Schlafly Stout & Oyster Fest 2016
I remember thinking that frat parties in college would be epic, just like I saw in the movies. Huge, sprawling houses would be full of cold beer, vast quantities of food, and the coolest people. As we all know, that was never the case. I never got to live that dream. Then I went to my first Schlafly Stout & Oyster fest, a wonderland of food and drink! I felt like Harry Potter when he first arrived at Hogwarts, eyes wide and full of amazement at the wonderland before him. I saw men shucking oysters at lightspeed in the outdoor "Shuckerdome"; I saw beer flowing out of a truck; I saw fried oysters being lowered from the 2nd floor by a winch and raw oysters send upstairs via pulley. I was overwhelmed.
A gameplan was formed. I would start in the Shuckerdome, then make my way through the rest of the madness.
I enter the Shuckerdome, a new addition to this orgy of excess, and make my way over to the bar. I order a Grapefruit IPA because it is unseasonably warm, and a Milk Chocolate Stout because this is Stout & Oyster fest. Two beers should last me a while, I think to myself, but then I taste the Milk Chocolate. This tastes just like real milk chocolate! By the time I have walked the 15 feet it is to the oyster line, half my beer is gone. Scrumptious.
Picking which oysters to get is too difficult, so I just decide to get a dozen and take 2 from each place. The East Coast options are Blue Point, Beaver Tail, Chesapeake Wild, and the West Coast options are Penn Cove Select, Sunset Beach, and Dabob Bay. The shuckers, I would come to find out, are some of the most hilarious people I've ever met, and they love nothing more than shucking oysters, eating oysters, and drinking beer. These guys are celebrities—20 of them were flown in just for this event and shucked for 12 straight hours Saturday. I would hate to be their forearms come Sunday.
I find a barrel to eat on and go to town on these oysters. No horseradish, no sauces. Just me, some lemon, a whole mess of oysters, and two beers. The East Coast remain my favorites, with their smaller size and briny flavor. I am saving this Dabob Bay monster for last. I don't know how to handle it—it seems like too much to go in my mouth at once time (that's what she said). It ends up being a two-biter. Like someone else said to me, some of those Dabob monsters looked like a chicken breasts in a military helmet.
Oysters eaten, beer nearly gone, I head into the courtyard of the Tap Room. Here, people are in line to get absolutely huge grilled oysters and mouthwateringly delicious fried oysters. I keep hoping someone will just give me one of their fried ones, but no one offers.
On the opposite side, they're selling souvenir samplers for about an hour before they run out of most beers and switch a commemorative glass of Oyster Stout. I have my doubts about Oyster Stout (made with real oysters), so I do what must be done and drink it. It is surprisingly tasty. To me, it tastes like a normal stout with a salty, briny aftertaste. I approve.
From there, I make my way inside. I stop by the restaurant—it's packed. I peek into the bar—it's packed. So I head upstairs, where a whole mob of people are eating or waiting to eat oysters. The shuckers up here are even funnier than the ones in the Thunderdome Shuckerdome, some with accents so thick I can't understand them. I just nod and smile. They smile and get back to work, ignoring the idiot with a camera.
I ask them how they're getting the oysters upstairs, so they show me: they have a guy out on the fire escape who calls down to another Schlafly employee, who then hooks the requested oysters onto a pulley.
I head back downstairs, ready to leave, when I pass Schlafly celebrity Stephen Hale carrying Imo's boxes for the shuckers. Lucky guys. I try to get Stephen to give me a slice, but he smartly distracts me with more beer. The Double Bean Blonde that he had told me about a few months back is on tap!
I don't know if this or the Milk Chocolate stout was my favorite, but I would happily drink either any day. The Double Bean, made with Ghanian cocoa nibs and Kaldi's roasted coffee beans, smells and tastes like coffee and chocolate, but without the heaviness of a stout. Magic.
I have to applaud the whole Schlafly team and the shuckers for their hard work. From what I saw, the event went off without a hitch, which is tough when you've got a Walking Dead sized horde of drunk, shellfish eating people wandering around. In the end, over 55,000 oysters were sold, the equivalent of 1,050 cases of beer was consumed, and it was the highest attended festival in Schlafly history.
It sounds like next year will be even more epic. Make sure you're there.
I was paid by Schlafly to photograph the event, but not to write this blog post. All opinions are my own.