To make a beautiful oyster, one that captures the brininess of the sea and the slight sweetness of the earth, you need time and cold water. To make a fine Scotch, those same ingredients are crucial—so it’s no wonder that more and more chefs are pairing shellfish and single malts.
At NICO, which opened in Charleston, South Carolina, late last year, chef-owner Nico Romo highlights fresh seafood prepared with classic French techniques. Manager Cal Goodell has procured one of the city’s largest Scotch lists, and oysters are flown in daily from small farms along the Atlantic coast, from the Carolinas up to Maine.
“I love the Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or paired with a saltier oyster, like a Mookie Blue out of Maine,” Goodell says. “The Nectar d’Or is aged in a sauterne cask, and it has sweetness, caramel, and pear aspects that balance the oyster’s brininess. A White Stone from Virginia, though, goes better with a slightly smoky Scotch, like a Bowmore 12-year.”
On a busy night, Goodell might get 30 orders of the restaurant’s signature Scotch oyster, a playful yet elegant take on the oyster shooter. “It starts by splashing a little Scotch onto the oyster,” he says. “Then you shoot it. After, you rinse the shell with Scotch again. We invented this as great way to introduce guests to the beauty of oysters and of Scotch in one singular moment.”
Three places to sample whiskey-oyster pairings
North End Grill, New York City
Danny Meyer’s $1 daily oysters are paired with Scotch cocktails like the Speyside Ceilidh, made with BenRiach Curiositas 10-Year, dry vermouth, and Royal Combier Grande Liqueur. “The vermouth’s viscosity and Combier’s slight orange really work with the texture of a raw oyster,” says beverage director Jeff Taylor.
Black Market Liquor Bar, Los Angeles
At Top Chef contestant Antonia Lofaso’s Studio City restaurant and cocktail bar, the Whiskey & Brine brunch menu pairs $4 Kumiai, Kusshi, Kumamoto, and Skookum oysters with a mini bottle of Kikori Japanese whiskey and an eye dropper to help you gently bathe your bivalves in the soft, 100 percent rice-grain spirit.
610 Magnolia, Louisville
Chef Kevin Ashworth’s whiskey-roasted Kumamoto oysters are cooked with butter that’s been infused with Jefferson Reserve Ocean, a bourbon aged on a research vessel. “It’s a really interesting bourbon with an oyster,” Ashworth says, “because it picks up the salt air, and the ocean waves keep the barrel constantly agitated, which helps with the flavor.”