Oysters and Stout, the strange pair

A classic Irish pairing: though perhaps it’s no longer trendy in Dublin, the tradition remains

26-12-2015

One of the windows of the historic Temple Bar in Dublin (47/48 Temple Bar, Dublin, tel.: +353.1.6725286/7) – named after the central neighbourhood where one can find many pubs and where the local nightlife takes place – shows this illustration in which two people are about to eat oysters while drinking Guinness: an absolutely traditional pairing in Ireland

«Oysters and Stout was for a long time considered the poor man's lunch», says Stephen Kavanagh, marine biologist and manager at Marine Health Food, the firm where for some time now he’s been working with oysters, both selling them fresh through the itinerating Oyster Bar, and producing various derivatives from this delicious seafood (including smoked oysters, of which he’s very proud and states they could become an extraordinary pairing for a very Italian pasta dish). We meet him in a small square in the heart of the Temple Bar neighbourhood, in Dublin, where we tried to trace the local tradition of pairing stout, also called Porter, and oysters.

Every weekend, the market open in Meeting House Square summons crowds of Dubliners and tourists who taste local delicacies prepared and sold on spot from one of the many stands that gather here, and Kavanagh’s Oyster Bar is a regular. Stephen offers the best local oysters but only serves them with wine: «In fact this choice mainly derives from the fact that in order to sell beer, I would need a much more expensive license for my kiosk. In any case, I do prefer drinking white wine with oysters, but some clients will get a pint of Porter from a nearby pub and then come here to have a plate of oysters».

Stephen Kavanagh, on top of managing a popular kiosk called Oyster Bar, is the owner of Marine Health Foods, through which he presents many products derived from seafood, both for food and medicine

Stephen Kavanagh, on top of managing a popular kiosk called Oyster Bar, is the owner of Marine Health Foods, through which he presents many products derived from seafood, both for food and medicine

A popular dish among Dubliners many decades ago: «Until the early 20th century – says Kavanagh – our coasts had plenty of oysters, you could find them everywhere so this food was very common among poor people, but now things have changed a lot. Oysters have become more rare, there’s a bigger demand and they’re expensive so they’ve become a delicacy available only to those who can afford them». As for Stout, or Porter, it’s a different matter: this beer, which became a national and international institution mostly thanks to the planetary success of Guinness, was appreciated by the working class because it cost less than other beers, had a stronger taste and, most of all, more calories. And the same can be said today.

But the pairing of Stout and oyster is not that popular in town now: for sure they don’t present it in more modern, elegant, gourmet restaurants, even though, when we tasted it, the pairing is a very successful one. One could think that the notes of chocolate, coffee and toffee that characterise Porter would interfere with the brackish minerality of oysters, while indeed the salinity of the oyster perfectly matches those taste notes. And in more traditional pubs in Dublin, this match is still solemnly celebrated.

Klaw (5A Crown Alley, Dublin) is a seafood bar opened in July 2015 and is already very trendy among crustaceans and oyster enthusiasts in Dublin. It’s a very small and informal place and doesn’t accept reservations

Klaw (5A Crown Alley, Dublin) is a seafood bar opened in July 2015 and is already very trendy among crustaceans and oyster enthusiasts in Dublin. It’s a very small and informal place and doesn’t accept reservations

Not too far from Meeting House Square, there’s The Temple Bar Pub, one of the most historic, photographed and popular pubs in the neighbourhood after which it is named. And here, drawn on one of the many windows of this (huge) place, a walrus dressed up and a man in a carpenter suit stand out as they tuck in lots of oysters with a pint of Guinness. Inside, many clients (and not just tourists, even though this pub is mentioned by each and every guide of the city) follow their example.

Even in the brand new seafood bar called Klaw, opened only a few months ago and already very popular in town, they recommend taking advantage of the Oyster's Happy Hour, offered every day from 5 to 6 p.m., together with a nice Guinness. Here you can find three types of oysters, Galway Bay, Waterford and Dooncastle, and they’re served both as nature made them or seasoned or prepared au gratin on the spot.

The Oyster Stout produced at Porterhouse (the pub, opened in the centre of Dublin is in 16-18 Parliament Street, tel. +353.1.6798847) is one of the most loved in town. Still, the idea of using oysters to produce stout is no news. You can find many others in the US, France and even in Italy, with Perle ai porci produced by Birrificio del Borgo

The Oyster Stout produced at Porterhouse (the pub, opened in the centre of Dublin is in 16-18 Parliament Street, tel. +353.1.6798847) is one of the most loved in town. Still, the idea of using oysters to produce stout is no news. You can find many others in the US, France and even in Italy, with Perle ai porci produced by Birrificio del Borgo

For those wishing to explore Porter beers beyond the mythical Guinness, we recommend going to the pub that Porterhouse, the second local brewery in terms of size and, according to many, the best one, opened in the centre of Dublin. Here, the most sold beer ever is the Plain Porter, a very traditional (and delicious) stout. But this has recently been dogged by the Oyster Stout, prepared with fresh, shelled oysters, added to the fermentation tank, to give minerality and roundness to this beer. The result is fantastic, it is of course the most recommended drink to match dishes made with the precious bivalve.


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