Jonathan Swift famously quipped, “He was a brave man that first ate an oyster.” Sure, but what of the man to first prepare an oyster luge? For the uninitiated, an oyster luge is the act of drinking a spirit, typically scotch, direct from an oyster’s shell. The flavors of the scotch mingle with the oyster’s brine, creating a mixture that’s salty, smoky, and perhaps the closest you can get to the Isle of Islay without booking a plane ticket.
To demystify this most Scottish of rituals, I spoke to Simon Brooking, a Scotsman and current Beam Suntory Scotch Ambassador for North America.
Oyster Luge Origins
Among the Islay distillers, one in particular is most closely associated with the tradition of the oyster luge.
“Informally, people on Islay have been enjoying Bowmore and oysters for a couple hundred years. Ever since the distillery has been around,” Brooking says.
Swift may not have been able to pinpoint his hypothetical oyster eater, but Brooking can point to the man responsible for bringing the oyster luge mainstream. Around 2011, a Bowmore brand ambassador named Johnnie Mundell who’d grown up near Islay began promoting the oyster luge on the West Coast of the United States.
“The idea of the Bowmore Oyster Luge really started to take off… for those people who enjoy oysters and enjoy whisky, the idea of putting the two together is like one of your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” Brooking says.
To prepare an oyster luge for yourself, you’ll need the following items: an oyster knife (or someone else handy enough to use one), an oyster fork (to dislodge the sticky mollusks), scotch (Brooking recommends Bowmore 12-Year for its smokiness, vanilla notes, and lemon zest), a pouring instrument (ideally a small pitcher, but a glencairn glass can do), and an oyster (any variety). You’ll want to use the deeper “cup” side of the oyster, one that ideally has enough depth to hold a dram of scotch.
“That could be challenging with some of the shallower cups,” Brooking says. “It just means you might have to pour two cups to get the full whisky experience.”
Before beginning the proper, five-step method that prepares an oyster luge, Brooking recommends nosing your whisky first in preparation—or taking a sip, if you’re unfamiliar with the brand.
The Five-Step Method
The first step is to sip the oyster’s brine, to prepare for the full flavor of the oyster. Afterward, take a sip of your scotch to see how the flavor of the brine mingles with the whisky.
“You should get different flavors, different notes, a little bit more of the saltiness from the Bowmore… it might pull some of the smoke out,” Brooking says.
Third, eat the oyster itself, using the oyster fork if it has to come loose. If you’re in the habit of chewing rather than simply slurping oysters down, Brooking recommends the former approach.
“I think people have taught themselves just to get it down the gullet, and for some people that might be the victory. But for others, chewing and really enjoying the oyster is one of the biggest parts of enjoying the flavors.”
Step four creates the luge. Pour a small amount of scotch into the now oyster-less shell, or as Brooking calls it, “the original shot glass,” and give it a swirl.
Finally, bring the shell to your lips and sip. You’ll soon discover the magic that occurs when scotch meets sea.
“The luge itself picks up a little bit more of the character of the sea… a little bit more salinity and minerality,” Brooking says.
Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
The balanced quality of Bowmore 12 is one reason Brooking recommends it for luge use.
“Bowmore 12 is not as heavily peated. It’s not as smoky as you’re going to find with our sister distillery, Laphroaig, so it highlights more of the maritime qualities in the oyster as well,” he says.
But different age statements will play differently with the brine. For instance, Brooking says that the Bowmore 15, matured in sherry casks and ex-bourbon barrels, will create a sweeter taste experience.
You can even go off-script with a non-whisky. One alternative route Brooking suggests is tequila in the form of El Tesoro.
“The minerality of El Tesoro and the agave lends itself to some interesting flavors with the oysters,” he says.
Completing the Ritual
To Brookings, a luge is more than just an opportunity to experience your favorite scotch in a new way. He also values it as a method to fully use every part of the shellfish.
“The connective tissue between the oyster itself and the sea is that shell,” he says. “I think that it completes the ritual. You know, I’ve seen people just put the shell down after eating the oyster. No! Enjoy more of the experience by using the oyster cup.”