When you think of the perfect oyster wine pairing, your mind might immediately go to the standby: crisp white wine. Although you can’t go wrong with the classics—think Picpoul, Chablis and Champagne—more and more oyster bars and restaurants are pairing these briny, happy-hour favorites, whether fresh or cooked, with cocktails. The results can be revelatory.
But getting people to change their eating and drinking habits can be a tall order. In 2014, when Hog Island Oyster Co. revamped its restaurant in San Francisco’s Ferry Building, it introduced an entire bar and cocktail program overseen by Saul Ranella. He recalls that getting diners to enjoy their oysters alongside a mixed drink wasn’t so easy.
“People were stuck in this linear mode of pairing oysters with white wine, sparkling wines, light beers and stouts,” he explains. “It took a long time for people to catch on that we were even serving cocktails.”
Ranella says that the gateway to opening minds was spirits served neat, like whiskeys and mezcals, to show that they naturally complement flavors found in oysters. The smokiness in mezcal, for example, pairs perfectly with the briniest oysters; Ranella suggests a sip of a Japanese whisky to go with the mild sweetness of Kumamoto oysters. From there, it became easier to convince guests to occasionally veer away from a glass of bubbles in favor of a cocktail.
There’s a method to the mixology pairing madness. Usually, Ranella says he and his team “try to find notes in the terroir of the spirits and match that with the flavor of the oysters.” For instance, a drink might mimic a mignonette sauce, but sometimes it’s not as intuitive. “We also throw things at the wall and see what sticks.”
Here are five bars and restaurants serving up oyster-and-cocktail pairings all over the U.S., where you can find out what sticks. If you aren’t local to these areas, no problem! These establishments offered up recipes for their favorite cocktails to pair with oysters, so you can try it at home.
Shape of Curiosity at Rappahannock Oyster Co.
When creating drink recipes to pair with briny bivalves, beverage manager Jonathan Kibiloski tends to favor fortified products like Sherries, vermouths and some sakés. “We think most about salinity levels, fruit and acidity when thinking of building cocktails to pair with our oysters,” he says.
For their Olde Salt Oysters, which start salty before giving way to a fresh finish, Kibiloski likes the Shape of Curiosity, a drink that blends bourbon with fino Sherry. The apples, lemon and honey in the recipe help mellow out the intense salinity of the oysters, he says.
Shape of Curiosity
Recipe courtesy of Rappahannock Oyster Co., Washington D.C.
Add all ingredients into a shaker and ice and shake vigorously, about 45 seconds. Double strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with an apple slice.rnrnApple-Spice HoneyrnrnToast u003cstrongu003e4 cardamom podsu003c/strongu003e and u003cstrongu003e1 star aniseu003c/strongu003e until golden brown. Bring u003cstrongu003e2 ounces hot wateru003c/strongu003e to just below boiling. Muddle u003cstrongu003e1 cup chopped applesu003c/strongu003e in a quart container. Add honey and hot water, stir until combined. Add and stir in cardamom pods and star anise, let sit 12 hours. Strain so that there are no herbs or apple chunks.rnrnu003c!u002du002d wp:paragraph u002du002du003ernrnu003c!u002du002d /wp:paragraph u002du002du003e u003c!u002du002d wp:paragraph u002du002du003ernrnu0026nbsp;rnrnu003c!u002du002d /wp:paragraph u002du002du003e
Imperial Opal at Maison Premiere
Brooklyn, New York
At this Williamsburg boîte, inspired by the drama of old-time oyster bars and absinthe cafes, the goal is to highlight the unique quality of oysters from all over the world with the right cocktail recipes.
Oysters from Canada’s Colville Bay, whose salinity builds as you eat them and finishes with a light floral zest, are best paired with the Imperial Opal cocktail’s delicate herbaceous and anise notes, which it gets from La Clandestine Absinthe Blanche and Varnelli L’Anise Secco.
