Does it taste of fish? 5 of the best-rated Oyster Stouts

With the exception of a few production techniques that use isinglass and gelatine, it’s not often that beers are unsuitable for vegetarians. Even rarer is when a beer is non-veggie-friendly because of its very ingredients, yet imperial oyster stout is one of the few drinks that can lay claim to this title.

Because some breweries that produce oyster stout – for example, the Porterhouse Brewery in Dublin – actually add a handful of the ‘salt-water bivalve molluscs’ while the beer is brewing. Somewhat more common – understandably so – is that oyster stouts are so-named because they pair well with oysters, such as Marston’s Pearl Jet.

The history of oyster stouts

Oysters and stout have been friends for a long time – as far back as the 18th century, when both were in their prime in terms of supply and demand. Then, oysters were a much more commonplace food (as over-fishing hadn’t depleted the stocks of the UK’s oyster beds) so pubs and taverns would often serve oysters for snacks or meals.

Likewise for stout, in the 1700s pale ale had yet to become top dog in the beer industry and stout was the go-to drink for much of Britain’s beer-lovers.

Nowadays, stout and oysters would sound to many like a high-end or niche pairing – and putting the seafood actually in the drink perhaps even an accident or a moment of sheer hysteria from one brewer. But there was some method in the perceived madness when it comes to oyster stouts – and it seems that the procedure of putting the whole darned mollusc into the brew was simply the result of a few logical steps in time.

A moment of clarity

In the Victorian-era heyday of oysters and stouts, brewers learned that oyster shells, because of their high levels of calcium carbonate, were a good clarifying agent for a finished beer. Some time later, perhaps to save time, brewers actually added the shells at the same time as the hops and barley, during the boil.

Sadly, little is known about the next chapter of the story – when someone upgraded from adding shells for clarifying purposes to adding actual oyster meat, presumably for taste. However, public consensus is that the development happened in New Zealand in 1929. So we have our Kiwi brethren to thank for the modern-day ‘oyster stout’ – a much more literal translation of the phrase that used to just mean ‘pub snack’.

The question on everybody’s lips, of course, is:

Does imperial oyster stout taste of fish or seafood?!

Oddly, not really. The oysters provide a fresh, mineral texture to the beer and add a new dimension to the taste. It is possible to detect a brininess or salinity to some oyster stouts and critics have said the saltiness ruins the finish, but many oyster stouts – especially imperial oyster stouts – have such well-defined roasted, malty and chocolate notes that the oyster taste is definitely kept subtle.

Today’s oyster stouts

The first brewery made famous for its use of oysters was the Hammerton Brewery in London, which launched its first oyster stout in 1938. After a few years in obscurity, the brewery was re-established in 2014 and still brews the Pentonville, which uses fresh wild Maldon oysters.

It seems that oyster stouts still have a special place in the hearts of beer-lovers, as the drink won the Silver Medal in the UK Stout & Porter category at the World Beer Awards 2016.

5 imperial oyster stouts you really should try

So what about imperial oyster stouts? We’ve already established that, because of their traditionally strong malty flavour, the imperial-strength ales lend themselves very well to brewing with oysters. Here’s our pick of some of the best:

1. Double Shuck Four Grain, Tempest Brewing, ABV: 11% score: 98

The Tempest team’s homage to the imperial oyster stout uses 200 freshly shucked Lindisfarne oysters and even smoked paprika.

It is creamy, smooth and rich with strong burnt chocolate notes, lightened and contrasted neatly by slight salty note in the finish. See our review here.

2. Marooned on Hog Island, 21st Amendment Brewery, ABV: 7.9% score: 95

Syrupy and cola-coloured, the brewers use oyster shells from the nearby Hog Island Oyster Farm as a fining agent. The stout is smoky and sweet with faint briny notes.

3. Oesterstout, Scheldebrouwerij, ABV: 8.5% score: 87

This is a sweet and robust black imperial oyster stout that uses oysters shells as the finishing agent. It pours with an off-white head and has strong notes of  fruit, chocolate and caramel. score: 83
4. Abita Bad Mother Shucker, ABV: 8%

Made with caramel and chocolate malts and oats, this too has strong notes of toffee and chocolate. The Willamette hops bring a very subtle hoppy bitterness and the freshly shucked Louisiana oysters balance the sweetness of the malt.

