Adding a little body: Yards Oyster Stout

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Brewers throw all kinds of crazy stuff into the mash tun.

They’re supposed to stick to four basic ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast. But when you’re not looking, they’ll sneak in raspberries or honey or orange peels. I knew a homebrewer who tried pine cones.

And then there’s the guys at Yards Brewing in Manayunk. The other day, they finished off a batch of stout by dumping in a few bags of. . .oysters?

One hundred fifty-three of the scurvy, little mollusks – almost as happy as clams – were sent to their graves in the final 20 minutes of the boil. Then they were removed and the beer was sent along its happy way, to ferment and to be consumed as Yards Oyster Stout.

Joe Sixpack missed all the horrific, tortured cries from the sorry critters. By the time I showed up, Tuna and Tom the brewers, along with a crowd of hungry visitors, were downing the tender tasties with ample quantities of beer.

It’s an annual event at the brewery, which I imagine means there will be PETA protesters at the door next year. Tom explained, though, that chucking oysters into the pot is an old beermaking tradition.

“Actually, it’s the shells we’re after,” he said. “The calcium from the shells is like a brewing salt that helps clarify the beer.”

In other words, the shells – which are often powdered – do the same duty as Budweiser’s beechwood chips. Others think the shells reduce acidity, which could produce a better head.

Whatever, the practice stopped around the 1960s with the use of other, more readily available ingredients.

A few years ago, Pike Brewing produced an Oyster Stout with oyster liquor. The Yards guys believe they’re the only brewery that dumps in live shellfish.

How’s it taste?

About 50 kegs of the stout will be hitting local taprooms in a few weeks. I sampled a keg from last year’s batch and detected no fishy smell or foul taste.

I did, however, have an certain urge that sent me in the direction of Mrs. Sixpack.

Beer calendar

Tomorrow marks the 185th anniversary of one of the most tragic moments in the history of drinking, and I don’t mean the day they ran out of beer at Dirty Frank’s.

Disaster hit on Oct. 16, 1814, when a massive wooden vat holding 4,000 casks of brew at Meux & Co. in London exploded. The boom, according to Alan Eames’ “Secret Life of Beer,” could be heard five miles away. “A tremendous jet stream of ale shot out. . ., creating a tidal wave that smashed down the 25-foot-high, one-foot-thick brick wall of the brewery,” wrote Eames.

Several people drowned, but even more were killed when they were suffocated in the mad rush to get to the free beer. Still others died from alcohol coma.

Total death toll: 20.

Value of lost beer: 15,000 pounds.

Winners

Pennsylvania breweries kicked butt at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver last weekend. Our local guys stomped the turf at the nation’s most important beer festival, long ruled by formidable outfits from the West Coast and the Rocky Mountains.

Competing against 1,700 entries, the Keystoners brought home more medals than any other state – 18, including 6 golds.

The big winners were The Lion Brewery, Wilkes-Barre, named mid-size brewing company of the year, and the Stroh facility in Fogelsville, near Allentown, crowned best large brewery.

The Lion, known largely as a contractor for other breweries, showed off a few of its own labels. It won gold for its Brewery Hill Pocono Pilsner in the American-style specialty lager category, and gold in American lager/cream ale for Liebotschaner Cream Ale.

A pair of local brewpubs also brought home metal. Iron Hill, a winner in two previous festivals, took bronze for the Vienna-style lager brewed at its West Chester joint, and gold for the Maibock from Newark, Del. John Harvard’s Brew House in Wayne took a silver for its Georgia Smoke.

Here’s a full list of the Pennsylvania winners:

Beer: Old Milwaukee NA

  • Brewery: Stroh (Fogelsville)
  • Category: Non-alcoholic
  • Medal: gold

Beer: Liebotschaner Cream Ale

  • Brewery: The Lion (Wilkes-Barre)
  • Category: American lager/ale or cream ale
  • Medal: gold

Beer: Georgia Smoke

  • Brewery: John Harvard’s (Wayne)
  • Category: Smoke-flavored
  • Medal: silver

Beer: Stoudt’s Pilsner

  • Brewery: Stoudt Brewing (Adamstown)
  • Category: German-style pilsner
  • Medal: silver

Beer: Pillage Pilsner

  • Brewery: Valhalla Microbrewery & Restaurant (Pittsburgh)
  • Category: Bohemian-style pilsner
  • Medal: bronze

Beer: Penn Gold

  • Brewery: Pennsylvania Brewing Co. (Pittsburgh)
  • Category: Munchner-style helles
  • Medal: bronze

Beer: Old Milwaukee Light

  • Brewery: Stroh
  • Category: American-style light lager
  • Medal: gold

Beer: Schlitz Light

  • Brewery: Jos. Schlitz (Fogelsville)
  • Category: American-style light lager
  • Medal: silver

Beer: Schmidt’s Light

  • Brewery: G. Heileman (Fogelsville)
  • Category: American-style light lager
  • Medal: bronze

Beer: Old Milwaukee

  • Brewery: Stroh
  • Category: American-style lager
  • Medal: gold

Beer: Schmidt’s

  • Brewery: G. Heileman (Fogelsville)
  • Category: American-style lager
  • Medal: silver

Beer: Brewery Hill Pocono Pilsner

  • Brewery: The Lion
  • Category: American-style specialty lager
  • Medal: gold

Beer: St. Ides Malt Liquor

  • Brewery: St. Ides (Fogelsville)
  • Category: American-style specialty lager
  • Medal: bronze

Beer: Vienna

  • Brewery: Iron Hill Restaurant & Brewery (West Chester)
  • Category: Vienna-style lager
  • Medal: bronze

Beer: Penn Dark

  • Brewery: Pennsylvania Brewing
  • Category: European-style dark/Munchner dunkel
  • Medal: bronze

Beer: Mad Brewer Mailbock

  • Brewery: Church Brew Works (Pittsburgh)
  • Category: Bock
  • Medal: silver

Beer: Iron House Stout

  • Brewery: Red Star Brewery & Grille (Greensburg)
  • Category: Classic Irish-style dry stout
  • Medal: silver

Beer: Blast Furnace Stout

  • Brewery: Church Brew Works (Pittsburgh)
  • Category: Oatmeal stout
  • Medal: gold

Joe Sixpack (written this week with a bottle of Stoudt Y2K IPA) appears every other Friday.

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