The brainchild of four brewers, it debuts in time for Wilmington Beer Week and heralds a resurgent Delaware oyster industry
No offense to Flipper and the playful mammals that steal the show at Sea World, but the oyster may be the most curious and unusual creature in the sea, both in a practical sense and from a cultural standpoint.
Whether grown in the sea or “on the farm,” these bivalve mollusks are hard workers, naturally filtering plankton from the water, and spontaneously forming pearls inside their shells. Then there’s their aphrodisiac reputation, which causes folks to line up in hopes of enjoying not only their variety of flavors but also their alleged benefits in the bedroom.
“We sell more than 3,000 oysters a week and our buck-a-shuck promotion—a dollar an oyster—is by far our most popular,” says Trolley Square Oyster House Manager Francesca DeSeta-Quillen. “I think there is also the danger associated with eating raw food that people find exciting, and the variety of flavors you can get that makes people want to explore.”
But oysters aren’t just for shuckin’ and slurpin’. They also have their place in the drinking culture, beginning nearly 100 years ago, when the first oyster stout was brewed in London in the 1920s.
Understanding the oyster’s popularity in both the cultural and culinary realms, some local brewers put their collective hop heads together and created an Out & About Oyster Stout, in honor of this publication’s 30th anniversary. The resulting brew will be ready just in time for Wilmington Beer Week (Nov. 5-10), and its debut calls attention to the potential rebirth of Delaware’s oyster population.
One Shell of a Project
So, how do you celebrate three decades of entertaining the state of Delaware with interesting profiles and thought-provoking stories? You ask some of the First State’s most accomplished brewers to get together and make you some beer, naturally. Jim Miller, Out & About Director of Publications, first pitched the idea for this ambitious ale to 2SP Brewing Co. Though they technically brew beer in Pennsylvania, Two Stones has long been a staple in Delaware, thanks to locations in Newark and North Wilmington.
“When Jim first came to us about brewing a beer for their 30th, we loved the idea,” says Mike “Stigz” Stiglitz, co-owner and founder of Two Stones. “We’ve always had such a great relationship with the magazine, and they’ve shown us incredible support over the years. The name ‘Out & About Stout’ just rolled off the tongue, and our brewmaster is known for his stouts. But we’d never done an oyster stout, so I was really excited to see how Bob would approach it.”
That’s Bob Barrar, 2SP’s brewmaster, who boasts a resume of multiple gold medals from the Great American Beer Festival. His Russian Imperial Stout, simply called “The Russian,” is revered in brewing circles. While an oyster stout is slightly outside his higher alcohol wheelhouse, he was ready for the challenge.
“Stigz came to me with the idea to change things up and do an oyster stout, and I was down with it,” says Barrar. “I’d never done one before, so I started doing some research and got in touch with some other Delaware brewers to collaborate on the idea.”
Those brewers included Moriah Guise, of Iron Hill Wilmington, Rob Pfieffer, formerly of Blue Earl Brewing and now with Wilmington Brew Works, and Andrew Rutherford, of Stitch House Brewery. The foursome decided to use a standard oatmeal stout recipe as the foundation, and 15 pounds of Delaware Bay oysters (including the meat and the shells) in the boil.
The beer, which will likely come in around 5.5 percent ABV, according to Barrar, will have a sweet, roasted malt character, thanks to the Maris Otter malts, and somewhat earthy notes, thanks to the Fuggles hops. The oyster shells, which lend a slightly briny flavor and act as a clarifying agent to filter the beer, will help promote a clean finish with a hint of minerality. Both the Maris Otter and Fuggles are indigenous to the United Kingdom, where the stout beer was born.
As noted, the 30th Anniversary Out & About Oyster Stout will be available when Wilmington Beer Week kicks off—at Two Stones in North Wilmington, along with Stitch House Brewery, Iron Hill Wilmington, Wilmington Brew Works and other participating venues (See Wilmington BeerWeek.com for updates). With only 20 barrels being produced, the brewers expect the specialty ale to go rather quickly.
A Revitalized Aquaculture
East Coast oyster lovers know their favorites. Novices tend to gravitate toward the subtle flavors of a Blue Point from Long Island Sound or a slightly salty but clean Misty Point from Virginia. For the connoisseurs, an even saltier, brinier Wellfleet from Massachusetts or a salty-sweet Pemaquid from Maine may be preferable.
Whatever the choice, most oyster fans don’t seek out Delaware oysters. A once-thriving industry in the late 1930s and 1940s, it was largely wiped out by various epizootic disease strains. But members of Delaware Sea Grant, through the University of Delaware, along with Delaware State University, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), are trying to bring it back.
Dr. Edward Hale, Fisheries, Seafood, & Aquaculture specialist for the Sea Grant, sees plenty of potential economic growth for the First State through a revived oyster industry. In 2017, Hale says, DNREC began leasing 300 one-acre sites in the Delaware Inland Bays near Rehoboth and Indian River. According to Hale, although these controlled aquaculture sites are in various stages of development, there is reason for hope.
“To date, we have two individuals and one non-profit group that have active lease sites for oyster aquaculture, and our first shellfish farmer has begun to harvest some of the oysters planted nearly five months ago from a lease site in Indian River Bay,” says Hale. “Delaware has a great deal of potential economic gain and is well poised to see these gains in the very near future. We have also witnessed the development of ancillary, supporting businesses that are working directly with the farmers to help foster economic growth.”
According to a 2015 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report, U.S. aquaculture production was valued at $1.4 billion dollars, with 41 percent of that value being generated from the Atlantic coast states. Oysters represented the most profitable species in the report, generating $173 million for 35 million pounds landed.
“If we look to our neighbor to the north [of the Delaware Inland Bays], oyster aquaculture production has been very profitable to the state of New Jersey,” says Hale. “In 2016 alone, oyster farmers from four counties, with farms in Delaware Bay, smaller coastal bays and the Atlantic Ocean, sold more than 2 million oysters worth a total farm gate value of nearly $1.4 million.”
The 15 pounds of oysters that Barrar, Pfieffer, Guise and Rutherford are using to brew the Out & About Oyster Stout are, in fact, from the Delaware Bay, albeit the New Jersey side. If Delaware Sea Grant continues to trend upward and the Delaware oyster industry thrives once again, the oyster stout could become a very popular varietal as the craft brew industry also continues to flourish in the First State.