A couple of years ago, I came across a 1677 recipe for a beer called ‘Cock Ale’. True to its name, it called for an entire cooked bird (specifically, “a large cock, the older the better”) to be mashed up and put in a canvas bag with the fermenting beer. Why would any right-minded person put a bird in their beer? It didn’t say. I could only guess it was meant as a cure for alcoholism: giving the drinker such a bad dose of salmonella they never touched beer again.
Comparatively, brewing a stout with Bluff oysters in it seems a bit more sane. Oysters and stout actually used to be besties in the 18th century (before oysters got too expensive and ditched the stout for champagne), and were commonly served together in English pubs. At some point the oysters made the leap from the plate into the beer and, lo, the Oyster Stout style was born. The internet informs me it was actually considered a health tonic; prescribed for everything from fueling bedroom fires to bathing newborn babies. (I can just see Anne Geddes doing a series of babies sitting in oversized glasses of stout, can't you?)
Questionable health benefits aside, Christchurch brewery Three Boys’ version is one of NZ’s best stouts. I use the ‘f’ word tentitavely but it might even be my Favourite, and I’m guilty of buying it over and over again when I should really be trying something new.
Why? Well, first there’s the aroma: bitter chocolate and roasted coffee (yes yes, like every other stout), with notes of wood, smoke and leather. Then there’s the taste: more chocolatate and coffee, but with fruity notes, a little savoury soy and a clean, bittersweet finish. What really does it for me though – and I hate to objectify the beer like this – is its body. I’m talking rich and smooth with hardly any carbonation; it just slides down the throat like – well, like an oyster.
For the record, I ended up brewing that Cock Ale with my Dad, and obviously I didn't get salmonella poisoning because I still drink a lot of beer. It tasted more or less as you’d expect a 17th century beer made by two amateur brewers with a dead bird in it to taste: pretty odd, but still better than a Corona.
Three Boys Oyster Stout is available from supermarkets and liquor outlets from the start of the Bluff oyster season. Buy online now at Regional Wines.