CTBites On The Boat: Grace & Darkness Oyster Stout Release And Oyster Roast At Half Full Brewery, Jan. 21
Dawn broke just before the pop top on my first beer of the day. This could be a cause for concern and self reflection under other circumstances, but as the Homeric Eros rhododactylos set flame to a layer of clouds above black, glassy waters, this wrong became right. The Grace P. Lowndes chugged away under my feet. It would take an additional 10-degrees Fahrenheit to get up to freezing. We'd left the dock in South Norwalk in utter darkness to harvest oysters in one of the oldest, most productive oyster fisheries in America. Jordan Giles of Half Full Brewery in Stamford shucked a few on the steps of the Grace's pilothouse and handed one to me. The Copp's Island oyster had been at the bottom of the Sound minutes ago.
The "Why" is tripartite: I've always loved oysters (and can apparently add them to skiing and air travel on the list of things I'll wake up at an evil hour for), I had never been on an oyster boat, and Half Full brewery will host their second ever Grace&Darkness oyster stout can release and oyster roast on Sunday, January 21 at noon. These oysters were to be the main attraction.
The Copp's Island variety is raised on sandy bottom oyster beds around the islands off Norwalk and Westport. It's a bluepoint, and subtly distinct from others raised in the Sound, and certainly from other waters where our Connecticut-native oyster is now grown. Caged or tray-raised varieties are common but these, raised by Norm Bloom & Son out of Norwalk, are seeded from naturally occurring spawn in the Housatonic River in Stratford, then raised for two to three years around Norwalk Harbor. The rough shells are pried open to reveal large, almost sweet meat in fresh brine. The Grace herself is 80ish years old, also from Stratford, and one of the last wooden oyster boats made in the country. With no room in the pilothouse, the Half Full crew and I stood on its deck and watched as 500 bushels were raked from the seafloor and loaded onboard in less than an hour.
This is the second-ever release of Grace & Darkness, and it will be the first of Half Full's Community Sourced Ales project to release in 2018. The first CSA I had from the brewery was the excellent Transcend Hoppiness IPA last summer, made with hops grown by Pioneer Hops of Connecticut in Morris. Oysters and stouts were common companions in taverns in the U.S. and U.K. for several hundred years before they were combined in the brewing process early in the 20th century. Pale ales and light lagers relegated the style to... well, not even the history books, until it was revived in recent years. Oyster stouts are still uncommon finds.
Served separately, the sweet, briny oysters and mellow, toasted grain bill of a stout are beautiful complimentary. Half Full adds the local oysters whole, but the oysters add only very delicate flavors. The meat is detectable as a richness in the beer's body, and the 2017 Grace&Darkness had vanishing mineral quality from the shells. Poured in a plain glass without any mention, almost no one would take this for anything but a rich, well-made stout.
Jay LeBlanc of Knot Norm's Catering will be on hand at Half Full brewery on the 21st with a Copp's Island raw bar, wood fired oysters, oyster beer shooters, and blistered shishito peppers to join in the can release. Last year's party at Half Full went though over 1,000 oysters during the event. Tickets are $35, and can be found here with all the information.