There’s been a lot of chatter lately in the brew press about oysters as a sort of crazy ingredient, but the fact is that the bivalve actually has a long history with brewing. Oysters have found their way into brewing over the years, both the flesh and the shells. They have calcium and lots of protein, which tends to give a nice, creamy mouthfeel. The briney character of the oyster sometimes comes through in the beer, but in the examples I have tried, it tends to fade fairly quickly, so by and large you’re after the body and mouthfeel that the oysters provide.
The precise history of oyster stout is disputed. Legendary late beer writer Michael Jackson traced it to the early 20th century in New Zealand and perhaps a few post-war British breweries. A number of East Coast brewers, such as Philadelphia’s Yards and New Jersey’s Flying Fish, trace the style back further, to colonial times, when the huge, briney plump oysters of the Delaware and Chesapeake bays were plentiful and laughably cheap. I brewed my own batch of Oyster Stout some years ago and it did indeed have a lovely, silky mouthfeel and a whiff of brine, at least in the first weeks after I bottled it. It was, however, kind of expensive since oysters are no longer the food of the poor.
Whatever the actual history, the beer tends to quite delicious when well done and there are an increasing number of examples. The website BeerAdvocate.com lists more than 50 current or recent examples, including the Hen House beer and one by 21st Amendment.
- Sean Scully