Sea urchin stout could easily be seen as another wild concoction, stewed up in the modern heights of craft brewing madness. Something you might find in a college craft brewing town.
When I tell people my boyfriend and I make sea urchin beer, I often have to repeat myself a few times…. Understandably. It is not your everyday beer.
But it is a good beer, not as weird as you might think. And of course, served with a side of adventure.
As all good stories coming out of Australia these days, the urchin brewing all started during lockdown. In 2020, Sydney residents were forced to a 5 kilometer (3.1-mile limit). My previous adventures to exotic far flung destinations were now stifled to my backyard.
I had always heard that you could eat sea urchin gonads (uni) straight out of the ocean. I had seen heaps of urchins throughout snorkel spots across Sydney beaches however, it wasn’t until lockdown I decided to give eating urchin, a try.
I squeezed into my wet suit and flopped into the icy water. I used a glove and a gardening shovel / fork as rudimentary harvest tools – which 1+ year on am still using the same tools, as nothing seems to beat the gardening fork.
There is a hidden desert along the east coast of Australia that has conservationists, the seafood industry and ocean lovers like myself concerned.
Sea urchins on the coastal floor are wiping out the seaweed habitat and leaving a barren white rock "moonscape" in their wake.
And these urchins can cover extensive distances in Bondi today and Bronte next month — impressive for a creature with one-inch legs! So they are covering some serious territory.
Most of the species are native to Australia, but in some areas, numbers have dramatically increased due to warming waters and overfishing of urchin predators. As a result, urchins have fast become pests in parts of New South Wales, particularly Sydney.
Thinking about the “eat ’em to beat ’em” campaign for lionfish, I thought that perhaps the same sort of campaign could help get sea urchin populations under control.
But for those of you that have ever tasted uni, you will know, it would be a hard sell to make uni an everyday staple on the dinner table. Sea urchins are full of sugar, salt, and amino acids, giving them an umami-salty sweetness. Like oysters, they tend to taste like the ocean they come from and the seaweed they feed on and possessing a buttery, melt in your mouth texture. Delicious, but typically not an everyday experience for the palate.
Enter beer. By the time that we starting thinking about creative ways to use sea urchins, my boyfriend and I had already been brewing beer for about a year (and comically started the recreational label of Cameron & Hollingsworth Brewing Company, out of our kitchen). During this time, we had our fair share of experiments, exploding carboys and by the one-year mark were consistently making explosion free quality stouts and Saison.
But what if we mixed the two elements – beer and urchins…. Perhaps it could turn out similar to an oyster stout? At the bare minimum, we hoped it would spice up lockdown.
Indeed it did! The sea urchin stout was a success! Dark and semi-sweet taste, brewed using actual sea urchin uni to give it a hit of briny-ness. You would never know there was sea urchin in it if we didn’t tell you ;)
And by drinking this beer you are basically saving the ocean. So drink up!
If you are interested in tasting sea urchin for yourself. Here is a little how to taste your own urchin uni.
1. To clean the sea urchin, use a pair of kitchen scissors to piece through the opening, the cut a roughly 2-inch circle.
2. Shake out the piece the piece of the shell and the urchin’s innards.
3. The roe will stay attached inside. Using a teaspoon, lift the roe out one by one.
4. Gently wash the uni in sea water (or a salt brine).