Fine dining and beer often don’t get mentioned in the same sentence. Not in DC and not in many other places both near and far. Before Rob Rubba, head chef and owner of Oyster Oyster, won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef, he collaborated on a beer with Black Narrows and their co-owner and head brewer, Josh Chapman. It’ll be on tap this week at Oyster Oyster. We talked to both of them about the collaboration. 

“Rob and I have known each other for a decade; we met at Neighborhood Restaurant Group when Rob was helping set up the kitchen at Bluejacket. We both have similar visions of food and beer, and kept in touch over the years,” Chapman tells us. “I also started in the kitchen, and my favorite collaborations have always been non-brewery ones, especially restaurants. I was pressed into brewing when Megan Parisi and then Bobby Bump moved on from Bluejacket. I leaned on my culinary experiences from Evening Star, then Bluejacket.”

“Josh’s style of beer is local, utilizes ingredients of the region, it’s meaningful and important,” adds Rubba. “Rob has a similar commitment to locality and sustainability. And selfishly, I just like hanging out with Rob,” says Chapman.  

The two previously collaborated on a saison in January of 2020, called Adult Ponies. That beer used oyster mushrooms and yeast cultivated from a Chincoteague oyster, isolated and cultivated by Sterling, Virginia’s Jasper Yeast. Like many restaurants, however, Rubba’s Oyster Oyster fell victim to pandemic-related delays; enough people didn’t get to try that beer that I didn’t realize there was a previous collaboration until I talked to Chapman and Rubba. 

Chef Rob Profile photo
Rob Rubba, via Rey Lopez Photo

This new collaboration, Boojum is Sleeping, utilizes spicebush, or Appalachian allspice, and is named for an Appalachian cryptid. Both Rubba and Chapman foraged the Spicebush, and the beer is fermented with the aforementioned oyster yeast. The spicebush adds notes of both Sichuan-style peppercorns and white pepper, along with lemons and a local malt bill–using all-Virginia malt from Charlottesville’s Murphy and Rude Malting–is reminiscent of vanilla wafer according to Chapman. 

Spicebush berries
Spicebush berries, via

The initial batch is 5 barrels, and there are tentative plans to brew it at least once a year for the restaurant. In keeping with an ethos of sustainability, the beer is draft only, and Chapman has plans to put some in barrels to be released at a later date. 

Oyster Oyster team
Oyster Oyster crew via Rey Lopez Photo

For the time being, it may be easier for curious imbibers to drive to Chincoteague–the beer will be on tap at Black Narrows as soon as this weekend, but check before making the drive–than to get into Oyster Oyster and have the beer there. Even before Rubba won Outstanding Chef, Oyster Oyster wasn’t easy to get into, but help is on the way. The Oyster Garage, a more casual sibling restaurant, should open in late June if all goes well, and Boojum is Sleeping will be on tap there, too. 

“Beer made locally is not, by definition, local beer, and food is the same way,” says Chapman. “The more we can highlight where we are, the better.” We’ll drink to that!

Listen to our recent DC Beer Show with Chapman.