Early Labatt Lager Brewings, 1911

Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News kindly mentioned to me recently that University of Western Ontario (in London) has launched an online archive of material from the Labatt Collection. Included are images, documents, audio-visual materials and more from the storied 170-year history of Labatt Breweries, now a unit of AB In Bev.

I haven’t had a chance to look in-depth at the material and will be away for the next few days, but did notice this two-page tabular summary of data from a series of lager brewings in 1911-1912. The “Brewer’s Book” containing the data is dated per the archive “1917” but the brewings clearly occurred in 1911-1912.

In fact, Labatt first produced lager in 1911, relatively late for Ontario breweries, see confirmation here in an architectural history of London and area, so these brewings appear to be the first it did in bottom-fermentation at least for commercial production.

Hano Gersiter (sp.?) is stated in the Brewers Book as having arrived in London April 5, 1911, work then starting, with the first brew being no. 8 on April 20.

Was this a visitor, perhaps a European, helping to start lager-brewing for Labatt? Gerste means barley too in German, is it a reference to barley for lager malt arriving? I can’t decipher this at the moment.*

The summaries confirm a number of things of interest: quantity of malt used, origin and amount of hops (a mix of British Columbian and Bohemian), starting and finishing gravities, yeast quantities, mashing, pitching and other temperatures, number of barrels fermented and then racked, etc.

I get in excess of 1 lb hops per racked barrel, consistent with other data I’ve seen in the previous 30 years. Quite impressive by today’s standards even for craft lager, as e.g., Sam Adams Boston Lager uses approximately that amount.

And the brews seem all-malt as well.

B.C. produced hops for Canadian beer into the 1940s at least, it supplied some I know as well for National Breweries Limited in Quebec in the 1930s and 40s.

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*In fact it is barley for malting, see Doug Warren’s remarks in the comments.

The Jewish Food I Knew

Five Types of Jewish Restaurant in Mid-20th Century Montreal

 

I was examining wartime-era Manhattan menus in the New York Public Library’s menu archive at nypl.org to get a sense of how European wines were treated. For example, was Champagne still sold, other French wine, even German wine, etc.? In the course of this perusal I came across a menu of Gluckstern’s Roumanian Restaurant.

It was pertinent to my interest but largely resonated for different reasons, as detailed below. (Please note all menu extracts herein are courtesy the New York Public Library at the web address mentioned).

Gluckstern’s was a kosher Jewish eatery on the Lower East Side, founded in the first years of the 20th century and expiring in the 1960s. Two restaurants with a somewhat similar menu were established Midtown in the 1950s by one of the founders’ sons. These satellites, so to speak, carried the flag for the Gluckstern style for some years after the first restaurant closed but no restaurant with the Gluckstern name, certainly, survives in New York today.

In Montreal when I grew up in the 1950s and 60s there was the “Roumanian steakhouse” – similar to Gluckstern’s for the steak side of its menu. One was Schneider’s, on Decarie Boulevard. When I examined at the 1943 Gluckstern menu, it recalled for me many items on the Schneider’s menu.

The broiled meats were similar including Romanian karnatzlach. This was a skinless beef sausage in which garlic played, shall we say, a defining role. I liked also the mixed grill, a selection of charcoal-broiled meats. There was a lamb chop, karnatzlach, crusty sweetbreads, and a rib-eye, the heart of the rib steak. The latter is cut from the rib roast but in Montreal is charcoal-broiled, and still a specialty there.

In the mixed grill a slice of liver sometimes substituted for the sweetbreads.

These platters came with french fries or a baked potato. On the table were cole slaw and pickles, plus rolls and the Jewish bread, chala. In Montreal pickled tomatoes were part of the pickles selection at some restaurants, I think at Schneider’s, too.

There were Jewish steakhouses that didn’t advertise as “Roumanian” but the menus were broadly the same. Moishes is the last one in Montreal and still popular. In fact, I’m sure it attracts more Gentiles than Jews today.

