Taste Test: 12 Beers With Fish Names

It's Labor Day weekend, a time for the last big celebration of the summer. You're a proud, hard-core fisherman who's hosting or attending a party or backyard barbecue. What do you offer your friends and family to drink? Imported mineral water? Some tootie-fruity sangria? A nice Chablis?

Perhaps. But for many sportsmen, there's only one choice of beverage for such an occasion. It comes in a six-pack. And it ain't Diet Coke.

Now it's easier than ever to honor the sport that you love by bringing a beer named after a fish. Numerous breweries name their beers after finned creatures (some subtly so, others not so much), but which one do you bring? The beer named after your favorite species? The beer that has the coolest label or best name? And how do you know if tastes good?

To help you make the best choice, the editorial staffs of Field & Stream and Outdoor Life recently conducted the first official Taste Test of Beer with Fish Names. Armed with score sheets, pens, and an unquenchable journalistic thirst for truth as well as free drinks, almost two dozen of us judged 12 different varieties of beer with fish appellations from bottlers across the country.

Editors first rated the name of each brand. Then we judged the artistic qualities of the label. We carefully considered the taste. Like a wine test, we picked the types of food each beer would best complement. Unlike a wine test, we did not spit any samples out.

This was a completely unbiased test, but it was not comprehensive. Several breweries produce more than one fish-named beer; while we could not taste all of them, we strived to have each bottler represented.

Although we tested both lagers and ales, each brew was judged on its own merits, not against each other.

Some of our canned samples are also available in bottles, and vice versa. Bottled beers often tasted different from canned, and our results represent only what was sampled.

Finally, many of these beers are so-called craft beers and are not available across the U.S.

Here are the results, in alphabetical order, based on a five-star rating system. Food pairings are listed in descending order. Representative comments from the taste panel are included.

And if you're a hunter, look for our Taste Test of Beer with Game Names during the winter holiday season.--Mike Toth, Executive Editor

(Special thanks to beer-allergic Photo Editor John Toolan, who generously photographed our test for the mere price of a rum and Coke; and interns Adam Pincus and Aislinn Raftis, who procured and poured the samples.)

Cutthroat Pale Ale

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Label: 4 ½ stars
Name: 4 stars
Taste: 4 stars
Would go with: Grilled meat, pig roast, pretzels, fish fry
Would you buy? 79% said yes

Uinta, a Utah brewer, calls this a traditional pale ale that is, unfortunately, available only in its home state. With no one-star ratings given by any tester in any category, CPA was one of the highest ranked beers in our test, with only non-ale drinkers giving it average scores. Tasters particularly liked the richly colored, classic label design and the finely balanced hoppy taste. I saved a bottle for my workbench so I could admire the artwork when tying rigs and organizing tackle. uintabrewing.com
Impressions:
"My winner."--Pete Sucheski, Deputy Art Editor
"Buy to be ahead of the curve."--Kristyn Brady, Assistant Editor
"Tastes all right, not mind-blowing."--Jim Walsh, Associate Art Director
"Good hop flavor, but not too hoppy."--Anthony Licata, Editor-in-Chief

The Skinny: If you're in or near Utah, get this beer. If you're not, consider a road trip. You now have two kinds of cutthroats to target.

Dancing Trout

Label: 3 stars
Name: 3 ½ stars
Taste: 2 ½ stars
Would go with: Sauteed trout, grilled meat, pretzels
Would you buy? 21% said yes

This wheat ale made by the Missoula-based bottler, which claims to be the only "German microbrewery" in the Rockies, had inconsistent scores in every category. While some tasters appreciated what they called a floral or fruity aroma and flavor (ranging anywhere from banana to pumpkin), many found it too sweet and/or too light. Some admired the whimsical label but others didn't get it. Is that the biggest trout that ever lived, or the world's tiniest fisherman? bayernbrewery.com
Impressions:
"My No. 2 beer."--Justin Appenzeller, Outdoor Life Photo Editor
"Honey flavor. Too sweet. Almost tastes like mead."--P.S.
"Give me a PBR instead."--Colin Kearns, Deputy Editor
"Slightly sweet, dry finish, nice label, yet I could not like this beer."--Donna Ng, Copy Chief

The Skinny: This is not a beer to slam down a hot day, but a sophisticated palate might enjoy the suite of flavors. A good choice for the beer drinker who encounters a wine-drinking situation, such as hors d'oeuvres of fine cheeses.

Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA

Label: 2 ½ stars
Name: 3 stars
Taste: 4 stars
Would go with: **Grilled meat, pig roast
_
Would you buy?**_ 64% said yes

The Delaware-based brewery is available to beer drinkers in 25 states, who should take pity on those in the rest of the country. Sharing top honors with Cutthroat Pale Ale--and the only beer in the test to garner six five-star taste ratings--this is an IPA that ale drinkers loved and even non-ale drinkers appreciated (with one exception). Though IPAs generally pair well with heavy fare, several testers said this beer would go well with any food, any time. Some who weren't familiar with saltwater species asked what a dogfish is (a type of small shark widely known for hitting baits meant for other species). Naming a brewery that makes great beer for the head of a pesky fish that has toxic slime on its dorsal fin mystifies me, but this one is still my favorite. dogfish.com
Impressions:
"Quite possibly my favorite IPA made today."--John Taranto
"Great meat and potatoes beer."--J.W.
"Too hoppy and heavy."--Gerry Bethge, Deputy Editor/Fishing Editor
"Almost the platonic ideal of an IPA."--A.L.
**
The Skinny:** One of the best IPAs on the market today--fish name or not.

Flying Fish Hopfish IPA

Label: 3 stars
Name: 3 stars
Taste: 3 ½ stars
Would go with: Nearly anything if you like pale ale
Would you buy? 50% said yes

With a distribution network confined to the Atlantic coast and California, saltwater anglers are prone to be familiar with this brewery, especially those in the Northeast (one line of beers is named after exit numbers on the New Jersey Turnpike. Yo!). The Hopfish line was made "at the request of you hopheads," says the website, but surprisingly, IPA fans found it light--and agreeably so, for the most part. Most non-IPA drinkers didn't mind it either: "Inoffensive," said Jean McKenna, which is high praise indeed from our Managing Editor. I found the beer very easy to like but the label, which depicts a fish skeleton with spinning propellers, odd. How about an illustration of a pitch rig for slammer dolphin instead? Flyingfish.com
Impressions:
"Love it. Very drinkable."--J.T.
"Light. Dry. The name certainly doesn't roll of the tongue."--Kim Gray, Associate Art Director
"A nice light beer with lots of flavor and a nutty taste."--Dave Maccar, Online Content Editor
"Easy to drink. Maybe too easy."--C.K.

The Skinny: A great IPA choice for mixed beer-drinking company.

Landshark Lager

Label: 3 stars
Name: 3 ½ stars
Taste: 2 ½ stars
Would go with: Fried fish, pretzels
**Would you buy? **29% said yes

Bottled by the Margaritaville Brewing Company, a joint venture between singer/entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett and Anheuser-Busch, this beer is named after the women-chasing "sharks" in his song "Fins." (That connection is hard not to know if you've been to a Buffet concert, where the brand is heavily promoted.) Landshark didn't get high taste ratings. "Mild" was about the most generous comment from those who didn't care very much for Landshark, though several, such as Fishing Editor Joe Cermele ("I order these all the time at the tiki bar near my boat"), were long-time fans. Still, detractors (and I'm one of them) greatly outweighed Parrotheads. landsharklager.com
Impressions:
"Average."--P.S.
"A favorite label, but watered-down taste."--K.B.
"Bland."--J.W.
"A 'session' beer. Not much flavor or body."--A.L.
**
The Skinny:** A good-looking bottle and a fun concept, but there's more marketing than malt to this beer.

Longfin Lager

Label: 3 ½ stars
Name: 3 ½ stars
Taste: 3 stars
Would go with: sauteed trout, pretzels
Would you buy? 43% said yes

The lager made by the San Diego brewery of Ballast Point--which has several other lines of fish-named beers and ales--was one of several in the test was that was canned. Several tasters noted a sweet-to-citrusy taste--which accounted for the pairing with sauteed trout--and most all called it light in body. Although the label (no fish art on the can, for some reason) and name (which got points for alliteration) scored higher than the taste, this brew got the thumbs-up for drinking. ballastpoint.com
Impressions
"Love it! Like a slightly fruity PBR. My kind of beer."--J.C.
"Drinkable if cold."--J.T.
"Light, watery flavor. A bit of a sweet aftertaste."--P.S.
"An above-average lager."--D.N.

The Skinny: A good canned beer with more complexity than the average lager.

Organic Wild Salmon Pale Ale

Label: 2 ½ stars
Name: **3 stars
**Taste: **3 ½ stars
_
Would go with:_ Grilled meat, pretzels, sauteed trout
_
Would you buy?**_ 36% said yes

The Olympia, Washington brewery has an entire line of organic beers that's available in eight states (Florida and Wisconsin among them). While no one was impressed by the label that's a pun on the brewery's name, or vice versa, tasters generally favored the beer, which is no lightweight when it comes to flavor and body. It's a bit citrusy, very hoppy, with notes from caramel to smoke. The non-ale drinkers scored this beer very low, but the rest of the crew gave it average to very good taste scores. The name is a bit confusing--would anyone name a beer after a farmed salmon?--but the taste isn't. fishbrewing.com
Impressions:
"Drink-all-day-good.--J.T.
"Way too heavy for a pale."--G.B.
"Despite its awful label, the sweet hoppy flavor is great."--J.W.
"Very hoppy and nutty, dry, had a bit of an aftertaste."--K.G.

The Skinny: A good pale ale with plenty of body and character.

