After years of promoting sparkling wine and its house brand rose as the ideal beverages to drink with oysters, Leon’s Oyster Shop now wants its patrons to think about having a dark beer.
“The masses are like, ‘I know Muscadet, I know Champagne,’” Leon’s general manager Noah Singerman says, conceding that Charleston has a very special breed of masses. “This sounds like a strange combination but oysters and beer do pair really well together.”
To help formalize the connection in customers’ minds, Leon’s last month partnered with Rusty Bull Brewing Co. to create 90 kegs’ worth of a signature oyster stout, made with just-harvested oysters supplied by Cyrus Buffum of Seaborn Oysters.
While the classic beer-and-oyster duo consists of a platter of Irish oysters and a pint of Guinness, oyster stouts have become increasingly popular with American craft breweries and home brewers. As beer enthusiast Chip Walton wrote for The Splendid Table, “While some critics may see oyster stouts as just another gimmick beer … others appreciate the process for its unique use of local ingredients and the new set of flavors that oysters impart on the beer.”
Among those flavors are the saltiness, creaminess and vegetal notes that oyster aficionados seek when they order a dozen.
As for the underlying beer, Rusty Bull co-owner Brian Bogstad says it’s “not too thick and not too heavy,” comparing it to the brewery’s Tumbling Monk porter.
“We know we’re in Charleston,” he says.
Bogstad and co-owner Ben Mayer added oyster shells to the chocolate-leaning stout while it was still in the boil kettle, tossing in shucked oyster meat toward the end of the process. According to Walton, flesh is a fairly recent addition to the canon of oyster beer-making practices. In the 1800s, brewers used just the shells to clarify their products.
Rusty Bull had promised to return the spent shells to Buffum to use as bedding material for spats. Although that type of recycling is standard in the industry, it’s not clear whether the time spent in tank will have any bearing on their maricultural performance. Buffum did not return a message seeking comment.
Both Leon’s and Rusty Bull plan to start pouring the beer in March.