectable reputation, I was a bit skeptical of Wildeman Farmhouse IPA, since mixing wildly disparate flavors can be a unpleasant game. While some concoctions, like chocolate-covered bacon and twist soft-serve, are pure brilliance, others, like Chicken n Waffles Vinaigrette, are simply appalling. Fortunately, Wildeman fell into the former category. An expertly-executed melding of styles, Wildeman is the mullet of beers – classic, mild-mannered farmhouse at the front; raucous hoppy, bitterness at the back. The facts:

Flying Dog Wildman Farmhouse IPA

Style: Saison/IPA
Availability: Year-round
ABV: 7.5%
Hops: Identified only as “a secret blend of several hops”
Notes: Yeasty, with notes of citrus and spice on the front end; followed by a kick of hoppy bitterness
More Info:
My Take: An impressively executed beer mullet. Darn tasty!