Scotch + Oysters: The Dynamite Pairing You Should Know
“What grows together goes together,” I was told at Oceana, a sprawling seafood restaurant located on West 49th Street in Midtown Manhattan.
Scotch and oysters is what Adam Petronzio, Oceana's wine director, was referring to. After experiencing an intriguing Scotch and oyster pairing at a vineyard in Oregon, Petronzio wanted to bring it back to New York. "We spritzed freshly-shucked oysters with a Scotch aromatizer—I thought it was so cool, and I knew this is how we were going to involve the two together."
After nearly five months of planning and experimentation, Petronzio, along with Spike McClure, Senior Master of Whisky, debuted of a Scotch and oyster pairing menu at Oceana benefiting the Billion Oyster Project, an ecosystem restoration and education project by the New York Harbor Foundation, whose goal is to restore one billion live oysters in the New York Harbor.
“I love Champagne and oysters,” says Petronzio. “It's really hard to beat that. But we're a seafood restaurant and work with a ton of oysters—I wanted to do something interesting. I approached one of our distributors, and they put me in touch with Spike—that’s when the idea really started to grow. It was all very organic, and once we started tasting the Scotches, it became clear which oysters (East Coast vs. West Coast) would work best with what we chose.”
For the menu's debut, McClure was on deck to teach adventurous oyster lovers how to taste the two together. “We are a wine culture," says McClure. "Everyone washes their dinner down with wine—and it’s delicious! But there are so many things that Whisky goes with; it acts like a condiment.” Curious—and albeit, a bit apprehensive—I dove right in.
On the menu, four oysters from Fishers Island (NY), Cape Shore (NJ), Pebble Beach (WA) and Neptune’s Choice (WA) are to be washed down with four Scotch Whiskies—Talisker from the Islands, Lagavulin from the Islay, and Dalwhinnie and Cragganmore, both from the Highlands.
“The Talisker Storm Single Malt Scotch is salty, peppery and smoky, and goes beautifully with the oyster from Fishers Island. It’s a magnificent pairing—it’s the ocean and the ocean.” The briny flavors of many Islay and Island Scotch Whiskies are the result of their ocean environment, making them an excellent accompaniment for East Coast oysters. (Aha, they "grow together.")
When tasting, McClure suggests to first take a sip of water, knock back the oyster, then take a sip of Whisky. After you get the initial taste, take another sip of water followed by another sip of Whisky. “You’ll have a fresh palette; it’s a completely different flavor.”
McClure noted that we were starting bold, which continued with the Lagavulin 8 Year Old Single Malt paired with the Cape Shore. The final two oysters—the Pebble Beach paired with the Dalwhinnie 15 Year and the Neptune’s Choice with Cragganmore 12 Year—were much softer. "Highland Scotches have a little more fruit with a lot of orange notes," adds Petronzio. "West Coast oysters have a deeper cup and creamier consistency, making this pairing really beautiful."
Throughout all four, the Whisky's smoke brought out the sweetness of the oyster, while the brine of the oyster added a gentle saltiness to the Whisky.
Though this exclusive pairing menu only runs until May 13—and will only set you back $36, with $6 going to the BOP—this shouldn’t stop you from ordering a glass of Whiskey the next time you order a raw seafood tower.
“Look at Whiskies with other foods in the future,” says McClure. “It’s like a crazy culinary ride for the palate.” Duly noted.