“Ready! Set! Shuck!” the three teams start the contest with a hushed crowd. First the shucker pops open half a dozen oysters, then the second slurps them down passing the baton to the third who needs to chug a beer in order to complete the race. The weekend comes crashing to a bittersweet end in this annual grand finale of the 18th annual Schlafly Stout and Oyster Fest.
Just days ago the relentless team at the Schlafly beer company in St. Louis was gearing up for one of their favorite weekends of the year. Oysters are flown in from the west coast, trucked in from the east, and arrive fresh and delicious for St. Louisans to chow down on with the always amazing Schlafly beer. Shuckers from up and down the eastern seaboard, Washington, California and Colorado arrive in droves with their shucking knives brandished ready to show the Midwest what their oysters are all about.
15 stouts are prepared for the festival, and they range from the rich Irish Extra Stout to lighter varieties like the Oyster Stout. Clever flavor profiles burst through as you sample each beer, the Toasted Coconut to the Mexican hot chocolate, and it is hard to choose a favorite. That’s why it pays to know a few locals, one of whom blended the legendary coffee stout with the vanilla milk stout to make a delicious concoction that made me stop worrying about a favorite. Among the stouts there were many other kegs being tapped from Kölsch to an American Pale Ale or a Black IPA.
Even with all the delicious beer, the event this weekend focused on the shellfish and included fried oysters, oysters Rockefeller, and clam chowder. Did I mention the Raw Oysters?! Over 70 thousand of those raw oysters were split in half and fed to the seafood starved people of Missouri over the course of the three day festival. The shuckers cracked open shell after shell of the country’s finest oysters including the Sunset Beaches out of Washington, Connecticut Blue Points, and Rhode Island’s Quonset Points. People strolled down the clam shack-style raw bar filled with juicy shells waiting to be slurped down with a little bit of cocktail sauce, or straight up naked (like the pros).
Thursday and Friday nights were busy as the crowds were anxious to get their fix of the coveted oysters. Saturday had a chill in the air which makes for the best oyster eating conditions, and steadily throughout the day people were streaming through the tents where the event was held, laughing with the shuckers, and chucking back oyster after oyster as the horns played The Beatles “Come Together”. It may seem weird to have an oyster festival in St Louis, but not when you see the symmetry of both coasts serving their own oysters, bragging about them while bashing the other, and how everybody comes together.
Alongside all the amazing food and beer were the funky jazzy bluesy bands that complete the party every year. This year’s lineup was sure to have you dancing with bands like Hazard To Ya Booty, and the Funky Butt Brass Band warming up the tent on Friday night. Saturday the music kicked off at 11, and didn’t stop until late into the night. The local favorites Boudin Brothers Zydeco Band set the tone with some up-beat dancing music played with a Cajun flair. Then to finish off the evening the solid sound of Big Sam’s Funky Nation blew the doors off the tent with the incredible drum rhythms and bass bumping behind the brass gumbo-yaya, and smooth guitar licks.
All in all the weekend was an incredible experience, in an incredible city, and well worth the harsh plane ride home on Sunday. Our hosts at the Schlafly Tap Room treated us like royalty, and poured us beer till it came out our ears (in a good way)! Seeing the substantial growth spurt this festival went through in the last couple of years I can’t wait to go back next year and see what those folks at Schlafly are up to. Must be something in the beer they drink…