Gillardeau oysters and imperial stout

Categories: Friday feeling

A celebration of Ireland’s famous food pairing, in honour of St Patrick’s Day

Between the endless famines, British rule (not unrelated) and The Troubles, you’d be hard pushed to find much of a food culture in Ireland prior to the turn of the millennium. There was pork, potatoes, and whiskey, of course, but that was pretty much the sum of it—until, that is, you got to the coast.

Irish oysters. Tough, gnarly, barnacled, their stony lips pressed tight against the assault of the ocean, their creamy taste and inimitable texture is so prized, one of France’s most renowned oyster producers decided he wanted in on the action and started importing two-year-old Irish oysters, to finish off in the ‘les claires’ (knee-deep, salt ponds) of Marennes-Oléron. They are the Rolls Royce of oysters.

“They’re not too strong. They’re creamy and sweet, and you can chew them—right to the end,” says Simon at Furness Fish and Game. “Most people love this oyster.” Indeed, this particular mollusc is so beloved, it is frequently counterfeited, leading the fourth-generation oyster farmer to inscribe his own name, via lasers, on the shell. It is beautiful. A small, elegant ‘G’ inscribed in white on the pre-historic looking shell, it’s almost tempting to keep it, unopened, to display on the mantlepiece.

Whiskey-like in peatiness
It’s these we are eating today: with St Patrick’s Day dawning tomorrow, we couldn’t help but fall for the Irish marriage of a sturdy stout and oysters. Their sweet, almost hazlenutty taste beckons for the punch of the Dutch imperial stout Hemel and Aarde. “This is a great match with oysters: smoky, with hints of molasses and caramel. It’ll set off the saltiness and unique flavour of oysters,” says Tom at Utobeer. “It’s quite unusual. It’s almost like a whiskey in its peatiness.”

Paired with the oysters, gleaming, pale and shivering in their shucked shell, this is pure chemistry: the culinary equivalent of potassium and water. “There must be something about Ireland, for Gillardeau to take his oysters from there,” muses Simon—and indeed, there must be something about Ireland for the Dutch brewers to take inspiration from there too. They may not have had much to eat historically, but what little they did have, they perfected to the envy of the world.