Pairing Cocktails and Naked Oysters

by Bekah Angoff
Original recipes below.

Pairings can be a real challenge with oysters. The delicate nature of every slurp is at risk of being masked by sharp wafts of alcohol or other strong aromas within the drink.

In a previous blog entry, I took on the challenge of showing how one quintessential pairing could be different based on which varietal oyster was in hand. After the post came out and more flavor based discussions around the office, we came up with the tasting wheel as a way to take some of the guesswork out of describing those nuanced flavors, which had an effect in the pairing process.  Once the wheel became commonplace for us, I wanted to really take it for a spin into the world of craft cocktails.

The research I preliminarily accumulated on cocktail and oyster pairings showed a few not-so-favorable suggestions: 1. strong, juniper infused gin is the way to go; 2. the martini is king (you know, because we can’t get enough gin!); 3. complex drinks are paired with garnished oysters; and 4. adding citrus to anything makes it work with seafood. I was horribly disappointed in the lack of creative information out there.

Pairings can be a real challenge with oysters. The delicate nature of every slurp is at risk of being masked by sharp wafts of alcohol or other strong aromas within the drink. The heat, or volatility of alcohol, can perk up unwanted aromatic components or mask delicate textures. Think about taking a shot of tequila, and then recovering from the experience. Yes – recovering. The extreme heat of the alcohol will temporarily incapacitate your taste buds.

I called in a local professional to aid me in the process, Cambridge bartender, Patrick Gaggiano. In our first meeting, I gave him a copy of the tasting wheel, and then asked him to create a few simple cocktails with the finish section of the wheel in mind and with relatively low alcohol content to not bring up any volatility issues. I did not tell him which oysters I was bringing to our next meeting, and I did not want him to tell me what cocktails he would be making, so no biases or assumptions could be made before the tasting. I decided to go with oysters in the same categories at the prior wine pairing session. For the East Coast, I chose three oysters: one sweet, one briny, and one with mineral notes. For the West Coast, I chose one creamy and one briny with mineral notes. These broad categories were chosen so they could be applied to other oysters with similar flavor profiles.

I arrived at Patrick’s bar one week later, and shucked the five different oysters while he stirred and shook his own selection. He described each one and pointed out where they might fall on the tasting wheel. I then suggested which oysters were appropriate. Once all the cocktails were completed, we sat down and started the show. After many slurps and sips, here is what we came up with:
 

An effervescent citrus cocktail and a creamy West Coast oyster are exceptionally matched.

A Paloma paired with a Kusshi from British Columbia was a satisfying complementary pairing. The tequila in this drink is light, and does not shock the palate; while the grapefruit’s sour juice slices through the creamy meat. The extra pinch of salt in the cocktail was a pleasant addition, as the Kusshi is not briny, and a little salt helps the cucumber and grassy notes to shine through, while mellowing the metal finish.
 

A smoky and sweet cocktail warms and intensifies a mineral East Coast oyster.

A Pemaquid, from Damariscotta Maine, is a deep, meaty, and umami laden oyster with a slight slate and butter finish. Patrick paired this with a smoky and fruity drink made from mezcal (smoky), Luxardo (sweet), and Punt e Mes (a bitter vermouth). The drink and oyster stood up to one another with such force when separate, but once combined, snuggled against each other in my mouth like a child in a warm blanket. The mouthfeel was steak-like, with smoke, mushroom and woody notes, combined with a silky texture. Hands down, this was the best combination we came up with.
 

A slightly bitter and sweet cocktail balances a mineral West Coast oyster

The next cocktail was a pleasant blood orange aperitif, made with bitters, fresh blood orange juice, and Cocchi Americano (a citrusy and bitter Italian vermouth), which we paired with a Capital oyster from Harstine Island, WA. The sharp salt from the oyster brought out the flowery notes in the blood orange, and the bitter elements of the drink gave more depth to the oyster than was there before.
 

Lightly perfumed cocktails tame briny East Coast oysters.

A salt bomb, like a Quonnie Rock, from Rhode Island, doesn’t usually show its complexity until the finish. Patrick was worried about the Chrysanthemum #2, as it was possibly too aromatic for the task at hand. On the contrary, the herbal and intricate green Chartreuse and the sweet Benedictine (an orange-y brandy) in the drink helped to bring out some of the sweet lettuce and citrus nature of the oyster, while the salt in the oyster sharpened the complex drink.
 

