For the past six or seven months, I've been obsessed with oyster stouts.
It started with Revival Stout from Port City Brewing. They use local, Chesapeake Bay oysters, steeping the shells in the brewing water to add mineral content, then adding the meat and liquor (the salty fluid inside the shells) to the boil. Then, during a trip to Charleston, SC, I tried Bowens Island Oyster Stout from Holy City Brewing. They claim a bushel is added to every 15 barrels they brew, but no further details were given as to which point(s) during the brewing process the oysters were added. Upon returning home, I focused on a longtime favorite, Pearl Necklace, by Flying Dog. They offer even less details other than Rappahannock River oysters are the variety used. At Brewvival, back in February, Coast Brewing had a keg of their Bulls Bay Oyster Stout, for which the tasty shelled creatures were provided by LocalOysters.com. All of these beers are delicious and brewed using a fresh, local ingredient. They share a slightly silky mouthfeel accompanied by hints of brine in both aroma and flavor, but with varying degrees of malt complexity.
Bowens Island and Bulls Bay were my favorites, but Pearl Necklace was my go-to for a while simply because it is the most readily available one here in Maryland. It's crisp, dry and refreshing, well-balanced, and is only 5.5% ABV, so a few of them won't do too much damage. Aroma is of toasted nuts, salted crackers and faint earth, backed by flavors of caramel, fresh biscuits, lightly salted chocolate, coffee and a tiny bit of licorice. There is also the tiniest bit of smoke in the aftertaste. But then...
...about a month ago, I discovered Marooned on Hog Island from 21st Amendment. This is oyster stout taken to the next level. It's heavy and super creamy. It smells of brine, sea water, dark roasted malt, and then bits of dark cherry and vanilla. The taste includes rich, salted caramel and dark chocolate, raisins and prunes, and coffee that becomes more pronounced as it warms. This is a very complex beer, but deliciously well balanced. The carbonation is very soft, almost as if it were poured from a nitro tap. I highly recommend any of the oyster stouts mentioned here - you will not be disappointed. Cheers!