Let's Get Crafty, Wining & Dining

Oysters and Beer

By Timothy Long

“The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork.” – Oscar Wilde

Oysters and beer, one of the greatest culinary delights known to man. A delicacy of indulgence beyond any other. The two go together like eggs and bacon. Back in the 90s, my buddy Devo and I walked into a bar that we knew had great oysters. We wanted to watch the WVU/Syracuse football game. The bar was running a Saturday afternoon special, 25 cent oysters. Good luck finding that price now. We sat at the bar, got a pitcher of beer, and ordered 5 dozen oysters. The bartender gave us a derisive look and informed us that she was not shucking 5 dozen oysters. Fair enough. I then asked for a dozen and that we would order more as needed. We ate 6 dozen while watching WVU lose to Syracuse. The oysters saved what would have been a disastrous afternoon.

Oysters are wonderful, but don’t eat one in a month without an “r” in it. That’s the rule! Don’t do it! You’ll be sick for days and vomiting so hard that you’ll see your shoes drop into the water!

I have questioned this ‘R” rule from the first time I heard it. Really? What the hell does the spelling of a month’s name have to do with getting a bad oyster? The answer is almost nothing. Although, there was a time when this rule did have merit.

According to the New York Times article, Oysters, Despite What You’ve Heard, Are Always in Season, this rule dates to an English cookbook from the 1500’s.

The adage of eating oysters only in “r” months goes back (at least) to 1599, when it appeared in an English cookbook, Dyets Dry Dinner, What it really means is: Say no to raw oysters in the summer. And there’s some merit to that. During the summer, unrefrigerated (or un-iced) oysters spoil more easily, the bacteria that cause food sickness are more rampant, and oysters are spawning. Dr. Meritt said the cookbook was probably referring to European flat oysters, Ostrea edulis, which brood their larvae inside the shell. During spawning season, a European oyster may come with a surprise crunch: a sac of baby oysters in tiny shells.”

The article goes on to state that our east coast oysters do not reproduce in that way. And that nowadays, the National Shellfish Sanitation Program enforces strict guidelines when it comes to the handling and storage of oysters. Part of which is getting oysters on ice stat. The ice lowers the oysters to a temperature that makes it hard for bacteria to grow. Is the risk a little higher in warmer months? Yes, a bit. But proper handling reduces it greatly. Naturally, you should always be cautious when consuming any shellfish. If it looks, smells, or tastes bad, discard it. Don’t take a chance in any month of the year.

I have my own rule when it comes to eating oysters, only eat them on days that end in Y. I can consume oysters like candy. Oysters are fun to eat and are not seasonal. I don’t care what your grandma says. You can enjoy them any time of year. And what else can you enjoy any time of year? Beer. Oysters and beer are an American tradition that dates to before the country’s founding. The best part of it is that the choices are almost unlimited. Several varieties of beer pair well with several varieties of oysters. Oysters change in flavor according to their location and the time of year. Spring oysters tend to be small and milky. Fall oysters are meaty and sweet. East Coast oysters are briny, sweet, and have a clean taste. West Coast oysters are bolder with melon and mineral flavors.  The choices never end and there really is no right or wrong. You can have a blast doing this!!

To quote M.F.K. Fisher, author of the 1941 book, Consider the Oyster:

“One man can drink wine with them, another beer, and another fermented buttermilk, and no man will be wrong,” 

So, do whatever works for you. When it comes to oysters and beer, the world really is your oyster. Although, as with any pairing, do try to consider how the tastes will blend. You must have some contrast between the two. The beer should complement the oyster, and vice versa.

My suggestion, start with a stout or a porter. That’s right, I said a stout or a porter. If you read this column on a regular basis, you know the difference between the two. Why a stout or a porter? Tradition. These beers were paired with oysters back in Victorian England. British pubs of that era poured mostly stouts and porters, and oysters were a popular and plentiful snack. The earthiness of stouts and porters and the brininess of oysters blend wonderfully together. Many people consider this the quintessential pairing. It also happens to be one of my personal favorites. But not an oyster stout, there will not be enough contrast. There will be way too much oyster flavor. Trust me, I’ve tried it.

Here are some other suggestions to get you started: West coast oysters will often pair well with a citrusy IPA. The lemony taste of the beer pairs well with the melon flavors in the oyster. Also try them with a German Kolsch or Helles. These beers also magnify the mineral and melon flavors of the oysters.  East coast oysters do, of course, go well with a stout or porter, but also try them with a pilsner. The dry, crisp flavors of the pilsner pairs wonderfully with their brininess. And always try to pair your oysters with craft beers from the same region. The liquid in an oyster captures its local environment, and the same holds true for beer. Food and drink from the same terroir are more apt to complement each other.

Again, the number of pairings is endless. It’s fun to do tastings to see what you most enjoy. Indulge your palate and spend the summer figuring out your favorite pairings.

As Jimmy Buffett once wrote,

“Give me oysters and beer for dinner every day of the year. And I’ll feel fine.”

I couldn’t more agree more whole heartedly.

Tim’s Whiskey and Cigar Recommendations

Copper Fox Port Style Barrel Finish Single Malt – Pairing an oyster with whiskey can be a great experience. Many people recommend coastal scotches for our local oysters. And although they do blend well together, stick with one of our local whiskies instead. I recommend Copper Fox Port Style Barrel Finish Single Malt. The briny sweet oysters from our Chesapeake waters blend well with a single malt. This local whiskey has notes of honey and ginger with a biscuit style finish that beautifully complements our local oysters. 100 Proof, $79.95 a bottle.

Oliva Series V Liga Especial Belicoso – Cigars are made to enjoy after a good meal. So, once you have finished your oysters, fire up an Oliva Series V Liga Especial. This wonderful robust cigar is full of meaty and nutty flavors with a balanced sweetness. A Cigar Aficionado rating of 93 and priced at $6 a stick makes this cigar is a real steal. Enjoy.

About the Author: Timothy Long is an educator, writer, consultant, and experienced restaurant operator. Email: tlong@belmarinnovations.com. Instagram and Twitter: @wvutimmy. Blog: What is that fly doing in my soup? http://whatflyinmysoup.com

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