Jan Jansz. van de Velde | Oysters and beer

Still Life with a Beer Glass and a Porcelain Dish with Pepper | Jan Jansz. van de Velde (III), 1647 | Rijksmuseum

We do love our oysters here at Spoon of Art! And so did a lot of great artists. All through art history the oyster is often used as a symbol. Alway decadent, with a hint of eroticism. Especially in 17th century Dutch genre paintings of intimate settings with cheecky oyster eaters. Although these paintings do have a moralistic message, you can’t deny the guilty pleasure it probably gave the painters and viewers.

In the still life paintings of the 17th century we often see oysters as a part of a banquet set on a table. Also in this painting of Jan Jansz. van de Velde: Still Life with a Beer Glass and a Porcelain Dish with Pepper.

This painting shows a rich table with expensive products like pepper and Chinese porcelain. The material of the oyster shell shows the skills of the painter.The subtle glistening of the oysters makes them look fresh and ready to eat. And although a lot of these kind of paintings show wine, this one has a tall glass of beer. Which shows that an oyster/beer pairing is not some new and hip invention! In fact, oysters weren’t always the decadent and expensive food we often think it is. Oysters used to be so plentyfull, they were eaten by all people, in all layers of society. Rich and poor. So pairing them with a beer is not such a strange idea.

Fun detail in this painting: The glass is a ’pasglas’ which is used for drinking games in the 17th century. The drinker had to reach the next ring. We skipped that game this time and focussed on taste.

So Jan Jansz. van de Velde inspired us to set aside our beloved glass of chablis and we poored ourselves two beers. In Ireland they drink stout beer with their oysters. A classic combination! The creamy, dark and malty beer gives a nice bitter contrast to the saltyness of the oysters. We drank a Guiness Original. Though there are also stouts that are already made with oyster shells and sometimes the whole oyster. (These are on our tasting list for another time).

The other beer we drank was a Belgian Triple Karmeliet, a golden coloured tripel beer, with fruity (orange) flavours. But still very round and creamy which also complemented the oysters very well. Although we prefer a somewhat dryer taste.

The combination of beer and oysters suited us very well. It’s a totaly different experience than wine with oysters. Which makes it a nice variation. It’s a bit sweeter and creamier which makes it more filling so you can almost eat your oysters and beer like a full meal (no problem at all!).

There are still so many nice combinations of beers and other drinks to taste with oysters. And because we love them so much we probably will. We’re already looking for new artworks to fullfill our oyster appetite.


Birgitta van Langeveld is the creative director of Spoon of Art. She is a gifted conceptual thinker and has a keen eye for the art of the preparation and presentation of food.

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