For the next few months, my wife Maca and I will be taking over Drink of the Month while the fabulous DD takes a well-deserved break. We couldn’t be more excited to highlight the very best libations in Annapolis, and this month we’ll be waxing poetic on Middleton’s Famous Shooters at Middleton Tavern.
We came out of the first chilly rain of fall into Middleton Tavern and were immediately greeted by a warm fire, owner Jerry Hardesty, and barkeep Donny, who quickly made us one heck of an Irish coffee. Standing prominently across the corner from City Dock, Middleton Tavern has played host to locals and weary travelers since 1750. When you have a drink at Middleton, you join the ranks of Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, who are all former guests. Middleton Tavern has always had a tie to the sea and the seafaring men and women of Annapolis, having been built to house the travelers on the Middleton ferry between Annapolis and Rock Hall. It was fitting that owner Jerry Hardesty had invited us down to try a real taste of the sea: a brace of Middleton’s Famous Oyster Shooters.
The subject of the oyster shooter is controversial, eliciting either squeals of discomfort or an almost enigmatic reverence for the sea and it’s fruit. The shock of briny freshness, the succulent oyster texture, and the accompanying tang of the cocktail sauce are powerful sensory experiences. However, there’s another aspect of the oyster shooter that keeps the true believers coming back. The taste of the oyster is the taste of the sea itself. Oysters are mysterious, hauled from the unseen depths of the ocean, and one must be willing to take a kind of leap into that mystery to appreciate them. Although many are not willing to take that leap, those who do experience in those moments a sensory and aesthetic connection to the very place of the oysters growth – in Middleton Tavern’s case, the Chesapeake Bay.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” – Ernest Hemingway
Middleton’s Famous Shooters:
- 1 fresh shucked Chesapeake Bay oyster
- Middleton’s house cocktail sauce
- Your Vodka of choice
Sometimes the best things in life are simple, and the recipe for Middleton’s Famous Shooters fits the bill. Take a local fresh-shucked Bay oyster in a shot glass, add Middleton’s super secret house cocktail sauce, and an ounce of vodka and you’ve got magic. What makes Middleton’s Shooters unique is the house cocktail sauce. I don’t typically love cocktail sauce. For me, cocktail sauce is the Gilbert Gottfried of sauces. It’s so loud it veritably grates at your taste buds. I prefer to take my oysters on the half-shell in it’s own juice, no additives needed, but I have to say there’s something special about Middleton’s cocktail sauce. It has a balance you don’t see in other cocktail sauces, and lets the taste of the oyster, the real star, come through. Jerry mentioned he’d have to kill me if he told me the recipe.
Most of all, Middleton’s Famous Shooters are a visceral and social experience everyone in Annapolis simply must try. Next time you’re downtown, take your friends to Middleton Tavern. Witness the anxiety in your friends’ faces as you come back to the table with a tray of Middleton’s Famous Shooters. Watch as they gather their courage, and SLURP. Lastly, watch as they grin ear-to-ear having partaken in one the Bay’s great mixological traditions.
Honorable mentions: Middleton’s Irish Coffee and Bloody Mary
Jerry and Donnie were kind enough to let us try one of their award-winning Irish coffees as well as a delicious Bloody Mary. Each is worth it’s own blog, and I can’t recommend them enough. When it starts getting cold, the Irish coffee with Tullamore Dew and fresh lightly whipped cream warms the gut right up. On a side note, my wife and I always say we judge a bar on the basis of its Bloody Mary. It’s tough to make a good Bloody from scratch, but Middleton’s mix and house pickled veggies are fantastic.
Photos courtesy of Jeremy and Maca Olsen