Ned Ward’s Two Threads of Beer

In the past, I’ve drawn attention to the fact that there were thread variants apart from the well-known “three threads”, a London beer type of the early 1700s. Three threads, aka three thirds, was a mixed beer which preceded porter and for which porter emerged after 1720, or IMO, as a substitute. There were two threads, three threads, four threads, and six threads, at least, and apparently also, single thread.

I’ve correlatively explained my ideas that the thread and porter terms were inspired by London silk weaving terminology of circa-1700. This is the first new theory of porter’s origin in a few hundred years.

For an overview, see this post of mine from last December which references my previous writings.

The other day, in writing on New York “beefsteak” history, I came across references to a two threads in writings of the pamphleteer and author Edward or Ned Ward.  He wrote The Secret History of Clubs in 1709, later reprinted under other titles including A Compleat and Humorous Account of All the Remarkable Clubs and Societies in the Cities of London and Westminster.

Ward makes two references in this book to two-threads, one of the thread variants.

He states that “brawny Wine-Porters, and sturdy Carmen used to strengthen their backs with full Winchesters of powerful Two Threads”. Winchester was a measure of beer. Carmen were drivers of horse-led trams. Porters, of whom there were various kinds, of course traditionally have been linked to the name of the beer, porter. Here you see a link suggestive of that naming origin, not the only one but it’s interesting to see the term “wine-porter” used.

Ward also mentions a “rare found [sound] beer” “deliciously improved” with a “dash” of a “humming two Thirds”.

See pp 227 and 318 in the Compleat book for the original texts.

Ward is known in beer historical studies for having mentioned, in other writings, “casks of threads call’d three”. The latter first came to my attention via Martyn Cornell’s work.

I can’t recall that Ward’s double reference to a two threads form of beer has been reviewed, hence this notice. One can speculate what Ward meant. Maybe two threads was brown ale and brown beer mixed, and the “rare found beer” may have been (aged) pale beer. Or perhaps two threads was all-ale, different strengths, and was mixed with a pale or brown beer.

Ward’s two threads was fairly strong, evidently, as the terms powerful and humming suggest. Could three threads and higher have been yet stronger, as one can infer from the range of beers offered in the Fortune of War in Goodman’s Field (see my earlier writings)?

Mixing two threads with another beer, a “rare” one, sounds like a palate adjustment versus gaining more alcohol, especially as the adjustment is “delicious”. Was two threads plus the beer mentioned the same as Ward’s “threads called three”?

The puzzle continues.


New York’s First Beefsteak Club May Date From 1700s

A Dual Tradition but Same Root?

A few more references in connection with my recent (from July 2, 2017) New York beefsteak posts. In 1876, this detailed look at New York and English club life referred to the Beefsteak Club of the latter but omitted mention of any equivalent body in New York. The writer was Willian Conant Church, a well-known journalist of the day who had founded a magazine, The Galaxy, with his brother.

The elegant menu of a Beefsteak Club in New York, venue unspecified, I discussed the other day is dated 1878. I’d infer that New York acquired a London-style club after Church’s article. It is possible this Beefsteak Club existed before and Church didn’t know about it, but this seems less likely to me.

The 1878 menu bears the golden gridiron image, long associated with some of the English steak clubs. Without going into their history in any detailed way, as much evidence is documented and easy to find, suffice to say that the origins of the first of them were prosaic. They are attested in 1709 by Edward Ward in his Secret History of London Clubs as explained in John Timbs’ 19th century club history. Ned Ward, as he was known – the same figure of porter history –  stated the “imperial Phiz” offered a “broiled sliver off the juicy rump of a fat, well-fed bullock” with its well-noted malt liquors.

(In his club history, Ward refers once to a “powerful” “Two Thirds”, a porter predecessor, and once to a “rare sound beer” improved with a “dash” of a “humming Two Thirds”. The latter may have been brown ale and brown beer blended with pale beer, perhaps the “full casks of Threads call’d Three” – three threads – Ward mentioned elsewhere. See pp 227 and 318).