Schwartz’, the famous smoked meat (pastrami-style) delicatessen, always served a rib steak char-broiled. It came on a grainy wood plate until city health authorities banned the trencher on grounds of alleged health risk from lurking bacteria.

Schneider’s, being a suburban, middle-class restaurant but also at its core a steakhouse, did not carry as many general food offerings as Gluckstern’s. Schneider’s did not carry roast veal, roast chicken or duck, or stuffed derma, for example. These were available in Montreal then, but in a different kind of Jewish restaurant.

So now I should say, I recall five types of Jewish restaurant: first, but almost least important, the delicatessen with its corned beef, chopped liver, cole slaw, and chips. Second, the steakhouse, with a possible sub-division for the Roumanian iteration. Third, the non-steakhouse family-style cuisine where roasts, boiled meats, soups, certain fish, carrot and noodle puddings, strudels, and other dishes of Jewish Mitteleuropa were available: home cooking to eat out, in a word.

Last, there was the dairy restaurant, or milchig. This was for cheese and potato blintzes, kasha and bow ties (buckwheat groats with pasta), knishes, smoked salmon, herrings in various styles, carp, whitefish, soups (especially borsht), sour cream, cottage and cream cheese, salads, eggs, bagels, rye bread. Later, one saw hummus and similar Middle East specialties but not when I grew up, that came in later under influence of incoming Sephards from Morocco or Egypt, say.

There was some crossover in these restaurants as chopped liver, say, could feature at any of them except for milchig eating and even even a “mock” version, or vegetarian, might be available. Some of these were quite good but vegans will forgive me for borrowing the old saw from the Prohibition era in America: he who dubbed non-alcohol beer “near beer” was a poor judge of distance (Will Rogers, I think).

Of these restaurant types only the delicatessen still has a real footprint. The full-scale dairy restaurant barely exists in Montreal or Toronto, there are one or two perhaps unless I’ve been unlucky in finding more. The ubiquitous bagel shop is a kind of watered-down version, but we must be satisfied with it unless a young entrepreneur thinks of setting up a dairy restaurant in the old style instead of a tapas place or whatever is currently fashionable in New York or London.

The family-style eateries are all gone, unless perhaps the Orthodox community runs one, I should look into this. The Roumanian-denominated steakhouses are gone in Canada. A few un-hyphenated Jewish steakhouses continue here and there, Moishes is the most authentic in Montreal.

The Jewish steakhouse has tended to merge with the steakhouse of the general community, but at one time was separate due to kosher service and offering perhaps ethnic dishes apart from the steak selection. As well, most steakhouses today offer seafood but the old Jewish steakhouse, never.

Why did we patronize the Roumanian steakhouse? Part of my ancestry is from Romania, they were artisans in tailoring who lived outside of Bucharest. I grew up with some of the typical foods, mamaliga, say: cornmeal mush and eaten hot or cold. And certain eggplant dishes.

Mamaliga was served, always warm as I recall, in the dairy restaurant with a chalky cottage cheese or with sour cream.

I don’t remember it with meat but know some people used it that way.

Of course, much of the Jewish food I knew was common to the Diaspora, or close enough. At least for European Jews that was so, we did not know the Sephardic side when I grew up, even after the Middle East influx was well underway.

First, the communities were rather separate initially. The Sephards spoke great French and we, in the main, not so much. And the rites were somewhat different, too. I don’t recall much intermarriage, so to speak, but that changed by the later 1970s.

The other part of my family was from Grodno or other towns in what is now western Russia. In Grodno, half the population in 1905 was Jewish but they wanted to get out due to the onerous military draft and recurring pogroms. My people got out before WW I and came to Montreal. The Romanian side came around 1905.

I used to ask my grandmother what she remembered in Grodno, she said the parks, she loved the parks as a toddler.

You can see pictures of the green spaces and trees in online views of Grodno, they’re still there. One day I’ll visit, Bucharest too.

