This beer was mostly an excuse to buy a knife.
Our monthly beer tasting had featured an oyster stout. The oyster/stout pairing (particularly Guinness) is traditional, so why not put the oysters in the stout itself? The shells are mostly calcium carbonate—boiling them in the wort increases the minerality and pH of a dark beer. The oyster flesh and brine is salty and sweet, and has a history of being used as a beer fining (that is, an element that helps precipitate haze out of beer).
As an adult I’ve grown to love eating oysters – a little taste of the ocean. But I’d never shucked them at home. A new beer recipe was a perfect excuse to bring a couple of dozen oysters home and learn a new skill. And get a new knife.
All of the oysters (except for the dozen that were destined straight for my belly) had to wind up in the beer. Just doing a stout felt a little obvious. The brininess of the oyster pointed in another direction: a Gose.
Even though I’ve already done a Gose, Badwater Basin is a very different vibe. In the grain bill, I elected to add just a touch of chocolate rye to get some color and acknowledge the idea of a stout.
I chose Sorachi Ace (lemony, herbal) as my main aroma hop, I intuitively felt that I needed to go hard on the lemon zest. At first I wasn’t sure why this was. Near the end of fermentation it dawned on me that between the lemon zest and the Gose acidification, I was emulating a mignonette sauce for the oysters. This in turn suggested a last-minute finishing touch: pouring a bottle of champagne into my five-gallon batch right before bottling.
This is my first beer that made its public debut to a larger audience—I didn’t uncap it until I dragged five bottles to the middle of the Pacific Ocean to share with coworkers at the September 2022 Mozilla All-Hands in Hawaii. Fortunately for me, it was pronounced delicious by all in attendance. It’s lemony and acidy and fun. You can’t taste the oysters. But you know they’re there. Mostly because of the allergen alert label I added to the bottles just in case.
I couldn’t brew this one until I had just the right name. I had recently thinking about Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus and the Carpenter—more as a political metaphor for what’s going on in the US today—and this was an obvious source to tap for this beer, what with all the wanton oystercide going on in the poem. The name came into focus when I considered what name these fine gentlemen would give to a public house, were they to found one. Ye Olde Tusk & Chisel.
This pub would of course need a coat of arms. Bijan from India provided a very nice one. There aren’t a lot of lions, unicorns, or griffins running around Hancock Park so some friends closer to home volunteered to model for the final product.
While I’ll generally cite my first concert as Billy Squier opening for Queen on the Hot Space tour, if pressed to the wall I’d probably be forced to admit it was the Beach Boys at the Lane County Fairgrounds.
I lay the blame for this shame directly at the feet of the Boys themselves. To be fair, the radical formal experimentation that started with Pet Sounds pointed them down a rabbit hole that ended with Brian Wilson not at all well and Smile unfinished and unreleased until the early 21st century. Playing pre-Sgt. Pepper hits to the oldies circuit is a better living.
But to be clear—I wouldn’t call this cool. And from the standpoint of a 1981 young teenager, 1967 seemed an impenetrable barrier—anything released before that year seemed to be trapped in a musty past.
This is of course nonsense. From the panopticon view of popular culture we enjoy today, we can clearly see that all music is in a lively dialog with everything that came before, and the old Beach Boys music is a vital and fascinating bridge between multiple worlds—doo-wop and psychedelia, wild creative swings straining against the bonds of commercial concerns.
“Surf’s Up” is without a doubt the apotheosis of this. Yes, this is the same band that brought you “Surfin’ USA”—but this is hardly the same band that brought you “Surfin’ USA.”