And then, there was the one that threw us for a loop. There were two cocktails left, and one oyster to pair with them. There was failure all around. We were stumped. What do you pair with a sweet east coast oyster, like a Standish Shore, that won’t completely destroy it? Based on some of the interactions above, we decided that we needed to use something sweet to enhance the signature sweetness of the oyster.
 

Sweet and astringent cocktails love a sweet East Coast oyster.

As sweet heightens sweet, a modified Negroni made the Standish Shore taste like candy, fresh from the ocean. We used Amaro Montenegro, which is sweet and slightly bitter, with notes of sherry, another oyster-loving spirit. The astringency of the cocktail stops the sweetness from impeding the buttery finish of the oyster, while the crisp and delicate French gin makes sure the brine stays sharp

What we can conclude from this session: cocktails aren’t too complex to be effectively and appropriately paired with different oysters. Not all oysters will go with all cocktails, so make sure to know which oyster flavor profile you are indulging in. To find harmony, eat your oysters without sauce or garnish, enjoy their unique qualities, note them on the wheel. Experiment with different spirits and cocktail combinations and let us know what you discover!


Original Cocktail Recipes

Paloma
Paired with Kusshi, Cortes Island, BC

1.75 tequila blanco
.5oz lime juice
.75oz grapefruit juice
.25oz simple syrup
2 pinch salt

Shake, pour over ice, and top with soda water in a Collins glass

The One We Really Liked
Paired with Pemaquid, Damariscotta, ME

1.5oz El Buho Mezcal
.5oz Luxardo Maraschino
.5oz Punt e Mes
.5oz Aperol

Stir with ice and strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass - garnish with orange zest

Broadway and Elm
Paired with Capital, Harstine Island, WA

1.75oz Cocchi Americano
.75oz blood orange juice
.25oz St George Terroir
2 dash Peychauds bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe

Chrysanthemum #2
Paired with Quonnie Rock, Quonochontaug Pond, RI

2oz Dolin dry vermouth
.75oz Benedictine
.25oz green Chartreuse

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe rinsed with St. George Absinthe Vert

Montenegro Negroni
Paired with Standish Shore, Duxbury, MA

1oz Citadelle Gin
1oz Corzano Rosso Sweet Vermouth
1oz Amarao Montenegro

Stir with ice, strain into a rocks glass - garnish with orange zest

 

Different Wine Pairings For Different Oysters

by Bekah Angoff

The reason that Muscadet is seen as the ultimate oyster pairing comes from the adage “What grows together goes together.”

Many Google searches can provide apt information on wine and oyster pairings. Type “oyster” and “wine pairings” and you will find a slew of suggestions, mostly surrounding Muscadet or anything bone dry. These suggestions are often generalized and may not be the best choice for every oyster. The reason that Muscadet is seen as the ultimate oyster pairing comes from the adage “What grows together goes together.” Muscadet comes from the Loire region of France, which starts at the mouth of the Loire River, which is home to many famed oyster beds.

At the shop, we can carry up to 45 varieties at a time, which are representative of two coasts, four species and three countries. What does this mean? It means that no two oysters are likely to taste the same. You may start to wonder why general wine pairings aren’t more specific if there are so many different oysters available on the market. I decided to experiment a little with some of our best sellers and some classic wine pairings. There must be a better way to note these interactions.

To start this adventure, I went to my favorite wine educator’s house, Roz, with five oyster varieties in tow. The selection included a spectrum of salinity, a spectrum of sweetness, and a spectrum of mineral content.  When I presented this tasting to Roz, she immediately brought up Muscadet since it's the quintessential oyster wine. The next proposed was a sparkling wine, which is also a given, yet she chose one that had a closer flavor profile to our Muscadet. The other two wines to round out the selection were requested to be on the dryer side, but could bend the rules a bit. She chose a few that were similar to a Muscadet, with varying levels of floral and fruit notes, and crisp acidity.

Here is what we experimented with:

The Oysters

  • Standish Shore, Duxbury, MA – sweet
  • Quonnie Rock, RI – briny
  • Wallace Bay, Nova Scotia – mineral
  • Kaipara, New Zealand – sweet/ briny
  • Kusshi, British Columbia – creamy

The Wines

  • Cava, Spain – dry, sparkling
  • Vinho Verde, Portugal – dry, floral
  • Muscadet, France – dry, fruity
  • Pinot Gris, Oregon – dry, cirtus
     

After playing with the pairings, these were the conclusions we made:

 

A traditional pairing of Muscadet is a safe bet for a sweet East Coast oyster.

