Baltimore Beer Baron: A Delmarva tale of beer and oysters

City Paper

When Brian McComas of Ryleigh's Oyster (36 E. Cross St., 1225 Cathedral St., 22 Padonia Road, Hunt Valley, [410] 539-2093, ryleighs.com) called and asked if I wanted to ride along and deliver some oyster shells from Baltimore to Fordham and Dominion Brewing in Dover, Delaware (1284 McD Drive, Dover, Delaware, [302] 678-4810, fordhamanddominion.com), I was like, what?

A day later, on a stormy Wednesday, I found myself in McComas' Range Rover hauling two bushels of shells from his proprietary bivalves across state lines. Avery's Pearl oysters are cultured uniquely for Ryleigh's. The oysters are born in the Chesapeake Bay before settling in seaside as adolescents in Hog Island Bay, Virginia, to fully mature.

It is widely believed that oyster shells were once used as a fining agent on the back end of a beer's conditioning to clarify the product in the days before filtration was common. The calcium from the shells attaches to sediment particles floating in the brew and drags them to the bottom of the barrel. In modern times, brewers usually put the shells directly into the boil, which leave minerals for flavor and blunts the natural acidic taste of a stout. Which is why we were there: to dump McComas' shells into a boiling batch of Fordham and Dominion’s Rosie Parks Oyster Stout.

This is the third year that Fordham has brewed Rosie Parks Oyster Stout. The name is a nod to the famous Chesapeake Bay skipjack which now serves as a floating museum at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. The brewery donates a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Rosie Parks beer to support the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

“Rosie Parks Oyster Stout has been a fun project in general,” said Jim Lutz, the Fordham and Dominion president/CEO. “When you look at where we are in the center of the Delmarva peninsula, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum has been a great connection because they're trying to save the oyster, which saves water, and Ryleigh's is making oysters, which is saving water, and we need a lot of fucking water to make beer.”

Count Fordham and Dominion's Marketing VP Ryan Telle as a fan of the triad between the museum, the brewery, and oyster genius McComas. “It's such a great partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Over the years, the partnership has grown and what's cool now is we have a partner on the oyster side. We've got [McComas'] passions for oysters. I was blown away by how much Brian knows about oysters. That guy knows more about oysters than anyone I've ever met in my life. This is a natural partnership,” he said.

McComas is pretty pumped to be along for the ride, too. Rather than his shells being used in driveways or gardens, they're going into a product he sells at his restaurants. “We're honored to participate in the crafting of this beer, “ he said. “It's exciting to support a cause like Chesapeake Bay maritime history. That's near and dear to our hearts at Ryleigh's, which makes it all the more special.”

The 5-percent ABV beer contains pale, wheat, and CaraMunich malts and is hopped with Chinook and Bravo hops. It will be available in bottles and draft throughout the Fordham/Dominon marketplace, which covers the Delmarva peninsula as well as Virginia and Pennsylvania. A release party for this season of the beer is scheduled at the brewery on Sept. 4, and Ryleigh's is planning launch parties of its own at its three Baltimore-area restaurants.

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