I did visit other eastern European countries once and despite the dolorous history of the Jews there, I felt rather at home; something seemed oddly familiar. It wasn’t just the food and drink (instant rapport!) but … everything. Something lingers in the folk memory, especially with us, famously with us.

So all this came to mind when I read the Gluckstern menu of 1943. That was a very bad year for the Jews except in blessed America, blessed Canada, and blessed Britain. And a few other places Jews could live without a dagger over their hearts, Palestine too although it was much harder there than here or in Britain, and still can be.

Where was I … the wines of the war era.

Numerous wines on the Gluckstern menu were American, e.g., Cresta Blanca, with some offerings  identified simply by varietal or place name: Tokay, Sauterne, Burgundy. No Riesling though.

There were a few selections from Palestine, and tucked away in that section, wines apparently Italian and French such as Chianti, or B&G which must have been Barton & Guestier, the famous French shipper. These must have been pre-war stock and it was probably considered acceptable in New York to sell them off.

In this vein a few Cognacs were offered. Although, if Gluckstern’s knew what the French police did to Jews at Drancy in 1941-1942 I’d guess they’d have tossed them and the B&Gs in the trash.

But anyway, wine is an afterthought in restaurants like this, beer too although I’m glad to note they had Guinness, the only beer identified by brand name. That would have been Foreign Extra Stout, all-malt, long-matured, and non-pasteurized. They had good taste at Gluckstern, as if the appetizing menu left any doubt on that, and it extended to beer.

Hard spirits was more in tune with the steakhouse ethos, especially vodka, or slivovitz, the plum brandy. Whisky too, and there are some good ones on the menu from the main whisky countries.

And of course a lot of families drank tea or soda pop. Drink is not for everyone, nor should it be.

Net-net, Schneider’s mixed grill and Gluckstern’s selections were an apotheosis for the carnivorous genre.

Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse in New York is the last of its type probably in North America. I went there once, it was fun. It’s a bit hammy (sorry) when the dancing in the centre gets going and the vodka bottle encased in ice blocks is kind of corny, but we enjoyed it.

I really want to go back to Schneider’s though, or Gluckstern’s.

N.B. This article deals with restaurant eating as the food we ate at home was largely North American except for no pork. Even the bagel was only an occasional treat. We ate sliced Weston bread for toast and sandwiches, and I still like a good commercial brand. We had chala too of course, usually Friday. Chala ranks up there among the breads, and the Jewish rye too, but it’s rare to get them with the richness I remember. Also of course we had the holiday foods such as unleavened bread or matzah, and latkes (potato pancakes). Still, I’d estimate 90% of the meals throughout the year were typically North American: burgers, spaghetti, stews, chicken, Swanson dinners, chops, roasts, omelettes, tinned vegetables, sweet corn in summer, salads. I am speaking here of my own experience, of course.

Note re images: the menu images above were sourced from the original menu linked in the text from the New York Public Library. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

A Champagne New Year’s Eve, 1942

New York Celebrates Under Unusual Circumstances

I was discussing wartime menus of the Wine and Food Society of New York recently. In those posts, I reviewed menus that suggested once war was afoot the Society avoided presenting German and Italian wines. After France was fully occupied in the fall of 1940 French wines also disappeared from the menus.

There was the odd exception of a minor nature, I gave some examples.

The Society’s events were held at prime New York hotels and the Waldorf-Astoria was a favourite venue, indeed into the 1970s at least.

And so, it occurred to me perhaps this policy was as much or more inspired by the hotels themselves. While I have not examined early-1940s New York wine lists in any detail, I did uncover this gem – certainly in graphic design – from the Waldorf proper – no involvement by the Society, that is.

The menu is dated December 31, 1942, it was a New Year’s Eve supper with music.

The full item can be read here, from the archives of The Culinary Institute of America, accessible via the estimable website of Hudson River Valley Heritage.

