Not everyone has the pairing (or shucking) skills to go it alone in the world of whisky and oysters. Fortunately, more restaurants in the U.S. are exploring the pairing with resounding success. To enjoy whisky and oysters at these destinations, you simply need to open your mind—and leave the shell popping to the pros.
“People sometimes get freaked out when they see them together because they normally think of oysters and, say, Champagne,” says Adam Petronzio, wine director at Oceana in New York City, who pairs east and west coast oyster varieties with hand-picked whiskies. “But once they try it, they understand. These flavors go so well together.”
Petronzio generally reaches for scotch. “Scotland is an oyster country and if it grows together, it goes together,” he says. For east coast oysters, he suggests guests try Talisker and Lagavulin, and for the creamier west coast varieties a Dalwhinnie 15 year old or Cragganmore.
Sean Josephs, founder of Kenton’s in New Orleans, matches whisky with a cooked-oyster dish featuring smoked potato puree. “Smoked and charred flavors have an affinity for bourbon so it’s easy to see why cooked oysters can pair so well.” With raw oysters, Josephs steers guests toward 80-90 proof bourbon with the sweetness to balance the briny oysters, reaching for entry-level bourbons like Four Roses yellow label, Old Charter, and Jim Beam for starters. When it comes to serving whisky with a fresh half-shell, these restaurants don’t believe in half-measures.
120 W. 49th St., New York City
Petronzio worked with Oceana’s senior master of whisky Spike McClure on their scotch pairings, which also benefit the Billion Oyster Project, an initiative of the New York Harbor Foundation aimed at restoring one billion live oysters to New York Harbor.
Kenton’s Food & Bourbon—New Orleans
5757 Magazine St., Ste. A, New Orleans
An oyster bar with 150 bottles of whisky offering unlimited pairing options. Come for “Early Bourbon,” from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the patio, when you’ll need to shell out just 75¢ per oyster.
Black Market Liquor Bar—Los Angeles
11915 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City, Calif.
Try the “Whiskey and Brine” pairing for brunch, where you can use an eyedropper to carefully add just the right touch of Kikori, a Japanese rice whisky, to your oysters before you slurp.
Taylor Shellfish Farms— Seattle
Seattle locations: Queen Anne, Pioneer Square, Capitol Hil, Bellevue; Samish; Shelton
With three locations, Taylor pairs local west coast oysters with Seattle’s Westland American Single Malt, marrying their unmatched and tasty terroir.