Pairing oysters with whiskey is one of my favorite pastimes. I used to sit on a beach next to an oyster garden with a bottle of Jim Beam white label and shuck oysters while swigging straight from the bottle with my grandfather on one side and my best friend on the other. If I close my eyes, I can still see the grey skies of a cool Pacific Northwest day and smell the swaying firs.
The best part was dashing a little whiskey right on the oysters and then shooting it from the shell. It’s a divine way to both eat oysters and drink whiskey. I still do that to this day (though I have moved on from Jim Beam these days), even when I’m ordering oysters at a restaurant or raw bar. I’ll always get a glass of whiskey on the side and pour a little bit over the oyster instead of lemon juice, cocktail sauce, or a mignonette. It’s just better with the whiskey, adding a nice spiciness that also blends wonderfully with a nice and creamy raw oyster.
Below, I’m revealing five whiskeys I think are perfect for splashing on an oyster and shooting. These are my go-tos, with a new addition added at the end that I just came across last month. Don’t worry, I tested it with some fresh oysters over the weekend and it immediately popped on the palate. So let’s dive in and pair some great whisk(e)y with some great oysters.
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Average Price: $64
This is one of the most awarded single malts ever. The juice is matured in ex-bourbon casks in Talisker’s warehouse which is literally feet away from the sea. The subtly peated malts take on a real seaside feel as those years tick past, creating a whisky that will not disappoint.
The nose opens with this soft sense of pitted orchard fruits next to a thin line of beach campfire smoke far off in the distance with a hint of minerality and bright spiced malts. The palate has a hint of an oyster shell that leads to dried pears and apricot with a hint of warmth and spice malt next to dry sweetgrass. The end is full of lightly smoked plums with a hint of cardamom and cinnamon next to sea salt and a final whiff of that beach campfire way down the beach somewhere.
With An Oyster:
This is the ultimate oyster/whisky pairing combo. It works so well together it almost feels like the whisky was specifically designed for it.
All that aside, the soft beach campfire smoke really adds to the taste experience of a fresh and briny oyster, tying the whole thing together. The hint of spice and fruit also provide a nice counterpoint to the creamier texture of the oyster.
Michter’s US*1 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Rye
Average Price: $50
This single barrel rye is the rye you can measure most others against (especially at this price point). The well-crafted juice goes into the barrel at lower proof so that once it’s aged it won’t need a ton of water to proof it down. Once it hits the right age, it is small batched, 21 barrels at a time, and cold-filtered with Michter’s bespoke filtering process before a final proofing and bottling.
Peppery rye and a hint of citrus open this one up in the nose with a good dose of old leather, sharp winter spice, and a hint of smoked plums. There’s a nice run of creamy toffee that leads to spicy black pepper and a hint of ancho chili pepper with a mix of cumin and cardamom that leads to a fleeting sense of dried mint. The woody end carries the sip towards a warm, spicy finish that’s layered with chili-spiked tobacco, old wicker, and a sense of orchard wood bark.
With An Oyster:
The pepperiness and mild chili spice really amp up an oyster’s flavor profile. If you like dashing a little Tabasco or cracking some black pepper over your raw oysters, try this instead. The spice is there in the whiskey and will shine with your next oyster shot.
Jefferson’s Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Cognac Casks
Average Price: $59
This release from Jefferson’s leans on masterfully selected barrel picks. The sourced juice is picked from single barrels of cognac-finished rye whiskey (from Indiana) and bottled with a touch of proofing water down in Kentucky.
Soft old leather and meaty raisins with a good dose of sharp cinnamon cut with floral and fresh honey with a mild creaminess. The palate is plummy and full of lush vanilla with a plum pudding vibe next to a hint of orange studded with cloves while soft nutmeg smoothes everything out. The end brings the fresh honey back and laces it with rich and almost burnt orange oils next to a mix of old cedar bark and dry cinnamon wrapped in dry tobacco.
With An Oyster:
This choice is so lush. The soft fruitiness and clove really pop with an oyster. That little bit of citrus on the end also blends nicely with the liquor of an oyster, combining bright with umami for a great balance.
Ardbeg An Oa
Average Price: $73
This is a quintessential Islay peaty whisky. The juice is aged in a combo of Pedro Ximénez, charred virgin oak, and ex-bourbon casks before being married and rested again in Ardbeg’s bespoke oak “Gathering Vat,” allowing the whiskies to really meld into a cohesive pour.
Slow-smoked peaches mingle with soft cherrywood and a bundle of smoky savory herbs — sage, rosemary, ramps — on the nose. The palate is soft and buttery with a sweet burnt toffee vibe next to nutmeg, walnut, Earl Grey, and maybe a touch of woody maple syrup. The end takes its time and meanders through salted black licorice, wild florals, more singed savory herbs, and a hint of black-pepper-covered brisket fat that’s been heavily smoked over sea-soaked driftwood.
With An Oyster:
Admittedly, if you’re not into peat, this isn’t going to be for you. I used to be like that too, until this very whisky slowly turned me to the dark (and earthy) side.
With an oyster, the savory herbal vibe really kicks up and pairs perfectly with a big meaty oyster with a creamy feel. The wildflowers and black pepper smoked fat just perfectly vibe with the seawater liquor and sharp crispness of a good oyster. This is easily one of my favorite pairings when I’m in the mood for a smoky oyster experience (especially if the oysters are smoked too).
Kirkland Signature Single Barrel by Barton 1792 Master Distillers Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $32
This Costco release is sourced from Sazerac’s other Kentucky distillery, Barton 1792 Distillery down in Bardstown, Kentucky. The whiskey in the bottle is very likely the same distillate/barrels as 1792 Full Proof. However, this is proofed down a tiny bit below that at 120 proof instead of 125 proof, adding some nuance to this release.
The nose on this one is pure classic bourbon with rich vanilla, salted caramels, sweet oak staves, winter spices, and a hint of Almond Joy. The palate leans into sour red wine spiced with woody winter spices and cut with brown sugar before a sense of corn husks, creamy eggnog with plenty of nutmeg, and cherry/chocolate tobacco leaves kick in. The end has a nice warmth, kind of like a spicy ancho-dark hot chocolate flaked with salt and rolling around next to cherry tobacco.
With An Oyster:
This is my latest addition to the oyster/whiskey shelf. This whiskey is a great value and replaced my nostalgic need for Jim Beam with something that simply tastes better, especially with an oyster.
The sour red wine vibe and barky spices really help the oyster shine. Interestingly, the chili-chocolate vibe adds a nice dimension to the soft and silky oyster liquor and meaty body with a sense of spice and light bitterness countering the umami and sea spray saltiness. It’s a great mix of flavors that all compliment each other as your throw back a oyster or two.