It was held, not in the Grand Ballroom where Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians serenaded on New Year’s for many years, but in the Waldorf’s Lounge, later known as the Bull and Bear bar and steak restaurant.

The menu was rather restrained and informal, but I am not certain if war conditions imposed this. Such entertainments were often held late in the evening. As the meal was a second or late dinner for many, maybe the practice was to offer a light, home-style meal, even pre-war that is.

Certainly the Champagne list is luxurious and heavily French. There are a total of 22 Champagnes, and 10 domestic sparklers.

Indeed the champers are weighted to vintage bottlings (the wine of the named year’s harvest only, not a blending of different years), with prices to match. Domestic sparklers came from different regions including New Jersey’s Renault, still going strong and profiled some time ago in these pages.

The shimmering cover conveys both Waldorf elegance and an atypical atmosphere through the lady toasting the uniformed figure. He could be an officer in the armed services, but his image also suggests to me a service employee such as a doorman, bellman, chauffeur, even a policeman.

My sense is the designer wanted to be inclusive of all of them, indeed of all civilians in blue collar. They were doing their part for the war effort, but on the home front.

The menu, striking cover and all, is a curio that demonstrates civilized life carried on in the U.S., probably to a greater degree than for the other Allied nations. This was not due to any unique insouciance of U.S. society. The U.S., and Canada, suffered great losses fighting Hitler albeit not on the scale of Russia or Britain.

I attribute the indulgence in Champagne to the fact that the U.S. was wealthy: if it could drink good wine of the type traditional for New Year’s Eve, it would.

Wine writer Michael Broadbent has written (see p. 427) that despite fine postwar French vintages for Champagne, especially 1945 and 1947, the wines when arrived in London had a hard time of it. The reason was, there was plenty of prewar stock to use up first!

So the intuitive notion that prewar French wine in London and New York was exhausted by 1945 was not the case for London certainly, and we see here an example for New York, part-way through the war. I’m not sure about German wines though, I’d guess the Waldorf did not serve these in the war years, but would need to check.

The eschewing of wines from Axis countries or nations under their yoke for Wine and Food Society events in 1940-1945 seems therefore the policy of the Society. Commendable it was, too. Apart from the ethics of it, the forays that resulted in domestic and non-Axis international wines showed New York epicures new vinous horizons.

This reverberated in the postwar period, delayed though some of the effects were. Necessity is the mother, not just of invention, but of enduring social and cultural change.

I’ll try to look further into what New York and London hotels offered by way of wine in the early 1940s.

Note re images: the original 1942 menu, linked in the text from the Culinary Institute of America, is the source for the three images above. All intellectual property in the menu belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

An English Brewery Product Guide, 1850

An obscure brewery publication from 1850, The Proprietors of the Swan Brewery, etc., offers real insight on contemporary English beer styles in point of flavour (viewed as body or richness), aging, and strength, from a consumer standpoint.

This pamphlet, from Swan Brewery in Walham Green, Fulham has been examined (to our knowledge) only on a couple of occasions. Once by Alfred Barnard who printed the front page in his Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland (1891) and referred to it as a price list.

Another notice was by Rob Woolley who authored an article some years ago in issue no. 126 of Brewery History, available here.

Barnard does not address Swan Brewery’s trade designations. Woolley recounts some of the styles and prices but does not go further: his focus is elsewhere and includes brewing procedures and the impact of contemporary science (which may be summed up as, almost nil!).

The pamphlet’s descriptions for its range of beers are compelling as nothing similar exists in brewery historical literature that we are aware of. Countless Victorian advertisements contain terms such as X, XX, Pale Ale, and their prices. Brewing texts and journal articles of the era contain similar information, in more summary or fragmented form.

Swan Brewery’s promotional literature reveals early marketing skill, Crawford agency-style before its time, especially in the bucolic artwork and lyrical-poetic content. But the document was still a sales tool and includes a serial description of the beers, like a modern pocket handbook guide.

