Tonight, Harpoon Brewery is unveiling the second iteration of its 100 Barrel Series Island Creek Oyster Stout, an elixir bursting with the briny goodness of freshly shucked oysters. Don't blanch. While slippery, salinic oysters and a roasty stout may seem as incompatible as toothpaste and orange juice, these these luxuries are ideal mates. For eons, barflies have known that Guinness goes grandly with bivalves. What Harpoon and breweries such as Flying Fish and Porterhouse have done is ramp up the inherent pairing by tossing oysters and their juice into the brew kettle.
"If I blindfolded you, handed you the beer and asked you to name the secret ingredient, you'd be hard-pressed to tell it was an oyster," says Harpoon Fine Dining Specialist Bill Leahy, an avid homebrewer who helped craft the beer. I sample the stout, searching for the sea. It's lost within waves of mellow chocolate and roast. "But try it with an oyster," he urges.
He passes me a meaty Island Creek specimen. It smells of the ocean, of brisk winter walks along a beach. Leahy instructs me to sip the stout, then swallow the oyster, then sip the beer again. I do as told. It's creamy magic, with the smooth, sweetly chocolaty notes of the stout melding with the oysters, which impart a lingering oceanic tang. "The beer brings out the sweetness in the oyster, and the oyster brings out the brine in the beer," Leahy explains. "Care for another oyster?"
I nod, speechless, as the flavors of the sea and the stout swirl in my mouth.
Joshua M. Bernstein has written about brews, bars and booze for New York Magazine, Time Out New York, Imbibe Magazine and The New York Times. His beer book, Brewed Awakening, will be published by Sterling this fall. Follow him on Twitter @JoshMBernstein.