Is it a stretch to link “sliver” with the small slices of beef characteristic of the typical American beefsteak dinner? Perhaps, but if the New York beefsteak tradition started in the 1700s, it’s less of a stretch, i.e., when New York had been an English burgh and repository of influences from Albion for a considerable time.

In fact, there is some evidence the New York beefsteak dinner goes back that far. In 1893, an article on clubs in the New York Times stated that the “Beefsteak Club” was founded in the city “over a hundred years ago” at the Miller tavern, the locale of Anton William Miller I discussed earlier. Before Miller, it was owned by William Shannon, he was issued a license in 1854 as shown here on the website of the Museum of the City of New York. The handwriting is a little hard to read, the last digit of the date might be a 7 or another number, but it was clearly in the 1850s. Billy Miller, who worked for Shannon after immigrating from Germany, became the owner some time after.

We can infer from the Times that a tavern was operated at the site – 54 Market Street – much earlier. The handwriting again is a bit confounding, but 54 as civic number appears correct. It is kitty-corner to Monroe Street, which accords with other published accounts.

The story of the original 13 members recounted in the Times story, reflecting the original 13 colonies, can be found in other lore of the New York Beefsteak Clubs. But it does suggest creation of the club before the 1800s, perhaps 1780s. That is not that long after founding of the first Beefsteak Club in London. One of the thirteen’s fathers could have been a member…

By the late 1800s, the last club in London associated with the Beefsteak tradition was a more exclusive, elite affair. Its spawn, including we apprehend the club of the 1878 New York menu and, for example, the Melbourne club profiled in this 1889 Melbourne Punch story, were parallel to a more popular tradition that nonetheless had its likely origin in the same source.

I should add that Washington, D.C.’s famed Gridiron Club, the prestigious journalists’ club, is a more distant representative of the haute tradition. Its same golden gridiron symbol prevailed for some of England’s Beefsteak clubs. The same is true of the “Grid”, the famed Oxford dining society which started up not long before the Washington, D.C. institution (1880s).

These latter two never specifically bruited the beefsteak as their symbol, or beer as their defining drink. But they broadly are in the same group, composed of the upper strata or chattering classes of society versus the solid citizen – businessman, mechanic, professional – who typically attended New York beefsteaks c. 1900.

Would you like to see where Billy Miller’s tavern was in Manhattan? See below. It was 54 Market Street, near Monroe St., the address still exists. But the building you see was erected in 1910. So it’s not the same structure, but perhaps gives you an idea of the original atmosphere, factoring changes in New York’s social make-up.



May Wine Makes the Grade

Among a list of wines, numerous of high repute, discussed in my last post there was a puzzling entry for “strawberry blonde”. Much as I would like it to be a beer, I don’t think it was. I’ve already been disabused of the notion “steinwein” was a beer – see the comments to the last post.

What was it then? I think it was “Mai-trank”, May wine. This is an aromatized mixture of wines traditional in Germany and some other lands. Sweet woodruff is a keynote.

A 1905 piece in the New York Sun explains that May wine is the colour of a blue-eyed Swabian blonde, and that strawberries are sometimes added. It also states, which clinches it in my mind, that woodruff was grown in Staten Island, NY.

Oh, the beefsteak dinner was held in May, 1878.

Below is a picture of a May wine. It looks exactly the hue mentioned in the Sun’s story, and if strawberries are added, well it’s “strawberry blonde”. Case closed, yes?

McAllister’s Four Hundred, and aspirants thereto, didn’t do beer I guess. Or perhaps it was assumed that prevailing customs of the menu’s presumed inspiration, the London Beefsteak Club, did not countenance beer at formal dinners.

But I’d as soon found a beer on that menu…

Note re image: the image above was sourced from this Ardennes tourist website, here. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to its owner or authorized users, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.


Further on “Beefsteak” Trail

In further thinking on the beefsteak’s origin (see my last post here), this 1890 description of a beefsteak party, held by a New York cycling club, is noteworthy. The locale was not stated but was obviously William S. Miller’s uptown carpentry shop. The description of the place corresponds closely to two fine depictions, you can see one here, on a beefsteak history page of the Museum of the City of New York.