It was designed for wholesalers, public houses and hotels, and probably too home purchasers, with something extra to entertain or instruct.

The key part is the statement that each class of beers, mild, pale, black, is distinguished by a gradation of strength, body and (especially) age.

While AK, which I discussed recently, is not mentioned, XK is. Its place in the schema is a mid-point between IPA and pale ale, not just for price and strength but especially again for aging, which gives a clue to the respective character. For example, quite possibly the oldest, IPA, had the Brett tang while pale ale and XK did not, or more oxidative notes.

Perhaps Swan XK was simply a blend of the pale ale and IPA, or, all three were the result of three successive mashes blended to a set gravity for fermentation. It could have been either but clearly XK received a mid-point of aging. Perhaps the range was something like two months for pale ale, four months for XK, and 12 months plus for IPA.

The pamphlet supports the meaning of the “K” in XK and AK as keeping as it states all the pale beer range was aged, however short that was for some (in other words), or later became. Brewing history writers have suggested various alternate explanations for the K, but in my view the statement in the pamphlet that pale ale, XK, and IPA “differ only in the degree of strength and age” (my emphasis) suggests K has to mean keeping.

I should add, there was no need to refer to “keeping” in the designations for pale ale and India Pale Ale. By definition these were stored beers for much of their history and universally understood as such. But to describe the intermediate strengths, what do you say?

It’s the same thing inferentially for AK, a light bitter. Had Swan produced a AK it would have come first in the schema. (I believe, and have argued elsewhere, the A meant ale).

Of course, terminology was never statutory or otherwise precise. Hence, some breweries termed their range from weaker to stronger: AK, pale ale, IPA, or AK, AKK, Pale Ale, IPA,  EIPA, etc. The variations are on record but the important thing is that an aging progression was in place. It’s not just for strength, which can be deduced from a study of contemporary brewing records.

There are other points of interest in the pamphlet including the speculation that hop use in England is German in origin and goes well back in time, before Henry VIII.

The lyrical evocation of the Kentish commons and hop fields should form part of the English pastoral, and is a pleasure to read. What better term than “practical poetry” to describe an immersion in the English vales at harvest time?

Rob Woolley’s useful article contains an oddity to my mind in that part of the discussion revolves around the date of the publication. He concludes it was about 1850.

However, the pamphlet appears to state clearly the date of publication as you see above – 1850 in fact.

I think the answer is, Woolley states the pamphlet was “tiny”, only 3 1/2″ x 6 1/2″. The 1850 date at the bottom of the page was probably unreadable to the human eye or rubbed out in the copy he used. The volume on Google Books would have been magnified for uploading and looks in that form as a normal folio, more or less.

What happened to Swan Brewery? To make a long story short the brewery had a succession of owners in the 1800s. It was rebuilt in the 1880s near the original location by the Stansfeld investment firm which owned the share capital then. That firm later leased the brewery to the City Brewery, an old concern in the City, which needed more space.

In 1934, Ind Coope of Burton merged with Allsopp Brewery, and in ’36 the merged group bought Swan Brewery and closed it.

Note re source of images: the four images above were sourced from the 1850 publication linked from Google Books in the text. All property in the source belongs to solely to the lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

Beer at Montreal’s Expo ’67

I grew up in Montreal and was 17 when “Expo 67” started. I have spoken frequently of international expositions held since the mid-1800s, in connection with alcoholic beverage that is. Most recently I was writing of British beer at New York’s two world fairs, in 1939 and 1964, but Montreal’s exposition in 1967 should not be omitted.

Its full title, in grand Victorian style, was the 1967 Universal and International Exposition, part of a series running since the early 1800s. The nickname Expo 67 caught on early.

The theme of Expo 67 was Man and His World (Terre Des Hommes), which provided a striking sub-title.

