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A Perfect Pairing: Oysters and Cocktails

By Kristine Sherred in Food on Mar 4, 2015 6:30PM

Charlie Schott's Green Muse (Letherbee abinsthe), paired with the Narragansett oyster (Photo: Kristine Sherred)

Bringing the bartender into the kitchen is nothing new, but making the cross-training worth the while is a tougher feat. For Shaw's Crab House's 30th anniversary, some of the city's best bartenders mingled in the oyster bar for a finely executed pairing of cocktails and oysters. The host's house sommeliers Allison Frey and Nate Redner stood alongside Parson's Chicken & Fish's Charlie Schott, Sportsman's Club's Jeff Donahue and Nico Osteria's Matty Eggleston with a proprietary cocktail and mignonette to match the oyster of their choice.

Each bar's house style was vividly depicted in the dealer's choice: Logan Square absinthe from Parson's, amaro from Sportsman's, vermouth from Nico, Scotch from Shaw's. The exception was Nate Redner's Western Exposure, a wake-me-up gin drink with celery juice, tarragon and a shake of black pepper. Paired with the fatty, sea-salted Shigoku oyster from Washington's central coast, the gussied-up Collins was light and refreshing, fit for a winter cocktail party or a food-friendly brunch list.

Nate Redner's Western Exposure, paired with the Shigoku oyster (Photo: Kristine Sherred)

Western Exposure
2 ounces Geneva Preservation Gin
½ ounce celery juice
½ ounce lime
¼ ounce simple
6 tarragon leaves
black pepper
Shake and strain into a Collins glass with crushed ice.

Eggleston kept things simple with a Martini made in the traditional sense of equal parts vermouth and vodka stirred (though the original Martini recipe calls for gin, of course). He added his own oyster shell orange bitters, which created a practical pairing for the Lopez Island Flat, found snug in between the northwest tip of Washington and Victoria, Canada. The classic Martini often throws people off, but Eggleston's decision to use vodka over vermouth kept it accessible.

Unexciting on paper, Charlie Schott's dichotomy of Letherbee's absinthe, enhanced by a slowly fizzing orange bitter-infused sugar cube, and bubbly proved unexpected and much better than most basic Death in the Afternoons. After a bracing first sip and a slurp of Rhode Island oyster topped with a tame habanero-ginger mignonette, a calmer breeze set in: one harnesses her inner Ernest Hemingway to pop another oyster and relish each evolving sip of the Green Muse.

But did Hemingway infuse his sugar cubes with bitters? The classic recipe doesn't call for a sweetener, despite the traditional sugar-water preparation of the high-proof elixir. Schott's sipper complemented the fickle nature of the umami oyster from Narragansett Bay, a flavor bullet that hits briny and salty at first before mellowing to a toasty sweet goodbye.

Green Muse
4 ounces sparkling wine (served traditionally in a coupe)
¼ ounce absinthe
citrus-ed sugar cube

For sugar cubes, look for the mini cube trays - Cubette, they call them. Take 1 cup of sugar to 1 Tablespoon of bitters (or scale down to size), mix and let harden overnight. Store in an airtight jar. Have fun with bitters of any variety.

Donahue's Corrie Fly was reminiscent of tiki but with a base Oloroso Sherry and Pimm's liqueur, touched with a hint of rum and amaro. Easy to sip, it was complex and flavorful, like most of the drinks from the Sportsman's team. The cinnamon and vanilla of the rum-amaro-cinnamon syrup doubled up on the fruit-forward, buttery Kumamoto oyster, spiked by a spiced apple chutney topping.

My favorite of the night, though, was Allison Frey's Deception of four in vogue spirits -- Aquavit, Rum, Scotch, and Sherry. Frey is new to the Shaw's team after acting as head sommelier and beverage manager at the late L2O. Her cocktail and choice mignonette (the oyster garnishes were, interestingly, chosen by the bartender and not the kitchen) showed expertise in more areas than just wine. I'm a sucker for the depth added by a dollop of Scotch in a cocktail, and this one played well with the herbal addition of the still underplayed Aquavit. Matched with a tiny but mighty Olympia from Puget Sound, this pairing was the ultimate nightcap.

Allison Frey's Deception with the Olympia oyster (Photo: Kristine Sherred)

1 ounce Linie Aquavit
1 ounce Mt. Gay Dark Rum
½ ounce Laphroaig Islay Scotch
½ ounce Fino Sherry
¼ ounce simple
4 dashes Scrappy's Celery Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Despite the ubiquity of cocktail menus, including those thought out and cared for, many menus still miss the matched mark that wine lists and recommendations offer. An oyster is a fundamental yet beautiful creature that deserves to be complemented by more than just bubbly. This intimate cocktail pairing feature gives me hope that if an oyster and cocktail can sing, so could a skirt steak and a Brooklyn, or spicy bolognese squid ink pasta and a Coda. We are eager to see this kind of attention paid to cocktail pairings on menus around town. It can happen!