We used Standish to represent a "sweet East Coast" oyster, embodying the sweet and briny side of the oyster flavor spectrum typical of many Cape-style oysters. We first sipped Cava, and immediately it was apparent that the match was really off. The texture of the wine and the texture of the meat fought each other in such a way that it left both elements flavorless and bland. The Muscadet on the other hand, accentuated the sweetness in the oyster while slightly muting the salinity. The end result was an immaculately clean finish, which sang on the palate.

 

A sparkling wine with floral notes will do wonders for a briny East Coast oyster.

A Quonnie Rock is briny, which is evidence of being raised in a Rhode Island salt pond. It's a North Eastern oyster, so the typical choice would be to follow suit with the classic Muscadet pairing. But this was not the case at all!  The pairing of Muscadet to the oyster rendered the wine bland and watery, and left the oyster flavorless in return. The Cava, on the other hand, accentuated the effervescence of the wine, and the salt in the oyster heightened the residual sweetness.

 

A bone dry selection will give a mineral East Coast oyster more depth.

Here is another example where the Muscadet is the biggest disappointment in the whole line up. When paired with a Wallace Bay, a mineral East Coast oyster, it was an identical experience as with the Quonnie Rock. The two left almost no impression on the palate, as they canceled each other out. Here is where it gets interesting. The Vinho Verde was the best choice with this oyster. The acidity of this wine brings out the sweetness in the oyster, giving it a brand new dimension.

 

Muscadet wins with briny and fruity West Coast oysters.

Even though Kaipara Oysters are from the other side of the world, it is more of a West Coast style oyster with an East Coast brine. The Muscadet was perfect for this oyster as it highlighted the watermelon finish and silky texture. The Pinot Gris, on the other hand, rendered in to a rotten grapefruit aroma with the Kaipara, which was not pleasant at all.

 

A playful crisp white will be lovely with creamy West Coast oysters.

Kusshi Oysters are a West Coast favorite. This oyster has a signature cucumber finish with a meaty bite and creamy texture. The best fit for this oyster was the Pinot Gris, as the bone-dry nature of the wine created a lush texture with the oyster, and the oyster helped bring out a pleasant acidity in the wine. The Muscadet was terrible with the Kusshi, as the overall flavor was bitter and metallic.

 

In Summary

Oysters cannot be paired with wine in a vacuum. The first step to pairing is to identify what type of oyster flavor you have. Is it sweet? Briny? Have a melon finish? Not all oysters work with Muscadet, and they shouldn't. If oysters are different, so should their wine pairings. There are a various ways to pair oysters with wine, but in the end, it all comes down to preference. Our palates perceive flavor and taste differently, so really, drink what you like!

Oyster Pairings: Why Oysters and Stout Works

stout beer.jpg

This weekend, the temperatures are plunging in the Northeast and all I want is heavy beer and braised meats. It is like a soft blanket for my palate. This time of year is also fantastic for oysters, as the meats are sweet and the briny liquor is brimming on every bivalve. So, how can we enjoy these two wonders together?

Oysters and stout is a match made in heaven. At first thought, the pairing may seem off, but according to acute culinary science, it all makes perfect sense.

Stout is typically a dark beer with chocolate, coffee and caramel aromas, with a slight bitter and mineral finish. Brewed with heavily roasted malt, this viscous beer can be a meal within itself. More stereotypical oyster pairings tend to include dryer white wines, champagne or a pilsner. I believe that the oyster and stout are an even better match, and here is why…

The balance of any mouthful is a play on the five tastes; sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. These tastes play off one another to create various levels of enjoyment from palate to palate, and explain various reasons for why we eat the way we do. For instance, a hot cup of black coffee has nutty and roasted aromas, and can be bitter and sour. Some people like this flavor, so they drink it black. Others may find it too harsh, so they will lessen the bitter with sugar and mute the sour and the rest of the bitterness with cream or milk. The same thing takes place when you see fancy chocolates with large flakes of sea salt on them. Chocolate has some bitter elements to it with roasted cocoa aromas. The salt reduces the sensation of being bitter while making the bite taste all that more toasty and sweet. See? Science.

Now, apply this concept to our stout and oyster pairing and we can see why it works. The sharp bite of brine in an oyster, say one of our Standish Shores, and the toasty chocolate of the stout will pop, just like the salt on your gourmet chocolate bar. The sweetness in the oyster will then, in return, lessen the bitter finish of the beer, leaving behind the creamy texture that any good stout should have.

Next time you’re out at your favorite oyster bar, be sure to experiment with this pairing and see how it tastes to you.

As always, happy shucking.

Bekah