The article states that the party locale is heir to the “quaint” establishment “down east”. This was obviously his father’s place, Billy Miller’s tavern. It was situated on Market Street near Monroe Street in New York, in the old 7th Ward near the East River. The area now is dominated by a massive bridge approach and 1930s apartment blocks.

The 1890 writer uses the term “Beefsteak Club” to describe the gatherings at père et fils. The 58th Street Beefsteak Club’s meeting place was the Morgue (a hall), on that street. It was not the only club of that name in New York, clearly, but did Billy Miller originate the name for Manhattan?

This is doubtful. Consider this stylish, 1878 menu of a New York Beefsteak Club, preserved in the archives of the Museum of the City of New York. I see little connection to Billy Miller’s as it offers a most luxurious “beefsteak”. Included are vintage wines, numerous fine dishes in addition to the beef, and a lengthy music program.

Despite the luxury, the meal is within the beefsteak ethos. The tip-offs are the Amontillado sherry and the kidney with the beef, typical offerings of many beefsteaks.

Note too the gridiron design at the top. No beer though. Or was there? What is steinwein, and strawberry blonde?

They were probably beer* but expressed euphemistically with deference to a formal affair where turtle, fresh mushrooms, green salad, and French wines were also offered.

In short, this is a menu of nabobs, not nobodies.

Could such uptown swank have been inspired by Billy Miller’s smoky saloon confabs with their makeshift chairs, MIA cutlery and endless cups of old ale? It seems more likely the 1878 Beefsteak Club took menu and nomenclature from London’s elite Beefsteak Club and chophouses of the order of Simpson’s-on-the-Strand. Modest bars like Billy Miller’s probably adopted the moniker in further imitation, perhaps with ironic intent.

See also the discussion here on the origin of the porterhouse steak from The Market Assistant, etc. (1867) by the American, Thomas F. De Voe. It states that a special cut of steak, originally meant for roasting, was cooked on hickory-wood and served with ale or porter in the port area near the financial district. Patrons included pilots and other sea-going types.

Sound familiar?

Even if this story, which is quite plausible to our ears, is not a true or the full explanation, it shows that Billy Miller’s cooking of steaks in an antique bar stove was not unique and different proprietors enjoyed reputation for their version.

We feel that the beef-eating heritage which derived from John Bull’s Britain including its long-lived Beefsteak Club(s), in toto probably gave rise to New York’s beefsteak dinners. It may have started with New York society and went downmarket, or vice versa, but we think it likely one proprietor did not invent the thing or the club name in New York. The fact too that a prominent club, the 58th Street one, was composed of a good number of show people suggests to us direct inspiration from the London Beefsteak Club, which had a similar origin.

But Billy Miller and his son clearly popularized the idea due to their deft hand with the steak and the gridiron, and perhaps they introduced the slices-on-bread idea. The quality of their “dock” sherry and probably their ale didn’t hurt either, surely. The 1893 Tribune story I discussed earlier stated “the deponent [i.e., the reporter] saith not” the meaning of such dock sherry. Gillman knows. It was sherry sent to London from Spain and stored a while in its damp cellars, thus to acquire an ineffable quality.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the website of the Museum of the City of New York, here. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to its owner or authorized users, as applicable. All feedback welcomed


*See Ron Pattinson’s comment below which shows the steinwein was almost certainly not beer. Also, see my next post (dated 5/07/16) where I show that strawberry blonde was probably in fact May wine.





The American “Beefsteak” – a Deeper Look

In my previous post, I suggested that the English Beefsteak Clubs (see the history laid out compactly by Wikipedia here) must have influenced the New York “beefsteak” dinner and creation of New York’s Beefsteak Club. The latter was associated with the Morgue, a 58th Street hall near a liquor store which often hosted beefsteaks in the 1890s.

A beefsteak is an informal, communal dinner, rooted in New York City and adjacent regions from the later-1800s until WW II. It survived in some outlying regions, Passaic, NJ for example, and is now undergoing revival in Manhattan and other cities.

