The past few years, I’ve written a lot in this column about beer that tastes like beer — whether I’ve used that specific phrase or not — to refer to more traditional styles rendered simply.
It’s hyperbole, of course, because even straightforward traditional styles of beer can have a broad range on the palate, but the point is to differentiate from the increasingly frequent use of fruit, spices and other culinary ingredients. Beer, in other words, that tastes like other things.
All things equal, I’ve found that beer-flavored beers are the ones I’m enjoying the most: the helles, the kölsch, the pilsner, the pale ale, the plain ol’ stout.
But every once in a while, I find an idea for a beer that tastes like other things that’s truly inspirational, and this most recent revelation is MobCraft’s Fish Fry Rye lager.
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This is MobCraft, intentional purveyors of the weird, so it bears saying: this beer does not contain fish — none of the cod, walleye or perch mentioned on the label.
Instead, it faithfully emulates a workmanlike but reliable companion to the Wisconsin Friday night tradition: caraway rye bread.
The reason I was excited at this concept is not that I love caraway rye bread but that it is a tasty foodstuff that I could see actually tasting like beer, rather than the other way around. And I do like rye in beer.
Unlike MobCraft’s crowdsourced recipes, Fish Fry Rye was developed in-house, from a homebrew recipe by head brewer Josh Recheck. It debuted in the brewery’s beer Advent calendar in 2021 — shout out to MobCraft for brilliant execution of this concept, a fun mix of beers, one a day, in a big box for the 25 days leading up to Christmas. It’s been a spring seasonal — hitting the fish fry high season of Lent — each year since, the current release late last month seeing the widest distribution yet.
Let’s take a closer look at this beer that MobCraft marketing director Ryan Doolan said has become a favorite among staff and taproom customers.
Fish Fry Rye
Style: Märzen-style lager (the most common style labeled Oktoberfest here in the States) is an interesting choice for a rye beer. Traditionalists will recoil, but let’s be honest, they’re probably not giving MobCraft beers much of a chance to begin with. But they should think, instead, about a fish fry plate with a märzen at its edge. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Brewed by: MobCraft Beer, born in Madison but now based in a lovely brewery and taproom in Milwaukee’s very cool Walker’s Point neighborhood. MobCraft opened a taproom in Denver last year and expects to open locations in Waterford, Wisconsin, and Woodstock, Illinois, later this year.
What it’s like: Rye. Bread. Yep.
Where, how much: You’re probably going to need to check the bottle shops with wide selection for this one; MobCraft’s seasonals haven’t been fixtures in Madison in recent years. Six-packs will run $10-$11.
Booze factor: The slight 5% ABV is low for a märzen and right in the wheelhouse of the American lager many folks would pair with a fish fry.
Up close: Fish Fry Rye pours a brilliant amber with a modest head that dissipates quickly. The glass wafts aromas of toasted bread overlaid with a bright spice note: black pepper and perhaps a touch of cardamom.
It’s on the palate where this beer really shines, though, with what begins as a somewhat conventional märzen profile — light caramel malt, some spicy hops — erupting suddenly on the back end into that dead ringer caraway rye bread profile. The distinctive rye spiciness charges forward first, giving way to that nutty spicy-in-a-different way caraway before they merge back together in harmony on the finish. Fish Fry Rye never gets out of balance on this journey; that, amplified by its low ABV and light body, makes it a crusher.
It’s a fascinating beer in so many ways: The concept, replete with Wisconsin-ness and its obvious and overt food pairing, the clever use of an extremely popular but intensely seasonal style at a different time of year, the sensational layers of flavor. But the best part is this beer stands on its own two dorsal fins as a beer. It doesn’t need the gimmick to succeed as a tasty, drinkable amber lager — a beer that tastes like beer.
Bottom line: 4½ stars (out of 5)
Got a beer you’d like the Beer Baron or Draft Queen to pop the cap on? Contact Chris Drosner at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @WIbeerbaron. Contact Katie Herrera at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CellaredKatie.
The beer faithfully emulates a reliable companion to the Wisconsin Friday night tradition: caraway rye bread.