As a beer aficionado and someone whose first name means “Ireland”, you can say that St. Patrick’s Day is a pretty big deal in my life. I love being able to go out and celebrate with other like-minded folk at parades, and ever since I turned twenty-one, beer has been an essential part of the festivities. Traditions abound for St. Patrick’s Day, but whether you’re the type who enjoys a few green-colored beers at the bar or the type who likes a quiet Guinness at home with some corned beef and cabbage, you’re usually drinking a beer.
But, let’s not forget: this is oceanbites, and I’m a marine biologist. Hence, the purpose of this post is to combine my two loves—the ocean and beer. It turns out that the beer-ocean association has occurred to more than one brewer of my favorite libation with innovative recipes that include shellfish, seaweed, and seawater, giving us a little taste of our oceans wherever we may enjoy a drink.
Today’s craft beers are no stranger to crazy out-there ingredients. The explosion of craft beer and microbreweries around the country has led to a delicious brew race to see who can come up with the most interesting and tasty beer recipes. Of course, many brewers like to show their local pride by using local ingredients, whether that be locally grown hops or fruits. Coastal brewers are no different, and many companies have released limited batches of beer brewed with ocean dwellers.
The beer with the most history is arguably the oyster stout. First paired in taverns in the Victorian period, oysters and beer go together like peanut butter and jelly. The saltiness of the oysters paired well with the maltiness of dark beer, and a pairing was born. Guinness, our favorite St. Patrick’s Day beer, even put out an advertisement linking eating oysters and drinking their beer (Figure 1).
It only makes sense that the oysters themselves would eventually end up in the kettle as well. Brewers use any combination of the three parts of the oyster (the shell, the meat, and/or the briny liquid inside) and add them during the boiling portion of the beer-making process. Brewers say that the oysters promote clarity of the beer, enhance bitter flavors, and lend a softer mouthfeel with subtle briny notes.
Some oyster stouts have been brewed to showcase the resilience of the area’s oyster populations. Dogfish Head Brewery, located on the Chesapeake, was inspired to produce an oatmeal stout after the remarkable recovery of the oyster populations there. Further south in Louisiana, Abita Brewery bought their recipe from a contest-winning homebrewer who wanted to showcase that oysters were safe to eat after the oil spill in 2010. See Figure 2 for some oyster stouts.
Another beer brewed with a shelled fish comes from closer to my home in New England: lobster beer. Two types of lobster beer have been released so far – a saison beer made at the heart of lobster county at Oxbow Brewing in Maine, and a chocolate lobster porter made by Dogfish Head (a brewery clearly tuned in to all things ocean!). Both beers feature live lobsters added during the boiling process, similar to the oyster stout, and give the beer a subdued ocean taste in the finish of the taste. The brewers were treated to an extra perk as a result of their ingenuity after the beer was finished: a boiled lobster dinner. See Figure 3 for some lobster beers.
Animals aren’t the only ocean citizens that are getting the barley and malt carpet treatment: seaweed beer is also on the beer tasting menu! Coastal Scotsmen and women grew barley in fields fertilized with local bladderwrack, a type of seaweed. Before hops were popular as a way to add bitterness and flavor to beer, the Scots were using seaweed to do the same thing. The recipe was resurrected in the 90s by Williams Brothers Brewing in Scotland.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, Americans refused to be outdone. Marshall Wharf Brewing, in the heart of coastal Maine, has also come out with a seaweed beer. Using six pounds of sustainably farmed sugar kelp per 200 gallons of beer, their seaweed scotch ale boasts an added nutritional benefit of iodine and potassium! For a selection of seaweed beers, see Figure 4.
Finally, seawater itself (sterilized!) has been used in brewing beer. Gose (pronounced goze-a), a traditional German style of beer largely forgotten until reunification, relied on the naturally salty waters near the city of Leipzig. Brewers today have put their own spin on the gose using salty seawater, both from the Mediterranean and the islands of Hawaii. If you’ve never had a gose, I recommend it – it has a sour taste with a hint of saltiness.
I encourage you all to try a new beer this St. Patrick’s Day, and let me know which ones you’ve enjoyed (or not enjoyed). Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
No photos herein are my own, all credit given to their originators.