My Washington, D.C., upbringing exposed me to the Atlantic Ocean’s fresh bounty at a young age, making an indelible impression. Now, whenever chance takes me home, I make sure to hit one of the city’s many unpretentious seafood joints with old friends and tear into a mountain of crabs or clams.
The only thing that makes seafood better? Beer, of course. Beer and seafood are wonderful bedfellows, complementing one another’s flavors and adding to an experience that should really be shared.
I love seafood with beer, but I’ve never gone so far as to put seafood in beer. Fortunately, Frederick, Md.’s Flying Dog Brewery went spectacularly out of its mind and has done just that.
Where I was timid, Flying Dog was brave, brewing a stout beer with actual oysters incorporated into the process. Once a limited edition offering, Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout is now a year-round brew and, as insane as it may sound, we’re all better off for it.
Pearl Necklace is a visually pleasing beer, pouring a cloudy black, like a good stout should, and developing a thick tan head. For being (at least, on paper) possibly the craziest beer on the market today, it looks really very normal, even prettier than many lesser stouts currently available. I confess to being a bit apprehensive while leaning forward to take a sniff, wondering how the addition of shellfish would affect the aroma. Once again, though, Pearl Necklace proved friendly, with an inviting scent. I detected a roasted caramel note backed up by dark chocolate and, though I may have imagined it, a bit of salty ocean water.
Those who have visions of stinky, fishy beer with bits of shellfish swimming about need not be afraid. The oysters impart no discernible fishy or unpleasant flavor but add an intriguing brininess. If you don’t believe me, Flying Dog public relations manager Erin Weston says, “It’s really about 10 oysters per barrel … but we also add sea salt to the beer to give it that nice, briny quality.” The salty quality that the oysters and, of course, the salt bring to the table back up the stout’s burnt character, highlighting its subtle sweetness.
Were one to be given the beer not knowing its not-so-secret ingredient, it would be easy to mistake the oysters’ salt for mild hops. There’s one more piece of good news to aid the revelation that there isn’t much actual fish in the beer at all. Concerning shellfish allergies, Weston says, “It’s really a trace amount of oysters per barrel that are used … based on the proportions that we were given, its safe to drink.” A beer drinker with shellfish allergies can happily drink Pearl Necklace without holding an EpiPen inches above his or her thigh.
What sounds like a mad brewer’s darkest experiment is actually a very good and easily drinkable beer. Though I would not recommend it to someone with an aversion to stouts and porters, Pearl Necklace is a mild brew with one unusual ingredient and should inspire no more fear than a Guinness.
Still not convinced? Fine. What if I told you that by drinking Pearl Necklace, you are saving the world? Okay. Not the world, but oysters that definitely help make said world go ‘round. In adding Pearl Necklace to their regular lineup, Flying Dog has partnered with the Oyster Recovery Partnership.
The partnership is a Maryland-based nonprofit, dedicated, predictably, to restoring the Chesapeake Bay’s dwindling oyster population. The idea came about as so many great ones do: over a beer. Weston laughs, “We were at an event with the Rappahannock River Oyster Company [which grows oysters in Virginia], talking about drinking beer and eating oysters. All the stuff we enjoy.” A speaker at the event brought up the idea of using beer profits to fund oyster recovery and, for Flying Dog, the idea was too good to pass up.
Soon after, Pearl Necklace was born.
Through sales of its oyster stout, Flying Dog intends to play a major role in bringing the oyster population back from the brink. Indeed, they already have. “In 2012 alone, the proceeds from Pearl Necklace helped to replant 1 billion baby oysters back into the Chesapeake Bay,” says Weston with discernible (and justifiable) pride. East coast seafood restaurants and enthusiasts would rejoice at a resurgence in the oyster population and, with any luck, their exorbitant price will fall as supply increases.
Don’t let the beer’s apparent lunacy put you off. It’s a solid stout that is not nearly as weird as the name implies and exists to both delight your taste buds and do a little bit of good in the world. I’ll drink to that.
Write to Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.