What This Craft Distillery Did to Create a Surprisingly Delicious Oyster Vodka
Bivalves were distilled right in the distillation process by the Innovative Spirit Company.
There was only a matter of time before someone tried to capture the seaside essence of Rhode Island in a bottle since it is the country’s smallest state with an outsized share of coastline and a vibrant and quirky creative economy. Entering the scene are Industrious Spirit Co. ISCO and Ostreida, a vodka made from oysters.
Founded in March 2020 by Manya K. Rubinstein, a marketer and publisher, and Dan Neff, a welder and ceramicist, ISCO is located in a Providence neighborhood with a long industrial-arts history. ISCO will be the first distillery in the state since Prohibition. As the pandemic raged, they made hand sanitizer and then to-go cocktails featuring their flagship gin, vodka and bourbon. A patio was opened for tastings in July 2021.
With a bolt of inspiration or a happy inhibition that comes with tippling, or maybe both, the ISCO team celebrated their first year in business at the beloved Matunuck Oyster Bar in South Kingstown.
Rubinstein and his team wondered what would happen if oysters were included in their distillations. "Oysters and vodka are a classic combination and quintessentially coastal," they exclaimed.
In just over three months, the team experimented with Matunuck oysters to find the right balance between velvety premium vodka and briny minerality. Ostreida isn't as strange as it seems at first. Though "dirty martini" is the easiest flavor-profile shorthand, it's actually a tide in a tumbler, representing Rhode Island's 400 miles of rock-strewn beaches, quiet coves, and wide-open bays.
As a result of the quality of the corn we use, Rubinstein notes that it has a creamy smooth, almost round taste. The nose is a little sweet and a little oystery. On the palate, salinity and minerality mix with roundness and sweetness.”
The only ingredients in Orstreida are local oysters and organic regional corn from Stone House Grain in the upper Hudson Valley. On the other hand, the only oyster vodka on the market is made from oyster infusion and botanicals blended with already distilled spirits by a Dutch company.
ISCO uses a 500-gallon Vendome still for distillation, followed by a long, slow proofing process to make the spirits less knock-your-socks-off-like. Neff, the master distiller, runs multiple distillations through the still, followed by a mash and fermentation process. The final distillation is enhanced by oysters, creating a purer expression of the ingredient. It takes almost two months to complete the process.
According to the oyster's Latin taxonomy, it is called Osteida. Rubinstein, a New England fantasy designer, designed the label with foil-printed, hand-illustrated artwork inspired by Ursula the Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid and the iridescent colors of the interior of an oyster's shell.
As for the price, Rubinstein is reluctant to say exactly how limited the supply is. They are small-batch because of a reason, although they aren't opposed to growing for a hit. As a result of Ostreida sales, a portion of proceeds go to GreenWave, a global network of ocean farmers working to create green economies.
According to Rubinstein, "We try to educate people about sustainable farming by using our spirits."
Ostreida is best served over ice, according to Rubinstein, but she also finds it excellent in bloody marys and martinis, including ISCO's own proprietary version with cracked pepper, red wine vinaigrette, and a marinated cocktail onion to mimic a pearl in the glass. With pepperoncini butter fat-washed into the spirit, the Friggitello is her current favorite.
It is a nod to the Ocean State's famous calamari, which became the center of attention during the 2020 Democratic National Convention during roll call. It can be seen as one of Rhode Island's most famous state foods, but it has nothing to do with calamari.
According to Rubinstein, salty appetizers and snacks such as Manchego cheese, Castelvetrano olives, caviar with crème frâiche, and bagels with lox and cream cheese are ideal food pairings for this cocktail.
It is not lost on the team at ISCO that creating a first confers instant status. Their goal is to distill Ostreida with different varieties of oysters, including East Beach Blondes and Duxbury Standards, harvested at different times of the year, so that it has varied flavor profiles, regardless of what cliches they use about the world being their oyster. In addition to identifying the variety and harvest date, labels will also include the harvest date.
"A lot of our purpose when we make these products is to tell stories, whether it's about sustainable agriculture, a place, the hard work that goes into making it, or what kind of community the product comes from." This is something we want to do with the products. In order to bring people to the ocean in a way that is uncommon, we're trying to bottle that experience.”