History doesn’t tell us who the weirdo was that first cracked open an oyster and ate the briny, cold, tongue-like creature they found inside, but we can’t thank them enough. There’s also someone else we’d like to thank: the person who decide to open up an oyster and add booze.
Some peg the oyster shooter to a miner who dropped by a San Francisco restaurant in the 1860s and asked for a platter of raw oysters, an array of condiments and a glass of whiskey. According to legend, after the miner slugged down most of his whiskey, he dropped the oysters into the glass along with some Worcestershire, horseradish, ketchup and vinegar and called it an oyster cocktail. Others trace it to 1700s New Orleans where bartenders dressed up the working class mollusk with shots of alcohol, seasoned with tomato juice and Worcestershire.
Though seen as gauche in some circles, we believe oyster shooters are anything but. Provided they’re done right. When executed with care and thoughtfulness, the nuanced flavors of an oyster are not obscured, but elevated. Plus, they’re just a damn good time. “It’s a fun experience,” says Paul Taylor of Washington DC’s Eat the Rich. “It’s a great way for a group to interact.” Taylor presents most of his oyster shooters traditionally: with both oyster and booze sitting in a shot glass together. Many of his shooters are inspired by classic cocktails (the G&O, for example, is a take on a Salty Dog made with briny Olde Salt oysters, gin and grapefruit-ginger cordial), but the most popular is a riff on a popular shot: the Pickleback. Eat the Rich’s Oyster Back is served in two shot glasses: One filled with rye whiskey, the other with pickle brine and a mild, creamy Barcat oyster. “The shot has savoriness, salinity and a tart bite—it’s everything you get from having an oyster with mignonette sauce,” Taylor says. “It’s sort of a match made in heaven.”