How to Pair Beer with Oysters

Photo credit: Maja Danica Pecanic/StockFood

When sitting down to plate teeming with ice and freshly shucked oysters, plenty of people might reach for a glass of crisp, clean white wine.

But what about beer?

We chatted up a couple of industry experts who assured us that a pint of suds is a perfectly acceptable pairing for the briny bivalve.

Joshua M. Bernstein, beer writer and author of “The Complete Beer Course,” wants you to get funky with your pairings. Beer is “more elastic” than wine, he explained, meaning that a wide range of beers will suit any given oyster. Only a few rules apply:

“You don’t really want an intensely roast-y beer that will overwhelm the delicate flavors of the oyster,” Bernstein said. But a beer with a little roast-iness is just fine, especially those with lush, milky profiles, which balances the salinity of an oyster and its juices.

"The classic and sort of standard pairing is a dry Irish stout," he suggested. "That creaminess really seems to accentuate the briny hit of the oyster."

But what about when the oyster has creamy notes, like many oysters found on the West Coast? Giuseppe Tentori, the chef and partner at GT Fish & Oyster in Chicago, Illinois, suggests a saison with notes of coriander, like the spicy-sweet “hennepin" brew from Ommegang Brewery. The key is balance, Tentori said. You want to "refresh your mouth, but not overpower [it]."

Both Bernstein and Tentori pointed to a pairing that almost sounds too good to be true: oyster stout. Several brewhouses produce them using oyster shells or oyster meat, and they (unsurprisingly) pair excellently with bivalves in their raw states.

"You’ll find the salinity comes out in the beer," Bernstein explained. "That salinity is sort of echoed by the oyster. It’s kind of a tailor-made pairing."

And there are a ton of oyster stouts out there. To name a few: Flying Dog Brewery’s Pearl Necklace; Porterhouse Brewing Company’s Oyster Stout; Oyster House Brewing Company’s Moonstone Oyster Stout; and Half Acre Beer Company and Three Floyds’ collaborative Mutiny and the Mollusk Oyster Stout.

Bernstein’s last piece of advice: Sip the beer first and then slurp down the oyster (and vice versa), but steer clear of shooters (a glass of beer with an oyster swimming in it). “I want to enjoy the subtle characteristics of both the oyster and the beer,” he said. “Together? Well that would be a muddy mess.”