"Gin, Champagne, and crisp white wines are the triumvirate of great oyster pairings." So says Derek Brown of DC's The Passenger and the more recent Mockingbird Hill. Hot off of a mission to spread the good wood about sherry at the latter, Brown has now turned his sights on oysters. Adding another stone to his ever-expanding empire two doors down from Mockingbird Hill is the newly minted Eat the Rich.
Named after the titular Motörhead song, Eat the Rich focuses on oysters and pitchers of cocktails. We took the opportunity to chat with Brown about his recommendations for drinks to pair with a platter of bivalves.
"Gin and vermouth go perfectly with oysters," says Brown. "Oysters and dry martinis have been a perfect pairing forever because the crisp and herbaceous gin matches the richness of the oysters." The pitcher-sized martini at Eat the Rich is made with Green Hat gin, Dolin Blanc vermouth, and orange bitters. Brown says it's a "crisp, fresh herbaceous, almost steely, drink." Brown describes the contrast between martinis and oysters, which are "rich, little wet pillows of minerals and seawater," as "exhilarating." He continues: "The gin and vermouth carry the salty water and add a clean, citrusy, juniper burst at the end."
Brown's recommendations don't stop at gin, though. Another of the pitchers on the menu is the Hollowed Apple ($42)—Brown's nod to the classic bacon wrapped oyster hors d'oeuvre, Angels on Horseback. It's made with Fidencio mezcal, apple shrub, lime, and spicy bitters—smoky mezcal here stands in for bacon in the oyster pairing.
Brown is also quick to recommend sherry as an oyster pairing. "If the Martini has contrasting flavors, Sherry—especially Manzanilla Sherry—is comparable to the briny liquor of oysters," he says. "Manzanilla is dry, saline, and born near the ocean, coming from the beach town of Sanlucar de Barrameda in Southern Spain. The sea air greatly affects the taste of Manzanilla Sherry. It's very near a perfect pairing. I saw Spanish chefs in Andalucia actually poach oysters in the seawater from Sanlucar and then pair it with a Manzanilla sherry. It blew my mind."
Keeping with a seaside theme, Brown also recommends pairing oysters with Scotch made near the sea. "Coastal Scotches like Talisker or Old Putney have a great deal of maritime influence," says Brown, "but they're also higher in alcohol and richer, so there's a moment when the caramel, vanilla sweetness coat the oysters and intensifies all the flavors, including sweetness and salinity. My suggestion: eat the oyster and then pour a little Scotch in the shell and drink it like a luge."
What doesn't pair well with oysters? Brown warns that some wines won't work: "Reds that are very tannic and tea-like or whites that are oaky and buttery can mask the flavor of the oysters," he says. Brown says that bourbon is not an ideal pairing, but there are ways around that. At Eat the Rich, lots of lemon is mixed with bourbon, ginger soda, and sarsaparilla bitters in the 'Buck Hunter.' Brown says: "We add the citrus and the acid to make the oyster pop."