Steelhead Extra Pale Ale

Label: 3 ½ stars
Name: 3 ½ stars
Taste: 4 stars
Would go with: Grilled meat, pig roast, fried fish, pretzels
Would you buy? 79% said yes

Nutty, hoppy, sweet, mild, minerally, crisp--nearly every taster found something different to say about this ale, but every one of them liked it. A few fell in love. Even Deputy Editor Gerry "just gimme a Bud" Bethge called it a "nice beer." Basically, Steelhead EPA does everything well without overdoing it in any category--although the steelhead on the label is a bit understated. Why minimize one of the greatest fighting fish on the planet? Bottled in California, the distribution network covers 28 states throughout the country. madriverbrewing.com
Impressions:
"Well balanced taste. One of my favorites."--K.B.
"Easy to drink. I'd like something stronger after a day of steelheading, though."--C.K.
"Crisp and hoppy."--J.W.
"Brisk and refreshing, minerally and dry."--D.N.

The Skinny: A crowd-pleasing ale. Enjoy the label in strong light.

Striped Bass Pale Ale

Label: 4 stars
Name: 3 ½ stars
Taste: 3 ½ stars
Would go with: Fried fish, grilled meat, pig roast, pretzels
Would you buy? 71% said yes

The Devil's Backbone Brewing Company in Virginia named this ale after the state's official marine saltwater species (though several states claim the species as their own), and the artwork on the can is a splendid rendition of a big rock. Tasters generally liked this beer--though everyone seemed to find something different about it, from too strong to too light; great hops to light hops, bitter to mildly fruity. Two gave it top taste ratings, and only one scored it a less than average--quite commendable for a canned beer. dbbrewingcompany.com
Impressions:
"My top overall choice."--J.A.
"A bit watery."--J.M.
"Love the label, but too strong and hoppy for me."--J.C.
"Dry, refreshing--a winner."--D.N.

The Skinny: A good ale in a good container, named after a great fish. Props for putting the Latin species name on the label.

Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale

Label: 3 stars
Name: 3 stars
Taste: 3 stars
Would go with: Grilled meat, pig roast, pretzels
Would you buy again? 57% said yes

Sweetwater is a self-described West Coast brewery that relocated in the late 1990s from Boulder to Atlanta, Georgia and features a jumping trout on their logo. (This is not at all a mismatch if you've ever fished the Chattahoochee River; the river runs cold through town and offers excellent trout fishing.) The 420 brew scored a solid three stars in every category, though individual taster ratings varied widely. Some thought it clean and smooth while others found it too sweet and hoppy. sweetwaterbrew.com
Impressions:
"Drink only if you're an IPA fan. The beer is not sweet at all."--D.N.
"Best mix of hops and sweetness. I bet it's great with barbecue."--K.B.
"Nothing memorable."--C.K.
"Nutty, smoky."--J.W.

The Skinny: If you're a diehard ale fan, or a Westerner in Dixie, get this beer.

Trout Slayer

Label: 4 stars
Name: 4 ½ stars
Taste: 3 ½ stars
Would go with: Fried fish, pretzels, grilled meat, sauteed trout
Would you buy? 86% said yes

The bottlers of the famous Moose Drool Brown Ale make this wheat ale with the no-nonsense name. We sampled the canned variety, which unfortunately is a poorly reproduced version of the colorful, old-school fly-fishing scene on the bottled type. Many tasters complimented the taste and were impressed to find such quality beer in a can. While a strong wheat beer can be too bold for some, most testers thought this struck a fine balance, and was even a bit on the light side for a wheat. bigskybrew.com
Impressions:
"A good drinking beer."--G.B.
"Unremarkable."--K.B.
"Dry, but with some fruit. Hard-core name!"--A.L.
"The best wheat beer I've had in a can."--D.N.

The Skinny: A solid wheat beer that holds up in aluminum.

Wall-IPA

Label: 3 stars
Name: 3 stars
Taste: 3 stars
Would go with: Grilled meat, pretzels
Would you buy? 43% said yes

This Wisconsin combination brewery and restaurant did not rely on subtlety when naming several of their beers after Midwest fish species: Floppin' Crappie Ale, Prickly Pike's Pilsner, Mouthy Muskie Light, and this IPA, which had tasters at odds. Some found the bold hop flavor (and bottom sediment) appealing and unique, while others found it off-putting. northwoodsbrewpub.com
Impressions:
"Lots of IPAs taste the same, but this one stands out, in a good way."--J.T.
"Very hoppy. A bit bitter."--P.S.
"Looks like something you'd see in a gift shop on Lake Mille Lacs."--J.C.
"Bold, bright flavor. I love a bitter IPA and this delivers."--C.K.

The Skinny: No middle ground here. You'll either like Wall-IPA a lot or you won't. The beer is only available in Wisconsin (and a portion of Minnesota), so if you're going to do the Dells, grab a six and find out.