So last Thursday was one of my most memorable brew days ever - in a good way. It began a couple months ago when friend and fellow brewer Jason McAdam visited Upright to bullshit around. We talked about his upcoming venture Alchemy Brewing Company amongst other usual topics like charcuterie and beer. At some point our conversation went like this:
A - you must be itching to get brewing again huh?
J - well yeah of course
A - want to make a beer together before Alchemy gets rolling?
J - how about an oyster stout?
A few weeks later we met at the Horse Brass to write a recipe. This was an easy task since Jason and I have similar approaches to brewing. The only part that required a good bit of thought was how to incorporate the oysters? In the end we decided to add roughly ten gallons of oyster "liquor" that Jason picked up fresh from the coast off a train. We didn't want to brew an oyster stout without any oyster meat though so we also picked up eight dozen DeCourcy oysters from B.C. and cooked them during the kettle boil. After eating all the wort-soaked meat we cleaned and saved the shells to add later to the beer, post fermentation, like dryhopping.
Does oyster stout sound strange to you? It did to me, at least until someone convinced me to simply try some raw oysters with a nice stout. That was a few years ago. I found myself at the Rose and Raindrop one day (yeah I miss it too) and had that wonderful pairing experience. I think it was with the Pike 5X, a stout that I still thoroughly enjoy to this day. The beer surprisingly didn't overpower the shellfish. Instead the contrasting elements found an incredible harmony. Of course there are several different stouts and oysters out there but I encourage doubters to give it a shot with any two - just pick your favorites. That begs the question, "Isn't pairing the two different than actually combining them?" Yes, but the style isn't something we made up. It has roots in England going back to the early 19th century when oyster shells were used to aid in clarifying the beer. Some brewers started adding meat or juice to the stout as well, presumably for a more briny flavor profile. Sounds good to me.
For our local collaboration the "base" beer is a strong (medium strength by most standards, 16.6 plato) stout. We used chocolate wheat instead of the usual barley version along with a pinch of rolled rye. Otherwise the beer uses a straightforward recipe. Another Portland brewer let us use his Scottish ale yeast which ferments cleanly and should make for a pleasantly full-bodied beer. When I checked it today it was nearing the end of its fermentation, silky smooth and flavorful - definitely off to a good start. We plan to fill a few kegs when it's ready within a month and bottle the rest which will be available after another few weeks of conditioning.
- photos in this post by Annalou Vincent