The hosting by Montreal of an international exposition was a landmark in its history and indeed for Canada in general. Expo 67 is well-remembered and is occasionally commemorated in museum and other exhibits. A museum in Montreal, the McCord, just held a retrospective on fashion and clothing design at the Expo.

Expo 67 was held on a number of islands in the St. Lawrence River, the main one was St. Helen’s Island. They were reached from Montreal by its new rubber-wheeled subway. I visited over the summer a number of times but as it is 50 years ago, I can barely remember the exhibits. I know I saw the Biosphere – Buckminster’s Fuller’s geodesic dome – and some of the other national pavilions.

There were also many themed and private pavilions at the Expo.

Some expositions exercise an enduring cultural and other influence on the host countries and beyond; Expo 67 did that for Canada, certainly. An example of concurrent international influence was the Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie’s layered, irregular-shape apartment complex, Habitat, intended as permanent and a luxe habitation today.

Britain built a pavilion in the white “brutalist” style then popular, and Whitbread’s Bulldog Pub was part of it. Whitbread pale ale and Mackeson stout were some of the offerings. The Bulldog used a gable roof design as the pub in New York did only three years earlier but intentionally or otherwise also resembles a Quebec chalet. You see buildings like the one below everywhere in the wintering and summering parts of the Province, the look is still chic.

Each pavilion had an eating place and many featured beers of distinction from the exhibiting countries.

To give a flavour of the culinary offerings at Expo, this extract from a contemporary Canadian article, “The Wondrous Fair”, is helpful (and surprisingly modern in style – except the prices). The author was Frank Rasky:

If your taste runs to unorthodox soup, I’d recommend the 50 cent plate of black bean Habanera, which is accurately described by maître d’ Isadoro Arditti of Cuba’s cha cha restaurant as “fiery as our tropical sun.”

….

I had an equivalent hair-raising experience at the Moskva, the 1,000-seat restaurant in the Russian pavilion that looks massive enough to be a rocket-launching pad. I ordered a plate of Ukrainian borsch, (85 cents), and three Russian bliny ($1.10).

It was disappointing all around. The service was terrible. I had to wait three-quarters of an hour, meanwhile listening to a musician strum his balalaika to interminable, melancholy variations of the Volga Boat Song.

When my order did arrive, my overly-garlicked borsch was not half as tasty as the sweet cabbage soup my Russian grandmother used to make. And the buckwheat pancakes, I thought, would have tasted better with maple syrup rather than with their heavy garnish of sour cream.

I tried to drown my sorrow by asking the bar captain to mix me the strongest vodka drink the Russians had in stock. He turned out to be a vodka connoisseur with the highly unSlavic name of Eddy Sullivan – an Irishman from San Antonio, Texas, who worked for the French-Canadian Québec Sports Service. He poured me out a 75 proof shot of Moscow Starka ($1.50 plus 12 cents tax), which was scarlet-colored instead of the white vodka we are accustomed to. A wow of a drink.

For good measure, he also offered me a 10-year-old Russian brandy called Sturnik ($2 plus 16 cents tax). I was astonished to find it smoother and mellower than the finest French cognac, and it packed the wallop of a Molotov cocktail as well. I left the Soviet pavilion glowing with international amity and resisting the impulse to spring into a Cossack sabre dance.

Among other morsels I hugely enjoyed were: the roget rensdyr, or smoked reindeer, at the Scandinavian Midnight Sun snack bar ($2 a helping, a little gamey, but piquant when served with asparagus on a Danish smoerrebroed open-faced sandwich); the thick-crusted kirshwasser wine tart for 90 cents at the Swiss grotto and the paper-thin-crusted apfelstrudel for 65 cents at the Vienna Woods cafe; a mouth-watering crêpe Normande at Belgium’s Le Bruxelles restaurant (a $1.75 apple pancake soaked in brandy and caramel); and Israel’s kosher marriage with the Arabs – a $1.15 plate of falafel (Arabic beans ground into a savory dip) served with pita bread (a crusty pocket of baked dough).

