The season of the witch.

October 31, 2008

Aaah, Halloween.  And I believe this is the first one that I was not prepared enough to have a costume.. Kind of depressing as I had one planned and just got too busy with work.

There’s better things to focus on in this holiday though.. Such as great beer!  It is firkin Friday after all, and there’s a little something special at Barley’s Smokehouse..

Oysters & Stout night, featuring, you guessed it, oysters and stout.

I would love to make it out to this one but I’m working late.. and this kills me.. but for those of you that aren’t.  Here’s how it’s going down.

The firkin at the smokehouse is their Russian Imperial Stout first and foremost.  I’ve had it downtown, but not at the Smokehouse and as they are different breweries, I’ll not comment on it just yet.

I’m assuming they are also serving oysters, but they have other greatness on tap as well, today only.  Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury.  That is a very strange beer that one has to try to believe.  Southern Tier Oat, which is quite possibly the best oatmeal stout in the world, and if it’s not, Stoudt’s Fat Dog Imperial Oatmeal Stout.  I’m going to try to make it out early Saturday on the slim event that they didn’t bleed these kegs dry and possibly have some oysters left over.  This sounds just great to me.

So where did Scott get this great idea?  Well likely, he was thinking about Oyster Stout.  An all but extinct style that I only know of one brewery still doing in the United States.  Yard’s brewing in Michigan still brews oyster stout with oysters added in the mash.  I have heard it adds a certain salty pleasant character to the stouts.  I have made an oyster stout before as well but without oysters added in.. Mine was something of a complete and total failure.  I still have plenty if anyone wants to try the three year aged version.

Still, I’m not the man to be telling you about oyster stout as I haven’t perfected it, and perhaps I’m a little less qualified than the man, Michael Jackson.  So here’s an article he had on the stuff from his local newspaper clearly stolen from his site:

Bushy’s Oyster Stout revives a tasty tradition

Being a stickler for ritual, I have been looking for a beer with which to greet the return of an “r” to the month. After some thought, the answer is obvious: an oyster stout. It might be thought that such a powerful beer would drown the shellfish, but it is a marriage made in heaven. I believe such a brew should actually contain oysters. This is true of the oyster stout just introduced on the Isle of Man, a traditional home of such brews.

The earthy intensity of stout is a perfect foil for the gamey brineyness of oysters. Disraeli once wrote of an election celebration: “I dined at the Carkon, on oysters, Guinness and boiled bone…” In the early Victorian period, porters and stouts were everyday beers, and oysters a bar snack as commonplace as peanuts today. Porter dates from the early to mid-1700s, and is characterised by the use of highly kilned malts. Its name is said to have derived from its popularity as a restorative among porters in the markets of London, though I am not so sure. Until the industrial revolution. a brewery typically served a single pub. With the canal era, breweries began to deliver their beers farther afield. Perhaps porter had something to do with its being carried. In the early to mid-1800s, some of the bigger-bodied porters gained the epithet “stout”.

Stout seems happy with all shellfish and crustaceans. I once downed pints of Guinness with a I bucket of boiled softshell crabs, as sandy as they were peppery piled high on brown paper, in a pub called Brady’s in Baltimore, Maryland.

The black beers gradually lost popularity to pale ales in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and oysters were over-dredged, but the marriage never ended. Around the turn of the century the Colchester Brewing Company made a special stout to mark the oyster harvest. Guinness once used the slogan, “Makes the oysters come out of their shells”. Between the wars, the company rendered a pastiche of Carroll and Tenniel, with an illustration of an oyster conducting a lobster at the piano.Stout seems happy with all shellfish and crustaceans. I once downed pints of Guinness with a I bucket of boiled softshell crabs, as sandy as they were peppery piled high on brown paper, in a pub called Brady’s in Baltimore, Maryland.

In 1929, a New Zealand brewery added oysters to their stout. In 1938, the London brewery Hammerton followed suit (the brewery later closed, but not as a result of its oyster stout). At least three British breweries tried the same idea in the undernourished post-War period when “nutritious” beers were in vogue. On the Isle of Man, the Castletown Brewery made an oyster stout until the Sixties.

In the mid-Eighties, Martin Brunnschweiler, who is of Swiss origin but grew up in the northwest of England. left his job with Whitbread to start a new brewery on the Isle of Man, initially in a pub decorated with stuffed foxes – hence the name of his new enterprise, Bushy’s. In exploring the brewing history of the island, Brunnschweiler came across old labels showing that Manx oyster stout had been exported to the United States and even the Middle East.

“I felt such a beer must surely be worth reviving, but I first had to establish my brewery with something more conventional,” he says. As the revival of interest in traditional beers has spread, oyster stout’s time has come, and Bushy’s have just launched their own.

Brunnschweiler uses oysters imported from England by a fishmonger on the island. He adds them whole, at the rate of a mere five or six per barrel, to the kettle in which the barley-malt and hops are brewed. The oysters melt away during the boiling stage, leaving just a touch of their gamey flavours to enhance the brew.

Bushy’s Oyster Stout, at just over four per cent alcohol, is on the light side in body and intensity for this style of beer, with just the subtlest hint of the magical bi-valves. Unfortunately the only way to taste this wonderful combination of flavours is — for the moment, at least – to visit the Isle of Man. The beer is available only on draught, at about £1.45 a pint, at seven or eight pubs on the island, though there is talk of its being served in the northwest of England, perhaps in the Matthew Brown pubs.

Those of us who live elsewhere may have to be content with Marston’s Oyster Stout, made to a strength of 4.5 per cent in the less maritime setting of Burton-on-Trent and available by the 500ml bottle at about £1.40, from national chains such as Oddbins. This beer was introduced a year or so ago, as part of a series of traditional specialities from Marston’s.

It contains no oysters, which seems a bit of a swizz, and is intended merely to accompany oysters, which it does very well. It is a very creamy brew with just the right balance of toasted grain flavours and acidic hoppiness.

A stout must lean to the dry side if it’s to accompany oysters. Despite its fullness of body, Guinness‘s Dublin-brewed, strong (7.5 per cent) and quaintly named Foreign Extra Stout does the trick. especially if it is lightly chilled. The regular bottled or canned stuff is arguably too sweet and the jury is out on the draught version.

Murphy’s and Beamish are barely dry enough, but there is a case for the peppery, spicy Cain’s Superior Stout, from Liverpool. I have long loved the toasty, faintly anise-like porter from Harvey’s of Lewes, East Sussex. A more recent example of that variation is a smoky, bottle-conditioned Old Porter from King and Barnes of Horsharn, in the west of that county.

Back on the Isle of Man and fired by the success of his stout, Martin Brunnschweiler is wondering whether the island’s oyster beds might be revived. He’ll have us flying there yet.

Firkin Friday continues downtown as well.  But it’s the pale again.  Balanced, wonderful, and not new.  But I’d get a growler from the cask if they offered it that way.

I’ll keep my eyes and ears open this weekend for more beer goings on.  This is all I know for now outside of that Evil Dead 2 showing at Studio 35 tonight.  I’m missing that too, but if you want that and 14 tap handles, it’s $5 tonight and at 11PM.


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