Rush River began brewing in 2005. Located close to the Minnesota boarder in River Falls, Wisconsin, they focused on the Twin Cities as their primary market, but made their way to Madison not too long afterward. Maybe this was just my own perspective, but at the time they seemed to be overshadowed by two other newcomers to the Wisconsin brewing scene: Ale Asylum and Furthermore. Those two both had Madison as a primary market, and seemed to be doing things with their beer that others in the state were not (focusing on aggressive beers and "outside the box" beers respectively). By comparison, Rush River seemed to be playing it safe and making fairly standard craft brew fare: Golden Ale, Porter, Amber and IPA. But as the years have passed Rush River seems to have gained more traction and respect among beer folk. The Unforgiven Amber has a hop-forward, west coast IPA attitude similar to Ale Asylum's celebrated Ambergeddon, and the Bubble Jack IPA is as good as any IPA being brewed in Wisconsin. Recently they have begun stretching their brewing muscle by releasing a "small batch series," with beers like a Winter Warmer and Chocolate Oatmeal Stout. It was the newly released Imperial IPA that piqued my interest. It is brewed with malt, wheat and honey and clocks in at 9 percent ABV.
Appearance: Golden, very cloudy with a huge foamy head. Visible floating chunks, presumably of yeast, heavily saturate this beer. Unfiltered indeed.
Aroma: Equal parts citrus and grain, with a hint of honey sweetness.
Flavor: The wheat and malt hit you up front with a strong grainy presence, followed by a hint of honey and a strong bitter hop finish. It has a very creamy mouthfeel, not unlike a British Ale. Honey in an Imperial IPA suggests Bell's Hopslam, one of my favorites, but the grain character reminds me more of another one of my favorites, Russian River's Pliny the Elder. While Pliny masterfully balances the grain and hop flavor with a lean body and stern bitterness, this beer favors the grain much more and has a fuller body. The bitter finish is there, but I could use a bit more hop flavor and aroma up front rather than a strong taste of wheat.
Drinkability: A relatively full bodied, 9 percent ABV Imperial IPA? One pint is perfectly drinkable, but this is, by design, not a session beer.
Summary: A very strong effort from a nice brewery, proving they can step out of the safe zone and still hit the mark. I could use a bit more in the way of flavor and aroma hops, but all the flavors present are quite nice. Also, I really like the re-designed labels; much improved.