Scotch and oysters start out seeming like odd mates, but sip, slurp, close your eyes, and enjoy the fun of two great delicacies come together. Imagine scotch in its native habitat: oyster-grey sky, fog thick with salt spray, just the faintest whiff of the sea rolling over green hills. The old garden adage, “What grows together goes together,” works here, too.
The fine folks of Bowmore Single Malt Whisky have caught onto this, and paired up with local oyster experts Taylor Shellfish to demonstrate the beauty of these briny bedfellows. Johnnie Mundell, an educator for Bowmore, recently dropped into Seattle to help a few of our town’s skilled bartenders learn the art of pairing our native bivalves with his scotches.
Mundell explained his extremely complicated process to get the most out of the pairing: sip some of the oyster liquor (the juice in the shell), followed by a bit of the scotch. Then use a toothpick to eat the oyster in its entirety, leaving the remaining liquor in the shell. Pour a splash of whisky into the shell, slurping the combined liquors. Sound complicated, time-consuming, and maybe a bit pretentious? I tried a few oysters simply alternating with sips of whisky and can attest to it being 90% as good as the complicated procedure.
Almost any good local oyster should pair up with a decent scotch to some extent, but the pairings Taylor Shellfish oyster geniuses put together were impressive (must be a rough job, all those oysters to eat, so much whisky to drink). Unlike the overwrought tasting procedure, the pairings were easy to understand, the flavors complementing each other and unraveling from the liquors. On a younger whisky (Bowmore 12-year), the buttery flavors of the Shigoku oyster smoothed out the rough edges and highlighted honey notes. As we moved to the older 18-year version, the tables turned, and the whisky seemed to be enhancing the Totten Inlet oyster, leaving a sherry-like sweetness on the tongue. The harder I thought about the flavors of the oyster (like the coppery Olympia with a whisky that hints at fresh citrus), the easier it was to see why Taylor’s experts had picked each one.
Oysters are a Northwest delicacy and tradition, easy to find in local bars and restaurants, a relatively inexpensive luxury. Yet, what to drink with oysters has long confounded fans of the simple shellfish. How to enhance the flavors without disrupting the briny bliss? Scotch might not be an everyday pairing; it’s not the mindless, inoffensive white wines or bright bubbles that are usually chosen, but for a thinking drinker’s contemplative afternoon, scotch and whisky make for a sea-worthy experiment.