5. Liberty / Hallertau Matakana Imperial Oyster Stout, ABV: 10% score: 78

Harking back to the arguable home of oyster stout, this New Zealand stout pours a very thick black with strong aromas of burned coffee beans and chocolate notes on the open. It’s surpsingly medium-bodied for a imperial-strength stout but has a nice sweetness and bitterness with a salty, briny finish.

Bonus: Desolation Imperial Oyster Stout, Lighthouse, ABV: 9.3% score: 89

Just a quick tip of the cap to this Canadian oyster stout too; it’s been discontinued but was rated very highly. Notes of roasted malts, molasses and bitter chocolate meet a dark brown pour – we hope it comes back one day.

Be shellfish

Treat yourself to an imperial-strength beer, delivered to your door.

Imperial Beer Club members receive boxs of high-strength small batch beers, specially chosen by us and shipped direct from the producer or importer.

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The North London Craft Beer Route

Could this be North London’s answer to the Bermondsey Beer Mile?
We took a trip to explore some of North London’s best spots for craft beer, from the lofty heights of Highgate Village to the fringe of the congestion zone.

Here’s the map.

There’s about 15 minutes walking between each pub (total walk of c.6km), but there’s a range of buses and underground stations on or close to the route if you want to reduce the legwork.

If you don’t mind mighty hills when you’re a few sheets to the wind you could go South to North – but we chose to do it with gravity on our side and started with a tube ride to the Northernmost point in Highgate Village.

You won’t find many nicer places to indulge your love of craft beer than the Dukes Head so it’s no surprise to learn Time Out just voted it Best Pub in Highgate for the third year running.

20 taps equally split between cask and keg and a ‘Sacred Gin Bar’ tells you everything you need to know about why this pub is such a hit.

After a couple of IPAs we begin our descent into town with a stroll through Waterlow Park, exiting opposite the entrance to Highgate Cemetery, then continuing downhill to Gospel Oak where we arrive at the Southampton Arms.

The Southampton’s as fine an example of a traditional London pub as you’re likely to find. It serves an ever changing selection of craft beer and cider (cask and keg) – alongside hot meat sandwiches, pies and veggie scotch eggs to die for.

After a couple of cask ales and a bite to eat we continued down Highgate Road and Kentish Town Road to Camden’s Daughter.

This pub’s owned by Camden Town Brewery and serves up their full range of beer, usually with the addition of unfiltered and limited release versions and always decent guest beers for those who aren’t Camden Town Brewery fans. There’s also more hot meat sandwiches if you didn’t get your fill at the Southampton Arms (as we did).

(there’s usually an alternate route via Camden Town Brewery tap room – but at the time of writing this closed for refurb expected to reopen in Feb 2017).

A couple of unfiltered beers later and we went back out into the fresh air and continued down the road and under the bridge into Camden Town and found our way to Brewdog Camden.

Tucked away on a side road set back from Camden High St this was Brewdog’s first bar outside Scotland. It’s a great place to sample some of their rarities alongside a selection of guest beers that’s second to none.

A couple of strong halves later and we were ready for the last leg and a 10 minute walk to the Euston Tap.

Located in a former gatehouse at the entrance to the grounds of Euston Station it may be small, but it boasts a mighty selection of 20 kegged and 150 bottled beers. Seating is limited, but there’s a heated beer garden for when the weather allows and you’ll be perfectly positioned for a multitude of transport options for the journey home.

Just don’t fall asleep on the tube.

We estimate the walk at about 6km, but pubs are well spaced out and the downhill gradient makes it seem like a lot less.

Remember – if this sounds like too much walking we can send you boxes of imperial strength craft beers  to your door!

Click here for more details.

Stone the crows! What happened when we talked to Simon Martin of Real Ale Craft Beer channel.


Simon Martin started reviewing real ale and craft beers on YouTube with a review of England’s Gold by Badger.

Six years later he’s come a long way having reviewed thousands of beers, and built a legion of followers who look to him for advice on what to drink.

