Beer for the Shellfish…

We get our beer and wine deliveries on Wednesdays, generally, and when I come in to work mid-day, the first thing I usually do is check the beer cooler to see what new beers have arrived. I guess I slipped up the other day, though, because I missed one. Until a customer brought one up to the register later that afternoon. Whoa – what’s this? a new beer? and I haven’t tried it yet? Can’t tell you anything about it until I have one, now, can I?

The beer in question was the latest in Harpoon Brewery’s 100 Barrel Series, Island Creek Oyster Stout. Reading the fine print, just in case, I found that it was indeed a stout brewed with oysters. Hmmm. 5.5% abv, 35 IBU’s, and actually brewed with freshly harvested local oysters. I know it sounds really weird, possibly even disgusting. But this is not unique – there are a few current breweries who have experimented with the style, including Dogfish Head in Delaware. It’s also quite a historic style – the first mention of something similar is found in the writings of Charles Dickens.

I did hesitate a few minutes, I must confess – I have developed, in my adulthood, an allergy to shellfish. Or at least to mussels, so far. I have been spectacularly sick after eating mussels in Paris, Venice, and Chambly (Quebec). How would I do with a beer brewed with oysters? I decided to take the chance, as long as I could drink it at home.

It was very dark. The beer, I mean. Black, opaque, stout-like. With a thick beige head. I stared at it for several minutes, not quite daring to taste it. I was afraid. Would it taste like stout or like fish? or both? I approached the glass to my nose. So far, no fish. Just roasted malt, mild hop aroma, a few diacetyl, buttery notes… Perhaps it was psychological, but I did begin to detect a bit of a seaweed-like mineral scent. OK, time to taste it.

It was a mouthful – thick, full-bodied, smooth – before even tasting the beer itself, I could tell by the texture that it was very rich and smooth. The combination of flavors that hit me all at once included dark malts, roasted barley, salt/minerals, butterscotch, smoke… still no fish. There was a solid bitterness underlying the initial flavors, a roasted grain bitterness more than hops. Definitely a lot of roasted barley, a hint of sweetness. Still no fish. OK, so far so good. The aftertaste? Again, perhaps it was in my mind, but there was a mineral, iodine, salt-water, kelp-like taste way in the background. Not at all unpleasant, not offensive. Just… well, unusual in a beer?

If I hadn’t known it was made with oysters, I never would have guessed. I think I would have detected that there was something out of the ordinary in it, some additional ingredient, although it could have been a water-conditioning mineral taste. All in all, a very nice smooth, dark, roasty, stout.

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