An unforgettable food and drink pairing is one in which the most cherished elements of each are enhanced by the other. I’ve always found oysters and scotch to form the highest expression of such. The sublime salinity of the seafood finds its perfect foil in a fine maritime malt. All I require are a dozen or so shucked bivalves alongside a Bowmore 15—when I’m also craving a touch of peat— or a bottle of Talisker 10 when I require something more subtle.
But it turns out that any number of adult beverages will perform quite nicely against the mollusk in question. Just ask Georgette Moger-Petraske. The cocktail expert and best-selling author, recently built an entire experience around the premise. Out of her charming walkup apartment in Midtown East, she hosts a weekly series called Regarding Oysters: An evening of bivalves and curated cocktails.
During the two-hour long engagement you can find Moger-Petraske stationed behind her 1860s perfume counter bar, instructing guests on everything from shucking safety to classic cocktail preparation. Eventually she dives into the fine art of pairing—a prelude to everyone’s preferred part of the lesson: indulgence.
To guarantee the freshest fare possible, she makes a weekly jaunt to the North Fork of Long Island to source specialities from friend and renowned oysterwoman, Meg Dowe. If you’re a New Yorker, you can book the class for $150 per person. The price of admission includes a welcome champagne—or mini martini—a half dozen oysters with shucking lessons, two cocktails with mixing lessons, three canapés, and signed copy of her book, Regarding Cocktails.
For those of us beyond the five boroughs, Moger-Petraske graciously extends some expert advice on the finer things in life. Namely: oysters, scotch, and cocktails. For all things else, you’re on your own.
Set the scene for an ideal scotch and oyster pairing. How does it all come together?
“During a visit to the Bowmore distillery in Islay I stood dockside above the still waters taking in the scent of peat and salt air. I was handed a shucked, local oyster and was told to first sip the oyster liquor, then sip my glass of Bowmore, then eat the oyster, then add a bit of the Bowmore to the shell. Swirling it with the remaining oyster liquor, upon sipping I was suddenly getting so many more nuances — fresh baked bread, orange peel, burned salted caramel. Magic shell indeed.”
Why do oysters and cocktails work so well together?
“Given the choice between Champagne and a gin martini, the latter is the more mischievous pairing. I make my house martini, the Attabuoy, with a 2:1 ratio of Ford’s Gin and Dolin dry, finishing with a spritz of oyster liquor from a freshly shucked Yennicott oyster. The martini is a ginny homage to the classic oyster luge I first experienced in Scotland. It was here that I learned how adding oyster liquor to a spirit can open it up, elevating its flavor and overall mouthfeel.”
Are there any other specific cocktails that you recommend with oysters?
“For my shucking salon and cocktail class I serve libations straight from the pages of Regarding Cocktails, the liquid memoir I wrote for my late husband Sasha [Petraske]. One of the cocktails on the menu is Sam Ross’s classic, The Penicillin. The lemon and ginger of this cocktail shines next to its base of blended whiskey and the irresistible float of Bowmore atop. I chose to feature this cocktail not only because it’s an icon from Milk & Honey days, but because of its compliment to oysters. What do you reach for when you get a dozen on the half-shell? Lemon. If you’re doubly lucky, you reach for some Bowmore.”
What type of oysters should you use?
“I exclusively serve Yennicott oysters from the pristine waters of the Peconic Bay. Once a week I take the Jitney out to Southold (on the North Fork of Long Island) where I assist my lifelong friend, Oyster Grower Meg Dowe. Together we hand sort the Yennicott oysters she provides to restaurants and local farm stands, and that I serve in my classes. I love showing students there’s more to pair with oysters than lemon and mignonette. Sometimes it’s a drop of Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse, other times, I turn them on to the whisky luge. I find with the luge, the savory crispness of Yennicott Oysters aligns magnificently with the soft lemon and honeyed peat of the Bowmore 12 Year.”