Sometimes, wild inspiration just isn’t the ticket to success. Accidents, time constraints, and even laziness, have all lead to scientific, geographic and brewing discoveries that would have otherwise gone unknown. Such is the case with oyster stout, whose history could point fingers at any of these aforementioned reasons. When bridging the gaps of brewing history, though, we’re convinced laziness played an important role in the development of oyster stout as a beer style.
Before reverse osmosis, food grade lactic acid, and fifty pound boxes of water salts, brewers brewed beer that worked with the chemistry of their local water supply. This is how styles began to develop in the first place — why Pilsner began in Pilzn, dry stout was born in Dublin, pale ale was created in Burton-on-Trent, and so on. Through better understanding of water chemistry, some brewers of the early industrial era used applied science to exert better control over the brewing process. Brewers added specific salts and minerals to their water to improve and adjust mash pH, flavor profiles, and mouthfeel. Calcium carbonate, an important salt used in brewing water adjustments, happens to be a large component of oyster shells. This may have been the beginning of oyster stout.
There is evidence of oyster shells being used in the brewing process all the way back to Victorian England. The gap where laziness fits in is somewhere between Victorian England and the year 1929, where the first brewing records showing the use of oyster meat appear. Did someone run out of time to shuck the oysters on brew day? Was the oyster boat late? Were the brewers hung over from a night of drinking stout and eating oysters and grabbed the wrong bucket? Did a flock of angry seagulls fly off with the entire pile of empty oyster shells behind the brewpub? It’s not clear.
What is clear, though, is that working with our friends at Drayton Harbor Oyster Company helps us to make great beer. Using the entire oyster — shell, meat and brine — makes for a wonderful addition of mineral and brine flavor to our smooth, roasty stout. Despite this being generally considered a British beer style, we feel that the use of local ingredients grown 2.1 miles from our brewery also puts Dark Harbor Oyster Stout firmly inside of our overarching farmhouse brewing style/philosophy. And, yes, Dark Harbor Oyster Stout pairs well with both fresh and cooked oysters!