The beefsteak is characterized by serving sliced steak on rounds of bread in basic surroundings with few accompaniments but beer, originally ale, is a sine qua non. 

Earliest accounts explain that men – the affairs were usually male-only until the 1930s – gathered in rude surroundings bereft of cutlery, table and chair, or even napkins. People sat on empty crates or kegs, and ate from the same which were covered with towels; these also served as napkins, in the fashion of some barbeque today.

While all classes of society indulged in beefsteaks, they were often associated with middle- and working class men. Business, historical, or political events provided the backdrop.

Non-meat food was, in principle, minimalist: often just celery or perhaps olives. In practice, a slightly wider range of food could be offered depending on who gave the event. The meat seems to have been, generally, sirloin or sometimes tenderloin, not chops or roasts. These cuts would have facilitated the slicing and serving in canapé form.

Butter was part of it, some accounts say the steaks were dipped in it, some say the bread was.

Sherry figures as an opening drink in some accounts and menus.

Serving lamb or mutton chops at the end of the meal also characterized many beefsteaks, giving rise to japes about “dessert”. One would think continuing volleys of beef on bread would satisfy the carnivorous urge. Yet for those who had stomach-room, a last fusillade from a different-calibre weapon was unleashed.

On Twitter, my attention was directed to an 1896 New York World story which credited the beefsteak phenomenon to a William Anton (Billy) Miller. He was a German immigrant who took over a bar called Shannon’s Corner in the 7th Ward. That area fronted on the East River, the Lower East Side, near docks and butcher shops and meat processing factories. It was not a prosperous district, and saloons and taverns proliferated.

The World story was a detailed look at how Miller cooked steak and states nearby butchers brought him their best cuts to fete their good customers. His particular way of cooking and serving, which had the hallmarks of the later beefsteaks on a smaller scale, became sought-after by a wider public including uptown “parties”.

I found a similar but not identical account in an 1893 New York Tribune story, but here Miller is called John Miller. I’m prepared to overlook the name inconsistency as the accounts otherwise broadly concur. Perhaps John was one of Billy’s sons. A known son, William S., later held beefsteaks in his carpentry shop using his father’s stove. A picture from the Museum of the City of New York’s website, see fourth-to-last image, offers excellent detail on numerous points including the ale, as in this instances glasses were used not pewter or porcelain. The beer is dark with a thin white head.

The 1893 story adds interesting detail on how Miller’s idea spread, involving in part a name well-known to beer fans today – Yuengling.

Did Miller create the beefsteak party and it later became a larger event with its essential features preserved? It is possible, but a couple of points. We have to separate the dinner from a club of the same name. I believe it is unlikely that the albeit loosely-structured Beefsteak Club in the 1897 Tribune story I referenced yesterday was not inspired by the English Beefsteak Club.

Numerous press stories on mid-1800s New York and London clubs mention the London Beefsteak Club. See this detailed account out of Troy, NY,  here. Other press accounts, in New York proper, reference the London Beefsteak Club between 1850 and 1900. None admittedly link it to the New York beefsteak fad, but that isn’t conclusive. For one thing, the world of clubmen and anything coming out of the 7th Ward would not have been connected in stories of this nature.

The point is, the English institution was certainly known in New York, despite the airy statement in the 1893 Tribune account that no such entity existed in Europe. The English club was originally connected to men of the stage. So was New York’s club mentioned. This suggests to me a London influence in the latter’s formation and purpose.

Whether the 58th Street Beefsteak Club created the dinner as a thing is less certain. The fact that two 1890s accounts credit Miller with the idea cannot be easily discounted. Still, I don’t rule out that such accounts are “heroic” in nature. It can surprisingly difficult to trace the origins of a given food or drink even within one generation let alone two. (Who really started the Cosmopolitan, Black IPA, poutine, the smoothie?).

Look at the elements of his meal: sliced steak on bread, sherry, ale, and celery, or it was later grafted on. All are typically British foods and drinks. Why would a typical American, of the lower ranks of society, drink sherry before beer, for example? Why not whiskey, gin, or cocktail? Or nothing?

