What is an Oyster Stout? (History, Flavor, and Recommendations to Try)

Stouts and oysters go together like peanut butter and jelly. Admittedly, not as harmonious, but they are a great pairing. The oyster stout is simply a product of imagination and ingenuity. What exactly is an oyster stout, and are they really brewed with oysters?

An oyster stout is a stout brewed with oysters. Oyster stouts are brewed using a regular stout base with oyster additions during the brewing process in either the boil or fermentation. Common stout substyles used to brew oyster stouts are dry, sweet, and oatmeal stouts. The oysters give a dry, saline taste that complements and balances stout flavors.

Read on for more information on oyster stouts, including where they came from, who brews them now, and popular brands for you to try. And yes, these stouts are made with oysters–more on that, too.

The history of the oyster stout

The history of the oyster stout dates back to the mid-1800s in English pubs where oysters and stouts were a common food pairing. The two eventually merged into one but, as with most historical beer stories, not without a bit of lore.

The oyster stout idea hails from Victorian England. Oysters were abundant at the same time as a surplus of stout beers in English pubs, and the two were served side by side. In some cases, oysters were used as a drinking vessel for stouts in a fun pub tradition. Hammerton Brewery in London is credited with brewing the first oyster stout in 1938.

I’m not sure which version of an oyster stout I’d prefer–the brewed version or the mollusk-beer cocktail–but history tells us that our ancestors were partial to both. Nowadays, oyster stouts are exclusively brewed as a stout substyle by including whole oysters or parts in the recipe.

What do oyster stouts taste like?

Oyster stouts don’t taste like seafood. Despite recipes using oyster shells during boil or fermentation, the beer avoids any lingering fishy aftertaste or aroma. The oysters instead lend sweetness and softness to the overall beer profile.

Oyster stouts are sweet and are more of a classification of other stout substyles, commonly including Irish dry stouts, milk or sweet stouts, and oatmeal stouts. They have notes of coffee, chocolate, and sometimes caramel. Oyster stouts are smooth and clean, with high clarity from the isinglass in the oysters, a compound that helps yeast flocculate.

At the end of the day, because oysters aren’t their own style, they taste mostly like the substyle used as the base to brew them.

Not enough oysters make their way into these brews to where they taste like a fresh catch, and the other roasted ingredient dominates the profile.

Do oyster stouts really have oysters in them?

It’s true. Oyster stouts abide by their namesake and are mollusk-induced creations. Brewers have been brewing with them for some time now.

Oyster stouts have oysters in them. They are brewed with real oysters either during the boil,  fermentation, or both. The boiling process likely rids the beer of any oyster flavor, and the fermentation process won’t induce any either. Oyster stouts are brewed with oysters to promote clarity and a smooth mouthfeel.

Oysters’ sweet and salty profile pairs nicely with the dark, roasted, and bittersweet stout profile to form a balanced beer.

How many oysters are in an oyster stout?

The amount of oysters used in an oyster stout is completely up to the brewer–because oyster stouts are a variation of stout substyles, the world is, well, their oyster.

Oyster stouts use a range of recipes. An oatmeal stout with bold flavors can include the entire oyster. An Irish dry stout might use just the shell for its salinity to pair with the style’s subtle flavors. For a 5-gallon batch of oatmeal stout, start with 0.40-0.75 lbs. of whole oysters. For an Irish dry stout, use 0.2-0.5 lbs. of just the shells.

Lift Bridge’s Topside Oyster Stout was brewed with four separate additions of oysters during the boil. It’s a dry stout with subtle flavors where the oyster flavor was complementing and not overwhelming. The beer, unfortunately, is no longer in production.

Is oyster stout a real category of beer?

Oyster stouts are the real deal, but they haven’t become big enough to have their own style category. 

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, oyster stout is not a beer category. An oyster stout can be brewed using the base of a stout substyle, including dry, sweet, American, and oatmeal styles. Most oyster stouts fall into the oatmeal or sweet stout category. There is no oyster stout category.

Oyster stouts are a category that we may see more of in years to come, but for now, they’re fairly uncommon and not officially recognized.

Who brews oyster stouts today?

You’re not going to find a lot of oyster stouts on the market today, most of which are regional. Breweries typically brew oyster stouts from a milk stout or dry stout.

Breweries that feature oyster stouts include Marston’s Brewery and The Porterhouse Brew Co. 21st Amendment Brewery is one of the only commercial examples of an oyster stout brewed in collaboration with the Hog Island Oyster Company. Coastal breweries are more likely to brew an oyster stout because of the abundance and freshness of the ingredients.

21st Amendment’s Marooned on Hog Island is an English stout with 7.9% ABV and has limited availability throughout the year. If you’re looking to get your hands on an oyster stout but don’t find yourself near a coastline, keep an eye out for this beer.

Popular oyster stouts to try in 2023

Interested in trying an oyster stout? Getting your hands on one might be tough, but if you search hard enough around coastal breweries, you’ll likely find at least a few, including some commercial picks.

Here’s a list of popular oyster stouts for you to try:

  • 21st Amendment Brewery Marooned on Hog Island
  • Marston’s Brewery Pearl Jet
  • The Porterhouse Brewery Co. Oyster Stout
  • HenHouse Brewing Company
  • Fordham & Dominion Brewing Co. Rosie Parks Oyster Stout
  • Hammerton Brewery Pentonville

21st Amendment Brewery Marooned on Hog Island

Marooned on Hog Island is a 7.9% English stout with notes of coffee and chocolate from the roasted barley used.

It’s brewed with Magnum and Willamette hops. It uses pale, crystal, and chocolate malt. The recipe calls for 450 pounds of Hog Island Sweetwater oyster shells, which lend it a clean mouthfeel and a dry finish.

Marston’s Brewery Pearl Jet

Pearl Jet is an English sweet stout with 4.5% ABV. It’s not brewed with oysters.

It was designed instead to pair with oysters and shellfish as a complementary beer. It contains hints of bitter coffee, cocoa, and treacle with a fine and smooth finish.

The Porterhouse Brewery Co. Oyster Stout

The Porterhouse Brewery Co. Oyster Stout is made by shucking fresh oysters into the conditioning tank. It’s a smooth and balanced dry stout with a hint of saltiness.

The oysters provide sweetness to complement the dry and bitter flavors.

HenHouse Brewing Company

A beer brewed to pay tribute to California waterways and ecosystems. The HenHouse Brewing Oyster Stout uses whole oysters from Hog Island Oyster Company with a touch of sea salt for additional ocean flavor.

The clarity brought on by the oyster additions makes way for the chocolate and coffee notes brought on by California-grown malt. It uses CTZ hops and sits at 4.8% ABV.

Fordham & Dominion Brewing Co. Rosie Parks Oyster Stout

Rosie Parks Oyster Stout is brewed with Chesapeake Bay oysters and additional shells to promote brininess and dryness. This dry stout rings in at 5.2% ABV with a pitch-black hue.

Brewed with Bravo and Glacier hops to create a vibrant yet balanced stout.

Hammerton Brewery Pentonville

The brewery that supposedly started it all. Hammerton Brewery Pentonville is said to be the first official oyster stout brewed back in 1938. It’s brewed with a variety of malts and fresh Maldon oysters in the boil.

The oysters add an extra layer of complexity to this 5.3% ABV stout.