Partnering Beer and Brine

For those times when you can’t choose between oysters or a brew, why not both?

When brewer John Adkisson was pitched on an idea for an oyster beer by seafood sophisticate and restaurateur Jim "Murph" Murphy, he thought that he'd gone mad.

The story began when Murphy and his wife were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in Ireland. He was offered an oyster stout at a local pub, which was music to the ears of this mollusk maven, and he returned home with an idea to reproduce the concoction for his guests at Kingfisher Bar and Grill, 2564 E. Grant Road.

"Murph approached me with his plan and I thought it sounded disgusting," says Adkisson, owner of Iron John's Brewing Company, 245 S. Plumer Avenue. "I told him, 'sure, we can do it, but that doesn't mean that we should.'"

But, recognizing that the history of using oysters in the brewing process dates back hundreds of years, Adkisson ultimately surrendered. To call Murphy anything less than giddy would be an understatement.

The pair produced their inaugural version last year, and after some off-season strategizing, they tweaked the recipe that resulted in their recently released King Oyster Stout.

Nine pounds of shucked oysters made an early appearance in the brewing process, just as the malt and sugar water known as wort was wrapping up its 90-minute boil. With ten minutes left, they dumped the oysters into a mesh bag and lowered them into the boil for finishing.

"This method lets us draw the natural juices from the oysters as they begin to slowly break down, which added a beautiful flavor character and brought some briny notes to the malt before fermentation," Adkisson says.

Shucks. Sounds like he's a convert now, right?

When deciding which oyster varietal to use from a virtually limitless spectrum, Murphy knew right away the one that would get the nod.

"I decided to go with an oyster from Umpqua Bay in Oregon, because it's sweet and crisp, with good liquor and subtle hints of cucumber," Murphy says. "It really was a great match."

Members of the collaborative team were beyond pleased with the outcome. Adkisson shares that the stout's base oatmeal produces a creamy character that acts as a balancer to the brine, and Murphy notes how it starts with a fantastic fragrance of salty breeze on the nose.

"On my first pint, I get just a hint of it on the palate," Murphy says. "On my second, I get much more brine, and on my third, I start speaking with the brogue."

I guess that first oyster stout in Ireland left its mark on this man of the merrior.

For pairing purposes, Adkisson says the stout goes particularly well with Kingfisher's braised lamb shank cassoulet with an apple-bacon jam. And as will come as no surprise, Murphy enjoys the new brew as a companion to a dozen fresh oysters.

"Beer and oysters always make a great pairing, and now that I think about it, you can have both in a single sip of this stuff," Murphy says.

The limited-production King Oyster Stout, which hits 6.5 percent on the ABV scale, is available exclusively at Kingfisher, and with fewer than 10 gallons remaining at press time, it surely won't last long.

Then it will be up to Adkisson and Murphy to decide how to continue stretching the boundaries of their imagination.

Could a squid saison be next?