Miller, a German, took over an English or Irish-sounding bar. The bar may well have served steaks earlier. The history of the porterhouse steak, and the shared English and American love of beef in general, underline the old connection of beef with Anglo-American culture.

Miller may simply have evolved a particularly popular steak dinner vs. the larger, semi-public event associated with the name beefsteak. But even if Miller influenced the later New York beefsteaks, the English elements to my mind, plus the communal/fraternal nature of the beefsteak, point to influence of London’s Beefsteak Club and the British-American chophouse/porterhouse in creating such events in New York.

Perhaps Miller contributed the idea of serving small slices on bread rounds, and eating with hands vs. a sit-down conventional meal. Certainly Stateside, beefsteaks had non-English features but as I said yesterday the core elements of the early-1700s English and later-1800s American meals are the same: beef, bread or potatoes, ale.

That, and the concurrent existence of London and New York beefsteak clubs suggest to me Miller cannot have had a decisive role in this story.

We know today that many iconic American drinks and foods have origins in England. Pulled pork does, the cocktail does, apple pie, bacon and eggs, pork and beans, the southern biscuit.

It is probably the same for the beefsteak-as-quasi-public dinner.

The Museum of the City of New York’s page on beefsteaks is careful to use a qualifying phrase in regard to Miller’s importance, it may be noted. While outlining the known history of his role, it states that “some accounts” indicate he created the beefsteak phenomenon.

But that Miller’s way with steak had some influence on what became an institution in New York, that is possible, yes.

I consulted by the way two (excellent) books on Google Books on the history of eating and restaurants in New York, one by William Grimes. I don’t find they add anything to this discussion.

[A third part to this discussion immediately follows].

Note re images: the first image was sourced at the Museum of the City of New York, here, and the second, from the menu archive of the New York Public Library,, here. Both are used for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to their owners or authorized users, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.







Where’s The Beef? Read On.

That’s A Lot of Meat

In the course of researching my musty ale article, I came across references to such ale served at “beefsteak dinners”. I knew vaguely what these were, as I had read an article in the New York Times some years ago reporting on an annual dinner of that name in New Jersey.

In short, a beefsteak is a communal dinner, informal in nature, originally male-only. Of course beef is the main event. And always, or almost always, beer – not wine, liquor or cocktails – is served. Usually celery or some kind of simple greenery is added. Apart from the bread slices the meat is served on, nothing else need be offered.

If you do a bit of checking on the beefsteak, you will see it has come in for a bit of a revival. This seems to have started in Manhattan, probably due to chefs reading the New York Times or readers encouraging them to recreate the beefsteaks of old New York. Many articles on the revived beefsteak mention an article in 1939 by Joseph Mitchell, of New Yorker fame, who lauded the beefsteak as a symbol of old Manhattan. The onset of the war probably ended any chance of serious revival, and it seems to have disappeared pretty much after Pearl Harbor.

The NYT article noted the earlier history of the beefsteak, which intimately concerns Manhattan, so it was natural to bring it back. This article in the Gloss by Jennifer Wright in 2012 gives the fuller backstory.

And now, there are catering companies who will do a beefsteak for you, not just in New York, but Chicago, L.A., and elsewhere. Some organize annual ticketed affairs for this purpose.

The American beefsteak is a democratic, somewhat anarchic affair at which a W. C. Fields-like Grampian Hills atmosphere prevails, or used to. Based on various reports, it seems beefsteaks today are more sedate in nature, due probably to the (entirely salutary) presence of all genders.

Around 1900, these affairs were mostly middle-class or working class in nature. Many were organized by companies as a gesture to their staff or for long service. Some were typical of fraternal organizations, the Masons, say. Some were political in nature, connected to Tammany Hall.

What are the origins of the beefsteak? This 1897 article in the New York Tribune is a sardonic but inquiring look at the subject. It explains that a place with the unsettling name the Morgue, on West 58th Street, was a stimulus to what had clearly become an institution by the year of writing. The Morgue was a kind of shed near a liquor store (cum saloon?), probably what is today called an event space.

