Preface: The above picture was taken at the Spotted Pig (314 West 11th Street, New York, NY). As you can see, those lovely bivalves are properly chilling and the beverage at one o’clock is what’s left of a pint of Stout. The reason it is a pint of Stout is because there was no pilsner style brew on tap at the time. If there had been a pilsner style lager on tap I would have opted for the crystal elixir.
I know that popular, romantic connections of the Irish Stout and copious amounts of oysters most likely has its origins less in culinary enjoyment and more in the fact was that at the turn of two centuries past both oysters and stout ale were considered sustenance for the unwashed masses. An oyster house was not a pretty place.
All of that aside, the flavors of neither one really accentuates or contrasts with the other. Start with a chilled oyster, freshly shucked by a sure handed shucker, sitting shimmering in a limpid pool of saline and bivalve so fresh that a drop of lemon juice will curl its edges. The flavors here and the textures recall the sea and a gelatinous richness of perfect Piscean aspic. The Irish Stout is a deep, rich, almost thick elixir that is full in the mouth and finishes with a tannic dryness. It lands with a thud on the delicate sea creature… unless the sea creature has been around a while or is as big as a dinner plate. The following notes rendered from a conversation I had on this very subject, long ago and far away, with Chef Rick Moonen…
Appearance: The delicate colors of the oyster and the subtle flavors are paired perfectly with the crystal clear, sparkling golden pilsner style of lager. The first impression of any food is what it looks like, if you are unlucky enough not to be in the kitchen and enjoying the aromas first. In this case sparkling and subtle are essentials.
Aroma: Yes, there are distinct aromas to every type of oyster. It is a mixture of the saline brine of the sea and the Piscean essences of various intensities. These are echoed by the ever so slightly sweet malt aromas followed by the fresh green tang of hops from a well poured pilsner style lager in a slender pilsner glass.
Mouth feel: The sparkling Pilsner and the slick ouster give the mouth a full feel and a rich finish.
Flavor: The combination of saline of the oyster and the tang of hops is enhanced by the slightly sweet grain addition from the malts.
Finish: The final notes from the oyster are given a refreshing coda from the last of the hops, in a most diplomatic way. So subtle you don’t notice they have gone.
Comments: If you want to abuse your taste buds with something other than a nice Pilsner style lager I wild suggest you try a sparkling white wine. The acid in the wine will rape the poor ouster in its own brine and leave you with gas as well.