I caught up with Simon to ask him how he got started, and about that infamous car wash video.

Mark: What were you doing before you started reviewing beer?

Simon: I’m a carpenter and a joiner by trade, and the smell of freshly cut pine still gets me going – although not as much as an IPA!

Mark: So when did you start reviewing beer?

Simon: I have always had an interest in ale, as a teenager when the other lads were buying Carling I would pick up a few bottles of the local ale. It was only when I found YouTube as a platform that I decided to follow up my hobby by making video beer reviews.

Mark: How many beers have you reviewed now?

Simon: 3209 beers reviewed on the YouTube channel, my aim for the end of 2017 is to hit 4000 beer reviews. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say that I’m probably near to 1000 breweries.

Mark: That’s a lot of beer. How many beers do you drink in a week?

Simon: Including social drinking with friends and family probably around 25 beers a week.

Mark: How much of that gets poured away?

Simon: If the beer is good I always finish the ones I review, but my wife with sometimes see a beer I have reviewed and pinch it as I sit down with them!

Mark: What are your favourite beers of 2016 so far?

Simon: I would say the stand out brewery for me in 2016 is Brighton Bier, and the best individual beers Lysefjorden Hoppy Simon Double IPA and Stone Xocoveza.

Mark: We’re big fans of Brighton Bier as well. Hung Like a Gorse was my favourite beer from #collabfest2016 and we’re featuring their brand new Double IPA, Fresh Prince of Norway in our next box. Which imperial strength beers are your favourites?

Simon: Oh that would be Imperial Stouts/Porters and Double IPA (Lervig Konrad’s Stout, Lysefjorden Hoppy Simon Double IPA and Alchemist Heady Topper).

Mark: We’ll have to look out for those. Now tell me about the car wash video – what was that all about?

Simon: Ah that came as a response to the Budweiser Superbowl advert’s where for the past 2 years they have attacked Craft Beer Drinkers.

Mark: So what are you doing now, and what are your plans for the future?

Simon: I’m really enjoying my roles as Brand Ambassador for Celt Brewing, and the plan is to grow my YouTube channel so it is recognised by the majority of people who enjoy Craft Beer.

“We are well on the way to doing this, if you search for “Craft Beer” in the YouTube search bar we are the top listing! This is helping drive lots more traffic to the channel with it now receiving nearly 100,000 views per month.”

That video

Simon’s passion for Craft Beer really shines through in his reviews, so it’s no wonder he’s built such an impressive following.

To give you a taste of what he’s all about, here’s that car wash video.

A brief history of Imperial Strength Beer

We can track the origins of Imperial beer back to the 1720s in London when Porter became popular in the City (especially with porters; hence its name). Porter had a strong flavour, took longer to spoil not being easily affected by heat and increased in alcohol with age.

Perhaps crucially it was also cheaper than other beers, and so within a few decades the Porter breweries of London had expanded on a vast scale.

The term Stout was originally used in the 18th Century as an adjective for describing all styles of strong beer, however quickly became synonymous with stronger darker beers and over time Stout Porter (used by Guinness in Ireland in 1820) became referred to simply as Stout.

There are a number of variations of stout including; Milk Stout (made with non-fermentable lactose for a sweeter flavour; Oatmeal Stout (brewed with oatmeal for a higher protein and lipid content); Dry or Irish Stout (brewed without lactose or oatmeal); Chocolate Stout (using dark, more aromatic malts and sometimes cocoa to achieve their flavour) and Oyster Stout (brewed with or without actual oysters).

Porter is now generally considered to refer to a dark beer flavoured with roasted, malted barley.

Imperial Stout (also known as Russian Imperial Stout or Imperial Russian Stout), was an extra strong Stout (usually 9% or over) in a style that was brewed by Thrale’s brewery in London for export to the court of Catherine II of Russia.

In much the same way as the term Stout was used as an adjective for describing strong beer in the 18th century, so the term Imperial is used today, and craft brewers are imperialising a wide range of styles with creative use of ingredients and state of the art brewing technology.

The result is a new breed of exquisite high-alcohol beers designed to be savoured rather quaffed, beers that push boundaries and represent the pinnacle of the craft brewing movement.