Recipe courtesy Maison Premiere, Brooklyn, by William Elliot
Combine all ingredients except rose flower water and lemon twists into a rocks glass with crushed ice. Stir until well combined. Pack the glass with an additional mound of crushed ice, forming a cone. Garnish with lemon twists and top with rose flower water. Serve with two small sip sticks.
Tongue Thai’d at Primrose
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Raw shellfish might be the last thing you’d think of ordering in a landlocked mountain town, but this elegant-but-casual restaurant flies in fresh seafood from the West Coast a couple of times a week. For oysters served with its yuzu-passion fruit mignonette, owner Collin Kelley recommends Tongue Thai’d, a martini built around a vodka infused with Thai chilies and brightened with fresh pineapple juice and a ginger liqueur.
“[We wanted] to create something as tropical and refreshing as the yuzu-passion fruit mignonette for the oysters while also providing that little bite of heat to complement all the flavors going on,” adds Kelley. “It’s like a vacation for your mouth.”
Recipe courtesy Primrose, Steamboat Springs, by Collin Kelley
Pour all ingredients minus garnish into a cocktail shaker with ice. Vigorously shake. Double strain into a martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a pineapple slice.rnrnu003cstrongu003eTo Make the Thai Chili-Infused St. George Spirits Citrus Vodka:u003c/strongu003ernrnCut off the stems and slice 8 Thai chilies vertically. Add chilies to bottle of St. George Spirits Citrus Vodka. Let infuse for 24 to 36 hours. Use mesh strainer to strain into pitcher.
Rail Pass at Puritan Oyster Bar
Many of the cocktails are served pitcher-style in ceramic Gurgling Cods (which, for the uninitiated, look just like what they sound like) and rotated based on the oyster selection for the week.
Cold-water Wellfleet oysters should be paired with the Rail Pass, Puritan Oyster Bar’s light-and-bright twist on the Manhattan, which blends Scotch, dry and herbal Greek vermouth and a touch of peach liqueur.
Recipe courtesy Puritan Oyster Bar, Cambridge, by Jared Sadoian
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir until well-chilled and well-diluted. Strain into a double old fashioned glass with a large cube of ice. Express lemon peel over the cocktail and garnish.
Blood in the Water at Hog Island Oysters Co.
San Francisco, California
For every oyster variety served at Hog Island Oyster Co.’s flagship restaurant, there’s usually a specific cocktail that the servers and bartenders will recommend for pairing. For a plate of fried oysters, they suggest the spicy Blood in the Water, a Bloody-Mary-meets-Michelada cocktail spiked with a fortified jalapeño syrup. The drink is bold enough to stand up to the fried oysters’ breading and garlic, but still delivers enough salt to match the brine.
Blood in the Water
Recipe courtesy Hog Island Oysters Co., San Francisco by Saul Ranella
Rim glass of choice with Sal De Gusano. Fill glass with ice. Combine mezcal, Hog Island Bloody Mary Mix and fortified jalapeño syrup in shaker. Shake vigorously. Pour into glass. Top with light beer. Garnish with lime wedge.rnrnu003cstrongu003eTo Make the Fortified Jalapeño Syrup:u003c/strongu003ernrnu003c!u002du002d wp:paragraph u002du002du003ernrnJuice u003cstrongu003e10-15 green seeded jalapeñosu003c/strongu003e and strain through a China cap strainer (there should be no pulp). Combine u003cstrongu003e8 ounces jalapeño juiceu003c/strongu003e, u003cstrongu003e2 ounces lemon juiceu003c/strongu003e, u003cstrongu003e10 ounces of fine sugaru003c/strongu003e in a pot. On medium heat, stir until sugar dissolves. Once cool, add u003cstrongu003e4 ounces mezcalu003c/strongu003e of your choice.rnrnu003c!u002du002d /wp:paragraph u002du002du003e
Last Updated: June 6, 2023