Culinary Odd Couple: Scotch and Oysters

May 28 2013 - 1:00 PM

I was recently at a Scotch tasting event. The Scotches (from Highland Park) were very good, indeed. But what really blew my mind was a very odd pairing: Scotch with oysters on the half shell.

Steph Ridgway, who was hosting the event, said that it has been one of the most successful pairings that she’s experienced. I was skeptical. In fact, everyone in attendance seemed skeptical. It’s her job to convince us that Highland Park Scotch pairs with everything. Surely a dry white wine, champagne, good cold beer, or a gin martini would pair better with oysters, right?

Wrong! It turns out this pairing works. And it works really well.

Steph explained that, like single-malt Scotch, the flavor of a particular oyster is all about terroir. And, with a little thought, you can find perfect matches between certain types of oysters and whiskies. In theory, it made sense. And to prove it, we each had three Kumamoto Oysters from Washington State paired with the 12 year, and three Misty Points from Popes Bay Virginia paired with the 15 year Scotch. Now the tiny Kumamotos are sweet and mild. So the Highland Park 12 year, with its honey aroma and floral notes, worked beautifully. So beautifully, in fact, that I took Steph’s advice and added a couple of drops of the scotch directly to the oyster in lieu of the usual squeeze of lemon. It was a truly wonderful pairing.

The Misty Points from Virginia  look similar to the Kumamotos but are an altogether different beast. These have a briny punch that eventually gives way to a wonderfully bright and creamy oyster flavor. In a similar fashion, the 15 year Scotch starts off rich and smoky and fades to a long, mildly sweet finish. Again, it worked perfectly. Could you pair any whisky with any oyster? Probably not. However, if I only had one of these whiskies with both types of oysters, it still would’ve worked. (I checked to make sure, and it does.)

Though it will be difficult, next time I’m face-to-face with a plate of pristine bivalves I will try to fight off my gut instinct to order a glass of Muscadet.