Oysters & Stout: The Ultimate Beer Pairing
Oysters and stout is a beer pairing steeped in history and flavour harmony. Once a source of sustenance for dock workers, this delightful duo has become a delicacy. While a chilled glass of white wine or champagne still reigns in high-end restaurants, many foodies prefer to pair their oysters with the rich and robust flavours of a dark beer.
WHEN DID PEOPLE START PAIRING OYSTERS WITH STOUT?
The tradition of pairing oysters with stout stretches back to the 18th and 19th centuries in Ireland and the UK. Packed full of essential nutrients, oysters were a cheap source of nourishment for the hard-working and hard-up people who lived near ports and harbours. At the same time, dark and malty beers, like stouts and porters, were gaining popularity in the same coastal areas.
The natural brininess and subtle sweetness of oysters proved to be a tasty complement to the rich and roasted flavours of stout. The pairing became a beloved culinary tradition, with oyster houses and taverns serving up platters of fresh oysters alongside pints of stout.
ADVERTISING & POPULAR CULTURE
If you visit the Guinness Storehouse Experience in Dublin, one of the best attractions is the floor dedicated to the brand's most historic advertising campaigns, which are awash with proud-looking toucans, hapless zookeepers and a smattering of oysters.
In the 1950s, the advertising guru David Ogilvy dreamed up the idea for the 'Guiness Guide to Oysters,' which depicted nine different oyster varieties and concluded that "all oysters taste their best when washed down with drafts of Guinness."
There is no doubt that the impact of Guinness' advertising deepened the historical connection between oysters and stout. Over time, this once peculiar pairing has been elevated further and engrained into modern foodie culture. In fact, long before the arrival of social media, people in Britain could watch the chef Keith Floyd glug a glass of Guinness while simmering beef with oysters and stout on television.
WHY DO OYSTERS & STOUT GO TOGETHER?
Aside from their shared history, the synergy between oysters and stout can be attributed to several factors:
- Contrasting flavours: Oysters have a delicate and slightly salty flavour that contrasts beautifully with the deep, roasted, and slightly bitter notes of stout. This contrast enhances the overall tasting experience, creating a harmonious blend of flavours.
- Texture harmony: The creamy texture of oysters pairs wonderfully with the silky, smooth mouthfeel of stout. This combination creates a delightful sensory experience that engages both the palate and the senses.
- Balancing act: The carbonation in stout helps cleanse the palate between bites of rich, briny oysters, ensuring that each mouthful remains fresh and enjoyable.
WHAT IS AN OYSTER STOUT?
Oyster stouts typically incorporate oysters into the brewing process, either by adding whole oysters, oyster shells, or oyster meat into the boiling wort before fermentation.
An article from Food Republic claims that "late in the 1800s, brewers discovered that oyster shells, rich in calcium carbonate, served as an effective clarifying agent for finished beer," much like how many brewers (but not Small Beer) still use isinglass - or in cruder terms, fish bladders - to produce crystal clear ales and bitters.
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Modern oyster stouts tend to be jet black and opaque. Oysters are added to the brew to create a savoury flavour and give the beer a richer depth. However, some oyster stouts don't actually contain any oysters at all, like The Black Pearl Oyster Stout brewed by Gadds' in Kent.
WHAT ABOUT THE VEGANS?
As you may have figured, oysters - or any beers that have been brewed with oysters - are not vegetarian or vegan-friendly.
This gets a little murky as some vegans argue that it's morally sound to eat oysters for a couple of reasons:
- Questionable sentience: Oysters don't have a centralised nervous system or a brain, which means they are unlikely to experience pain or suffering in the way that more complex animals do.
- Sustainability: Oysters are considered a sustainable seafood choice, as their cultivation has minimal environmental impact compared to other animal agriculture.
This position has even been defended by Peter Singer, author of the book 'Animal Liberation,' who said "there is no good reason for avoiding eating sustainably produced oysters."
Either way, eating oysters - and other molluscs - is a contentious topic within the vegan community and not one we wish to get in trouble over. But we can assure you that, like all the Small Beer that we brew, our Small Beer Stout is suitable for vegans and you are very welcome to enjoy it with oysters if you wish to do so.