How to Get Tipsy on Raw Oysters
The first time I went to a raw bar for oysters, I got pretty tipsy. But here’s the weird part: I didn’t drink any alcohol.
This happened two years ago at Acme Oyster House in Metairie, Louisiana. I sat at the bar and watched a shucker pry open craggy shells, revealing the plump, ice-cold shellfish inside. I downed three or four—they were huge for the season and were some of the best oysters I’ve ever had to this day. After I swallowed them, my face flushed and I felt giddy.
It felt like an alcohol buzz, but cleaner and more effervescent. If I could bottle and sell it, Big Booze would have cause for worry. And I’m not the only one who’s experienced it: Rowan Jacobsen, an oyster connoisseur and James Beard Award-winning food writer, echoed my sentiments.
"[People] usually say it's like a drug," Jacobsen said. "There’s no science on why it happens, but many people notice it. … I feel it every time I eat oysters that are in good shape."
One possible explanation for the buzz is zinc, a potent nutrient that occurs naturally in oysters. But Jacobsen doesn’t subscribe to this theory.
“It ain’t zinc," he said. "Whatever it is, it’s something we haven’t yet figured out how to measure or observe, which is why I think it’s something like chi. The life force hasn’t left the oyster yet, unlike most of our food.”
Want to experience this all-natural buzz for yourself? Head to an oyster bar and follow these three tips.
Know Your Source
Oysters are like wine in that their taste is determined by terroir in which they grow. Deep-shelled kumamotos pick up their sweet flavor in Pacific waters, while Naked Cowboys absorb briny notes from Great South Bay, a lagoon between Long Island and Fire Island. Check out Jacobsen’s OysterFinder guide to find your match.
Inspect the Goods
Proper handling is vital when it comes to the taste (and safety) of raw oysters, so choose a reputable oyster bar for your first oyster-buzz experience. Some of my favorite are Acme Oyster House in Louisiana, Shaw’s Crab House in Chicago, and Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City. No matter what oyster bar you visit, be inquisitive: your server should be able to give you detailed information about where the oysters came from, when they arrived, and how they were shipped.
Slurp Before You Sip
Oysters pair beautifully with booze, whether you prefer crisp white wine, martinis, or cold beer. But if you’ve never experienced an oyster buzz before, hold off on the drinks until after you’ve slurped a few shellfish. You’ll be more focused and aware of how you feel.