“Give me oysters and beer for dinner every day of the year and I’ll feel fine.”
From the song, Tin Cup Chalice, that is hands-down one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett song quotes. And it pretty much expresses how I feel about the classic combination of bivalves and beer.
So it didn’t take much cajoling (OK, none) to get me on board a tour bus at a bit too early on a recent Saturday morning bound for an adventure that promised virtually endless quantities of both oysters and local craft beer.
The sold-out bus was scheduled to take its 50 passengers from Portland, Ore., to the Hama Hama Oyster Co. in Lilliwap, Wash. One way, that’s about a “three-hour tour” as one fellow traveler sang to me in homage to “Gilligan’s Island.” And that was before the beer started flowing.
The Oyster Bus, which was on its second trip, is the brainchild of Charlie Devereux of Double Mountain Brewing, in Hood River, Ore.
“I love beer, of course. And I love oysters,” he told me a few days before the bus started rolling. “So, the bus idea just came to me one day. I thought it would be cool to have a bus full of great beer and go check out some oyster farms and eat a lot of oysters.”
Devereux enlisted the help of Hopworks Urban Brewery to serve their beer along with Double Mountain’s to prevent thirst among the throngs both on and off the bus. Devereux’s business partner and brewmaster Matt Swihart and HUB owner Christian Ettinger, along with brewer Jaime Rodriguez were our Beer Barons for the day. Tobias Hogan, owner of EaT: An Oyster Bar served as a most amicable Oyster Ambassador on the trip. His partner, Cheryl Wakerhauser, owner of the sister Pix Patisserie shops which are well-known not only for their sweet treats but also for deftly pairing them with both beer and wine, was our Delegate of Diversions on the bus.
We met at EaT and were told the bus would leave at “9 a.m. sharp.” After signing in and signing a waiver, basically saying that you take full responsibility if you did something stupid, coffee and doughnuts kept the crowd busy.
We started rolling around 9:10 — not a bad of wrangling a bunch of chatty travelers. It wasn’t two blocks before cups were handed out and Devereux started pouring pitchers of beer from the jockey box configuration at the front of the bus. Double Mountain’s Hop Lava IPA and HUB’s Secession Cascadian Dark Ale were our fine companions for this leg of the trip. How’s that for breakfast beers?
As the urban neighborhood streets became freeway and trees replaced the buildings, Devereux cranked some nice tunes on the sound system to get everybody in the vibe as they sipped on their breakfast beers and chatted. He was supposed to be sitting next to me, but was so busy pouring pitchers that he never sat down once on the trip up to Hama Hama. But I wasn’t alone for long. A charming woman named Kim plunked down next to me for a bit. She explained that she was on the bus with her husband, near the back of the bus, but she had a poem that she wanted to share with us when the time was right so she was moving closer to the front of the bus to read it. I was intrigued at the thought of someone finding a poem to read to a bus full of reveling oysterheads. This was quite a literary crew! (She did a fantastic job, and it was the perfect poem.)
After that, Wakerhauser must have thought we had consumed enough beer for our IQ levels to have lowered to the levels of the contestants on the old TV game show, Let’s Make a Deal. For those who have never seen the show, players could win prizes (which could be fabulous or forgettable), then decide to trade in their prizes for the potential of better (or worse) prizes. Wakerhauser proved to be a formidable host who had stuffed prizes ranging from wilted celery to hefty gift certificates to local restaurants and shops in a whole host of boxes in different shapes and sizes. (Offine to the burly guy who won the Breakfast at Tiffany’s lunch box. Do you really want that? If not, contact me!)
The time flew by faster than the miles and within three hours, we were greeted by Derby the Hama Hama oyster dog and Adam James, our gracious hosts for the next few hours.
Before you could say “geoduck”(and it’s “gooey-duck, by the way), a table was propped up outside and expert shuckers began doing their thing — I didn’t get a number, but judging from several people who were boasting that they ate upwards of 50 raw oysters apiece, I am guessing our group went through a bushel or several.
And there weren’t just raw ones being shucked for our enjoyment. On what appeared to be a mound of shells, grass and dirt, there was a campfire burning, where more oysters were being cooked to perfection over the open flame. The same was being done on the outdoor grill closer to the “shucking room” (where they literally shuck oyster after oyster for shipping) before it was taken over by huge slabs of beef brisket that were to be our lunch (apparently man and woman cannot live on oysters and beer alone — although many on the bus tried).
Beerwise, two new offerings were set up in the shucking room to go along with the aforementioned bus brews: Double Mountain’s The Vaporizer Pale Ale, one of my personal favorite Double Mountain beers and HUB’s Bonfire Bitter, a one-off session beer that’s a lot like an ESB. Both are hoppy enough to contrast well with the briny sweetness of the oysters without overpowering them.
While we were steadfastly slurping up our bivalves and beer, James handed us a little Hama Hama history. Founded in 1922, and family owned and operated all that time, the Hama Hama Co. was named for (but spelled differently than) the nearby Hamma Hamma River. The juxtaposition between salt and fresh water coaxes the oysters into growing very slowly, often taking twice as long to reach the market as oysters grown in other areas.
The Hama Hama oysters and clams have been harvested there for four generations for restaurants and seafood stores across the country. Now the company has a thriving online store to accompany the small, friendly on-site shop, so oyster fans from all over can enjoy bivalves from Hama Hama — raw, smoked or even pickled (my first thought: Bloody Marys).
James said Hama Hama’s latest venture is a type of oyster called Blue Pools. I wrote about Blue Pools in my oyster stout post when I first had them at Upright Brewing. Simultaneously sweet and salty, with a crisp, clean finish, they might just be the best oysters I have ever eaten.
James explained that while most Hama Hama oysters grow directly on the beach, Blue Pools are grown in “tumble bags” that rise and fall with each tidal cycle. The action rolls the oysters around, breaking off their new growth and gently encouraging them to grow deeper instead of wider, which creates a perfect half-shell shape, with a flat top shell and a pronounced deep cup. The cupped bottom shell pools the oyster liquor over a small, tight oyster, perfect for eating raw. Between those and the Vaporizer Pale Ale, I had achieved bivalve bliss.
After some exploring, and of course, more great beer, it was time to turn the bus around. Our trip back was accompanied by Led Zeppelin, Monty Python and, of course, more beer. After we got back to EaT, it was obvious many of us where still thirsty for more as we bellied up to the bar, or lingered, talking, laughing and hugging our new friends farewell.
I was right when I figured this trip would be a shuckin’ good time. But what I didn’t know was that I’d make some new friends (and get to hang out with some old ones), learn a lot about bivalve farming, see some beautiful scenery, play a mobile version of an old TV game show and have an all-around (oys)terrific time.
Which leads me to another favorite song line, this time by The Grateful Dead:
“The bus came by and I got on.”
Oh, yes. I did. And I’d do it again. (You can, too! There’s talk of another oyster adventure in October.)
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