Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Bubblejack India Pale Ale

Rush River Brewing Co.
River Falls, WI

Style: India Pale Ale (IPA)
ABV: 6.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Drinkable, but flawed)

I often lament the fact that there are so many new brews and breweries constantly sprouting up that it’s impossible for even the most loyal Beer Dork to keep up. OK, maybe I don’t so much lament it as I incessantly bitch about it, and not because it’s a bad thing, but rather because Nigel is incredibly selfish. I like being on the cutting edge, keeping up with everything as it comes out, and I don’t like being beaten to the punch on a new brew or brewery, and I especially don’t like realizing that I was completely ignorant about the existence of a brewery in my home state.

Enter Rush River Brewing Co., based in River Falls, Wisconsin. Until three days ago, I had no idea there was such a place. In my defense, River Falls is a small town in the far northwestern portion of the state, much closer to the Twin Cities than any significant community in Wisconsin. With Nigel living in Milwaukee, about the only Wisconsin city further away from me is Superior, and I believe we ceded that to Canada in the 1970s. My knowledge of River Falls begins and ends with the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, one of the smallest UW system schools (and one that ran that damn triple option offense that annihilated by alma mater, UW-Oshkosh, every fall in football). UW-RF’s main claim to fame is that they host the Kansas City Chiefs for training camp every summer, although the mix of a remote, irrelevant Division III college and a remote, irrelevant NFL team isn’t exactly a newsworthy combination.

Rush River started with two brewers who met while working for a brewery in Seattle, one who hailed from Minneapolis and the other from Milwaukee. According to their website, the brewers hoped to start their own microbrewery and return to the Midwest, and after some debate, decided the Minnesota market was ripe for their new venture. After scouting the local scene with jobs at other Minnesota brewers, they found a third partner with a farm on Lake Pepin, just across the river from Red Wing, MN, and began brewing some small batches. In March of 2007, the partners moved into a brand new facility in River Falls, and they hope to continue increasing their production and distribution. As of now, Rush River brews three year-round brews, Bubblejack IPA, Unforgiven Amber Ale, and Lost Arrow Porter, as well as the summer seasonal Small Axe Golden Ale and winter seasonal Winter Warmer, a Scotch ale. Bottling and distribution began in September of 2007, and though based in the Badger State, Minnesota appears to be the continued focus of Rush River. Most of their brews are sold in the Wisconsin communities of Hudson and River Falls, as well as Minneapolis, St. Paul, Red Wing, Rochester, and other Minnesota communities.

Rush River must be new to Milwaukee, since it’s hard to overlook the fluorescent green bottles of Bubblejack and I’m always on the lookout for new products, particularly when they contain the wonderful letters “IPA.” While it would appear that this was a well thought-out business venture from a crew with solid brewing credentials, as I’ve said before, simply being average isn’t good enough to survive in the cutthroat world of craft beer. You’d better be damn good and willing to experiment in order to have success, although Rush River did find a good location in desperate need of a quality craft brewer (Nigel considers Minnesota to be the weakest craft beer state in the Midwest, even below Iowa).

Bubblejack IPA pours with a typical half-inch white head that quickly settles, leaving a nominal lace and some stickiness on the sides. Golden brown with huge amounts of sedimentation, it’s a touch lighter than normal for an IPA, but otherwise looks just as you’d expect it to.

The aroma is odd and not very IPA-like. The first sensation? Honey. That’s right … honey. It’s super sweet in general, with the honey quickly being joined by light, malty aromas of caramel and brown sugar. Next comes a bready, grassy earthiness, with only the slightest tinge of hops present at the very end. It’s mildly aromatic, but not even close to what an IPA should smell like.

The taste continues that trend, and I have to make the statement that I seem to have made all too often lately: it’s not a bad beer overall, but in terms of style, it’s a huge disappointment. I honestly don’t know how I’d classify this, but IPA would be pretty far down the list. Again, malt is by far the dominant player, in the form of sweet caramel and earthy pale varieties. Each sip seems to alternate between the sweeter, sugary tinges and the tempered, grainy flavor. Hops are a distant secondary player, something that flat-out should not be the case in an IPA. Light, citrusy hops are so faint that I can’t even venture a guess as to what type is utilized, but whatever type it is there clearly should be more. Bubblejack is bland, one-dimensional, and disappointing, though if you’re not a diehard hophead like Nigel, you might find it mildly agreeable. Medium bodied and smooth on the palate, Bubblejack could be considered a session beer for a non-hophead, though there is a slight zip of alcohol on the back end of the drink and a sugary aftertaste that lingers for a bit.

Ultimately, I’m settling on a two mug rating, though many may consider this to be a decidedly average three. It’s not awful, and I’d encourage any beer dork out there to give it a shot, as I think this is the type of beer that will garner a wide range of opinions. However, in Nigel’s book, it’s a bad IPA and so-so beer, not having nearly enough to salvage it from the depths of mediocrity. I’ll give Rush River a pass since they appear to be just settling in and getting their feet wet, but I can only hope things get better from here.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on August 28, 2008.
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