The one pictured above looks similar to the description in the Trib. It may have been the space in question as perhaps Reisen Weber was the saloon’s name. If you read the legend carefully, it seems Mark Twain was feted at the event pictured.

Minimal accoutrements were the order of the day, as you see above although table and chair later became usual.

The Trib explains with dry humour the basic elements of the beefsteak, down to the seasoning used – salt and pepper but also sugar, oddly. It mentions that ale was consumed with the dinner, not a desideratum, but an indispensable matter of first importance. Sadly, the Trib doesn’t inquire as to type or quality but as it noted, the ale was the first thing to go on the “tables”, not the steak, reversing the order the journalist (a bit of a bluenose) thought proper.

The key thing in the story which enables us to know the true origins of the beefsteak is that the Morgue affairs were productions of a Beefsteak Club. And this club, typically American in its acceptance of all and sundry as members (save women), had a predominant element of show people. The New York theatre district was and is nearby, of course.

While the Trib doesn’t say so, it seems obvious the beefsteaks migrated to Tammany and beyond from this hub. And where did Manhattan showmen get the idea to establish a beefsteak club? It had to be from England’s clubs of that name which have precisely the same theatrical origins. Starting about 1700, actors and others associated with the stage chose beef to feature at their entertainments as a symbol of British fraternity and patriotism. The membership quickly became more generalized. While ale and the tavern were central to the clubs’ founding, the social composition was always more elite than was seen in the American version.

Wikipedia gives a well-paced, detailed elucidation of the English Beefsteak clubs. It shows their obvious influence on the American beefsteak events. It notes that steak, potato, porter, and sometimes port were served at the meetings. That port featured in some of the British gatherings underlines that the British clubs were more exclusive. America careened the idea of the beefsteak to its own purposes.

The beefsteak is now being gentrified, which will strike some as an unfortunate irony yet it is simply bringing the thing back to its roots. (Anyway, we don’t see anything wrong with gentrification).

But the core elements of the American beefsteak – some starch, some beef, some beer – remained as in the old sod. Even as held in suburban New Jersey, and be it organized by people with Italian, Slavic, or Irish names, these loadstones, of Albion, remain.

We’ll let the Trib explain the ending of the raucous old American beefsteak, to serve as our ending:

The cook goes on cooking as long as he thinks that anybody can be induced to eat steaks. After that he broils a few lamb chops, which are served for dessert. The dinner ends with these, unless there is still some ale left which somebody wants to finish up. After the dinner the guests may entertain one another, if they feel like entertaining, or there may be speaking, if anybody is still able to speak. The safest way, if entertainment is desired, is to hire performers for it who do not join in the dinner.

[See Part II, entitled The American “Beefsteak” – a Deeper Look, here].

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Brooklyn Beefsteak website, here. It is used for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein or thereto belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.

A Creole Dinner Makes a Splash

Foretelling the Future of Culinary America

The inaugural dinner of the Baltimore Wine and Food Society (the Society) was held at the tony Belvedere-Sheraton in May, 1947. The hotel, a Baltimore landmark, is still very much in business, known now (as originally) as the Belvedere.*

Perhaps appropriately for a regionally-based society, it offered up a program of regional food. Not Baltimore’s or the Eastern Shore’s, but the Creole cuisine of New Orleans. Here is the menu, another of the group preserved in the records of the Enoch Pratt Library donated with other materials by the Society.

The Society’s major domo was Frederick P. Stieff, from a prosperous German-American family who made their money in pianos. He was an interesting and influential figure in the American culinary renaissance ongoing since the end of Prohibition. More on him soon.

1947 is not long after World War II. America was opening the door again to matters of sensual enjoyment. The consumer society had, and does still, many strata. At a rarefied level of the food and drink world, a conscious effort was being made to find or rediscover things that were not just good, but interesting of themselves, culturally that is.  This trend later broadened through society to the point where we have national bake-offs and other popular food shows and celebrity chefs/guides like Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain.

