What excites beer geeks is somewhat different from the typical sommelier obsession. Take Christina Perozzi, the consultant to fancy-pants beer joints such as Laurel Tavern and Essex Hollywood. Oysters - the clam shell variety, not the Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigios that typically go with them - are what gets this beer scribe all sudsy.
So when Pasadena-based Craftsman Brewing owner Mark Jilg offered two firkins (like a keg, only made for cask-conditioned beer) of authentic oyster stout, a rarely seen beer these days, to any restaurant in Los Angeles that snapped it up first, the Tasting Kitchen in Venice jumped on it. Sort of.
Caring for a firkin is no small responsibility (simply tapping it correctly is a challenge). Convincing customers the beer really should be served not much cooler than room temperature is even harder, not to mention the special equipment required. Add oysters to the mix and you've got a tough sell.
Oyster stouts are hardly a Ferran Adrià-inspired obsession. Their history dates to the early 20th century, when an oyster glut got brewers rather thirsty (why not add oysters, shells and all, the brew?). The rationale was actually more practical: oyster shells are alkaline, which helps counteract the sour quality of some beers (particularly those not made in today's immaculate commercial brewery conditions).
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Craftsman provided the beer engine, artfully placed between The Tasting Kitchen bar and dining room, a rag beneath it to soak up any unsightly gurgles and burps. The Tasting Kitchen provided the crazy cask-conditioned enthusiast who finally bought the firkin, ultimately a rather hard sell (the restaurant's manager-sommelier, Maxwell Leer, is an avid home brewer).
As for the flavor of the pearly mollusk brew, Perozzi, a self-described stout biatch, was ready with a pint glass for the debut. She dubbed the oyster-steeped version more subtle than the typically stout, with a "nuance like a black porter with a chalky dry finish." (The chalkiness was meant as a compliment in comparison to often sweeter Russian Imperial stouts.) "The briny, saltiness of the oysters works with the slight smoke and maltiness of the stout."
Pretty damn good. Particularly with a half-dozen raw oysters, dunked in a piquant vinegar-shallot mignonette sauce, and a fantastic chorizo-stuffed fried squid chaser.
The Tasting Kitchen, 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Venice, (310) 392-6644. Craftsman oyster shell stout is $5 a pint until the firkin runs dry.