The saying goes "The first man gets the oyster, the second man gets the shell." But with our latest beer Into The Deep - a smooth and velvety 8.5% imperial oyster stout - you can have it all, both the mollusc and the shell, as we put the whole beast into the brew. In this, our first collaboration with friends The Oystermen, we celebrate the age-old British tradition of pairing meaty bivalves with a dark aromatic creamy-headed stout and instead of keeping them separate (which is also a great idea) we decided to combine the two.
We're launching the beer with The Oystermen on Wednesday 30th November at our tap room from 6pm - all welcome. We’ll be pouring Into the Deep from keg and it will also be available in 750ml bottles too. The Oystermen will be bringing fresh Menai oysters, the same ones as in the beer, so you can enjoy our special launch price on the beer and drink your oyster stout with your (dirt-cheap) fresh oysters. Rumour has it there might be stout cake too...
The relationship between oysters and stout stems all the way back to the Victorian era in the 19th century. During this age, oysters were in abundance and were considered a cheap dinner compared to the more expensively sought after meat, fish and cheese. In modern times, following the industrial revolution and subsequent decline of the oyster beds, oysters have become more thought of as an expensive luxury.
But how did the once separate entities find themselves within the same brew? It is a murky history and to be honest, no one really knows when it first happened. It is thought that within the 1800s, the shells, which are rich in calcium carbonate, were used as a type of finings (a clarifying agent). But the first conscious example of a brewer putting both the meat and the shell into the brew (maybe) happened somewhere in New Zealand in 1929. Marston's oyster stout is commonplace but its name is thought to be just a term suggesting the beer goes well paired with oysters, as the Marston's beer doesn’t actually contain the bivalve itself. It's is a common assumption that the oyster tag is just a name and people are regularly astounded when informed that their beer does indeed contain the sea creature. The first ever real British oyster stout (and one we stock by the bottle, in our fridge) is the Hammerton Brewery's which was was first brewed in 1938. The brewery was resurrected in 2014 and they have since restarted the production of this wonderful stout Pentonville made with Maldon oysters from Essex. As far as we know, Hammerton is the only other London brewery alongside Canopy Beer Co currently making an oyster stout.
So what about Into the Deep? It gets its imperial tag due to its strength, as we wanted to make a really special seasonal beer, so we made an imperial stout that is great for drinking now but that will also age well – we’re setting aside a few cases to cellar for next year. 150 Menai oysters from the Menai Strait in North Wales went into the brew at different intervals throughout the process. First, the whole oysters were added, then just the shell was added, and then at the end, the mollusc itself along with its briny water concluded the brew. This gives the beer it's distinct salty finish that is synonymous with an oyster stout.
We asked The Oystermen a few questions so that we could get their side of the story.
Why oysters, why not charcuterie for example?
In short because we love them! Oysters are not a fad food, they have been an essential element of our food chain since pre-historic man emerged. Oysters are beautiful in their simplicity, they draw flavour from their natural environment, they are delicious and they are good for you! What’s not to love about them?
Did oysters bring the two of you together?
Matt and I met back in 2013. We worked together for a year or so in fish and seafood restaurant and bonded over our love not only of seafood but also our shared passion for hospitality. The Oystermen grew out of this really, with the key moment being Matt's wedding when we shucked together for all the guests, this was the real germination of the idea for the business.
Which part of the country is your favourite place to get oysters?
Personally I love the Menai Rocks. My grandparents grew up in that part of North Wales, and I find the flavour very reminiscent of the air up there on the coast, so it’s all rather nostalgic, conjuring up images of winter days on the beach in the rain! Matt loves the Pothilly oysters we get from Jerry near Rock in Cornwall. These tend to be plumper and sweeter than those from anywhere else in the country. A real session oyster.
Can you tell me about the oysters used in our collaboration?
We used Menai oysters in the collaboration. We wanted to use the variety we thought would add the most distinctive flavour. Shaun who grows them (we only buy our oysters direct from source) sent us down a batch of extra big ones, which were perfect for the brew.
You have a restaurant now, how did that come about, what are you serving?
We've always wanted a restaurant! For us working in hospitality is about engaging and enjoying the company of guests as much as it is about the food! Our current restaurant set up is above The Sampler wine merchant in South Kensington. We’ve both held great relationships for many years with these guys and naturally when we were asked to take over their first floor, we jumped at the opportunity. It’s a real opportunity to put in to practice everything we have learnt over the years, and share our passion for the oysters and service with guests that already have that love and those that are seeking their first oyster experience. The fact that we only buy our oysters direct from the growers allows us to ensure 100% freshness and traceability. The feedback is consistently amazing from those that dine with us. We’re very proud of what we have achieved and are currently offering and also have plans to develop this part of the business further along with continuing to provide bespoke bars for private events and weddings etc. Watch this space!
You often use a BBQ, isn't it considered sacrilege to cook oysters? Are you challenging that perception?
Some people say this, but to be honest we believe that everyone is free to enjoy food as they please! Our cooking is also very much influenced by the US and they love to grill, broil and bake their shellfish!
Why do you think stout and oysters go so well together?
Stout and Oysters is just one of those classic pairings. It dates back to a time when both were simply incredibly prevalent in London. In days gone by oysters were adored by two masses – the wealthy – for their taste and opulence - and the very poor – for the ability to provide a wealth of nutrients and to pad out dishes that also contained more expensive items which explains the origins of the beef and oyster pie...
Stout and Porter became enormously popular in the 18th century, especially in London, and the pairing originates from this time. Oyster Stouts themselves came about a little later, and there is some confusion as to whether or not they necessarily require oysters in the recipe or are designed simply to accompany them. Personally I think it’s a match made in heaven... the rich, caramel-like notes you get from the Stout makes it work so well... kind of like salted caramel ice-cream. In all honestly though we love everything with oysters!
What’s in store for the future of the Oystermen?
Onwards and upwards. Our current restaurant home grew out of a pop-up and we are always on the hunt for more permanent sites throughout London and then further afield. A bustling seaside town restaurant is definitely on the cards. We're also looking forward to a busy wedding season next year... as we like to say... wherever you need oysters we'll be there!