Small groups always get the ball rolling whether for music, fashion, or any other aspect of culture. Elite groups used to set the tone, but one difference from ’47 is that popular culture has more of an impact now, maybe a deciding one. The influences are always blended though.

One has to say that the Society hit it out of the park with this dinner. All notes struck were correct. The dinner itself seems drawn from the most authentic sources – redfish court bouillon, sweetbreads, Jambalaya, cherries jubilee, and more. It was presented by New Orleans native Ednard Waldo, an author and ethnographer who wrote on fish and game of his state, cookery, and travel.

The menu contains a detailed recipe for each dish, in some cases drawn from a published cookbook.

There was an enviable list of drinks served. It probably reflected the kind of wine service, or in part, seen in New Orleans traditional restaurants such as Antoine’s. To open proceedings the Sazerac cocktail was served, made with Park & Tilford rye whiskey. Park & Tilford was a carriage trade supplier, not a crowded segment at the time. Whiskey hadn’t quite shed its roughhouse image from the 1800s or the illicit aura of recently-ended prohibition.

Park & Tilford whiskey can also be found on a 1940s tasting menu of the New York Wine and Food Society, used in that case for eggnog. But in general, the appearance of America’s native spirit was rare at gastronomic events until fairly recently.

The Sazerac recipe is very precise. The writer explains that a twist of lemon, used in a way to inject the oils of the skin (vs. the pith), lends a keynote to the drink. It is stated too that absinthe must be used – of course it is traditional in this cocktail but had been illegal in the U.S. since the early 1900s.

Perhaps a well-stocked cellar of a grandee in the Society supplied a bottle from before the ban, or a substitute was used such as Pernod, a pastis.

I’ve written earlier on these pages that another pioneering epicurean group, the New York-based Gourmet Society, held a New Orleans dinner, in this case about seven years earlier. There are some parallels between the dinners. Louisiana orange wine, which I discussed in that post, was served at both.

The wines at the Society’s 1947 dinner were a fascinating international selection: E & K Ohio sherry, Paul Masson California champagne, a 1929 Musigny (Burgundy), Chilean chablis. Once again it must have been felt that regional, including American, wines suited a New World dinner. While American wines were represented occasionally in gastronomic events from the 1930s-1970s, they didn’t usually receive marquee treatment. But the attention given them slowly grew over the years, which helped to introduce the wines to a wider public.

The wines are not described in notes as for the Society’s 1948 wine tasting I discussed a few days ago. The inaugural event was primarily a dinner, evidently.

Maybe space limitations precluded adding wine notes to the program, which was designed and printed with a high degree of quality.

Of the “world” cuisines which found favour with early gastronomic societies, Creole food was of the select group. It captured the imagination of those who knew New Orleans, which then and still to a degree had a foreign character in America. Chinese cuisines often figured as well, from Sichuan, say. This was the beginning of the trend away from the generic Chinese-American food that had emerged in the wake of the first Chinese immigrations.

Do you want to know what a ’29 Musigny was like? Well, this review from only two years ago may help you, from Steen Öhman. Of course his sample was a little older. 69 years older. Still, a good idea is given of the palate, Hermitage-free in this period it seems.

(I’ll have to remember that term sous bois he used, I’ve had a few beers like that although in that case the effect was not appreciated. Hence perhaps one of the differences of malt and grape tasting? But I’m sure it is more complicated than that).

The 1947 dinner of the Society struck the perfect balance of modernity and hallowed tradition. In style and presentation, the dinner was within the range of traditional gastronomy. But the food and many of the drinks served foretold more the shape of things to come.

The dinner, perhaps simplified a bit, would be very nice to serve today. Most of the wines, or close enough, could be found. I’m not sure about Louisiana orange wine though. If necessary we could make our own, recipes date to Regency times and probably earlier, it’s one of those recipes that emerged with Colonial expansion by European powers. Some are spiced and sound like citrus fruit versions of meads or spiced ales. I’m in.


*See comment below from Greg who states building is now a condominium but with some services open to the public.