Oyster Card Stout: A recipe

2016-08-10 15.36.18I’ve wanted to blog my beer recipes for a long time, and this beer feels especially apropos to the times. I talked about brew day, but wanted to share our recipe once we had actually tasted it…

If you know me, you know I love talking about beer. David runs a tight ship on brew day: he knows all the procedures, keeps everything sterile, and adores the intricacies of the mechanics. I like to think of him as our head brewer; I am the brew master. I design our recipes and make sure everything will work out well with my spreadsheets and research. We like to imagine ourselves as a tiny brewery, but Zeke dog thinks we’re incredibly boring when we make beer.

“Oyster Card Stout”?

Oyster cards are the cards you use for the Tube. I have no idea why an “oyster” is what we use for electronic ticketing. There’s a long and detailed overview of the Oyster Card on Wikipedia that makes no mention of its name, but some say it’s because it protects your actual money like an oyster protects a pearl.

As a coastal city, London loves its oysters. Beer and the consumption of oysters went hand in hand for a long time. The first established brewery to combine the two into a brew was Hammerton Brewery in 1938. It closed for a few decades until it reopened in 2014 in Islington near where we first stayed when we moved to London. Its first and flagship ale was its Pentonville oyster stout (and they also make Islington unfiltered  steam beer with SF yeast). I fell in love with the Pentonville oyster stout on our first evening out in London, so we modeled our beer after it. It’s 5.3% ABV, also brewed with oats and whole oysters.

We wanted to meld a traditionally English style with our San Francisco brewing roots. (SF will always be my ‘beer home.’) Nothing says London more than a black, opaque beer. The San Francisco lager yeast gives it a good clean flavor–a favorite yeast of mine. The specificity of ingredients, histories, and yeast give beer a “terroir” to me–it’s like wine but more accessible and fun. Terroir also feels like a beer or wine can have a home, and I always think about where the hops and grains came from when I drink a pint. I can also brew all these ideas and ingredients into a bucket, then share them with my friends. That’s like art to me.

So, how did it turn out?

First of all, it doesn’t taste like oysters. (See them on brew day.) Think of salted caramel: a salinity to complement the sweet. The oyster meat also gives it a silkiness. The beer is smooth. It does have a bit of a bitter edge, which is normal for stouts but not a flavor I prefer and one I was attempting to minimize with the recipe I made.

I accidentally ordered wheat malt instead of regular pale malt, which adds to the bitterness. Oats also add some bitterness, but also make it maltier and milkier. The oats only made up 21% of the grain bill while it could handle up to 30%.

While I was away teaching in America, David built us a “kegerator” (or “keezer,” I suppose). He transformed an ugly swing top freezer so it could hold a keg at a constant temperature. It holds about 6 gallons of beer. We have proper draught beer in our house now. Before we had to transfer  all of our beer into 50+ bottles that we have to clean, then wait 3 more weeks for it to carbonate. Now we just dump it all into a clean keg and wait 2 days. (You can see the kegerator in action on David’s Instagram.)

Because we’re still learning about our kegerator, it’s a bit overly carbonated and that adds to the bitterness. I poured myself a beer incorrectly to let it foam up and go a little flat, and that changed its flavor significantly.

All in all, a beer we will be making again! We need to toast all of our places after all.

2016-08-10 15.38.03


Steeping grains

950 g pale malt << I accidentally ordered pale wheat malt. It was fine, but may have added to the slightly bitter after-taste.
250 g black malt
500 g roasted barley
250 g oats


625 g light dried malt extract
1.5 kg liquid malt extract

Other ingredients

10 oz raw oysters in the shell << 10 oz is not very much, so the oysterman gave us three huge oysters to use.


125 g Fuggles pellets


Mangrove Jacks Californian Lager M54 Yeast << Normally we would use White Labs 810 San Francisco Lager yeast, but it was £6.56 (~$10). This yeast worked well and was only £2.65.

How to do it… directions on the quick!

  1. Steeping. Start with 2.5 gallons of cold water in a pot on the stove. Place all the steeping grains into a grain bag, add them to the pot, and heat until the water reaches 170 F. Heat the water for 30 minutes total.
  2. Remove the grain bag, allowing everything to drip off but do not squeeze the bag. (It’s like tea–squeezing extra liquid out adds astringency.)
  3. Add the liquid & dried malt extracts to the pot, stirring so it doesn’t clump. Heat to a violent boil. (This water with all the grain-y sugars is called the ‘wort.’)
  4. Hot break. As it starts to foam, turn the heat off and on until it calms down.
  5. Bittering hop addition. Leave the heat on so the wort boils continuously. Add the oysters and 85 g of hops, and set a timer for 40 minutes.
  6. Finishing hop addition. Add the last 40 g of hops, and set a timer for 20 minutes.
  7. Once the boil is done, turn off the heat, and let the beer cool to about 85 F. We have a chiller I built from copper tubes, but putting the pot in the sink surrounded by ice water is another method we use.
  8. Add 2.5 gallons of cold water to the fermenter (which is a food-grade, 5 gal bucket).
  9. Pour the wort through a fine wire mesh colander into the fermenter. This captures all the crazy gunk that the beer makes.
  10. Use a hydrometer to check the beer’s gravity. If the gravity is too high, mix in small amounts of water until it is close. Here we wanted 1.052. The gravity is essentially the density of the beer as it compares to water. The more dense it is, the more sugar it has in it.
  11. Add the yeast! Seal it up (with an airlock, of course)!
  12. Fermentation. Wait 2-4 weeks for it to finish fementing. Use your hydrometer to check the gravity. Here we aimed for 1.013, but anything less than 1.017 would have been fine. The gravity drops because the yeast are eating the sugar and releasing it as CO2. The airlock lets that CO2 out, while keeping it sealed against bad things. You can watch an intense bubble storm in the airlock for the first 2 days of fermenting. If there’s not a bubble storm after a couple of days, you usually need to add more yeast.
  13. Carbonation. After fermentation, David put ours into the kegerator (a process I am clueless about). You can add 3 ounces of table sugar mixed with 3 ounces of water to the beer, then bottle it. Wait 2 more weeks. The yeast eats the simpler sugars quickly, and the bottles keep the CO2 inside to naturally carbonate the beer.
  14. Enjoy! Drink the beer within 6 months, or it will go stale. And that would be really sad.

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