By and large, imported beer is costly, but the cosy atmosphere of the beer gardens helps make up for the steep tariff. At Whitbread’s Bulldog Pub, you pay $1.08 for a pint of good Mackeson stout and $2.43 for a Melton Mowbray pork pie with potato salad and a roll.

At the Löwenbrau München Bavarian restaurant in La Ronde, it seems exorbitant to pay $1.08 for a small stein of beer, half of it foam. Yet it’s entertaining to listen to the brassy Munich band blare out a polka and to watch the waitresses in short dirndl skirts and Alpine hats dart about with their $3.92 plates of salad and wiener schnitzel.

 

At 17, I did not drink as yet but as I’m writing this, I have a distinct recollection of gurgling down some Montreal ale from bottles I or a friend – probably I – brought with our lunch to eat at Expo. There were areas to picnic and I think we chose a secluded lawn to catch a nip with our sandwich.

Beer got a star billing at Expo in the form of the Brewers’ Pavilion, a project of the Canadian Brewers Association (now Beer Canada) that showcased the industry. The pavilion had a hall with historical and production exhibits. There was a sizeable puppet theatre, where kids could be lodged while parents diverted themselves in their way, and also a large restaurant called La Brasserie.

Sadly I didn’t visit the pavilion, or have no recollection if I did. Reports today state some 60 beers were offered from across Canada, bottled and draft, at the restaurant. Note the stylized barrel design of the rotundas.

Departing visitors were given a souvenir brochure that outlined the importance of the industry in Canada and contained numerous beer-and-food recipes and hosting suggestions. The document was issued both in English and French but I could only find the French version online. Two extracts appear herein including the title page.

The document was stylishly produced with striking, gaily-coloured illustrations. The images combine urban chic with the informality of active lifestyles. The pictures capture the spirit of those days.

I should add French Canada itself had a kind of international début at Expo, it was a chance to show the world how French-speakers were part of the urban and industrial mainstream. Earlier in Quebec history the province tended to be withdrawn, a defence strategy that allowed French-speaking life to survive in a sea of anglophone culture.

The introversion showed in politics, at times right-wing and reactionary, and in what many felt was excessive domination by the clergy. There was also a strong focus on the professions, the church and teaching as careers versus full participation in modern economic life.

By 1967, the long domination by Anglophones in commerce started to wane and Expo 67 showed the world French Canada could take its full place in contemporary urban society. (Incidentally as I write Conrad Black reports in the National Post that Quebec, after a long period of relative decline in part due to post-1960s separatist agitation, has the fastest growing economy in Canada).

From a beer standpoint, the 1967 industry document is rather astonishing in that it virtually has nothing to say about beer itself, as a drink that is, its styles, its taste. Almost nothing. The product is treated as completely generic. Once or twice it is stated that beer is either lager or ale, with the implication the difference is hardly relevant.

Only once* is another beer style mentioned, porter, and not even to drink but as an ingredient in the Québecois dish fèves au lard, or beans and bacon. The lengthy document never states what porter is or shows an image. If I recall correctly, it does not discuss hops either, barley is mentioned once or twice.

To some degree this is understandable as the document was a joint industry effort. Still, the lack of emphasis on the sensory qualities of beer and the different types – beer qua beer – is étonnant.

In the next 50 years beer would return to its roots as a distinctive product of gastronomy with a renewed focus on its history, national styles, and highways and byways of flavour.

Of course, earlier in Quebec history a much fuller gamut of flavours was in the market: different kinds of ale, different kinds of lager, different kinds of black beer. But that older tradition had withered with increasing consolidation of the industry and uniformity in the product. That has since been completely reversed and then some.

Still, the 1967 recipes and industry snapshot are interesting to read and most of the recipes look very good. Many are of traditional Quebec foods where it was felt beer could add an élan, some are clearly of international inspiration.

The drink called “bul” is interesting. I have a recollection of an old English compound of some kind being called bull but couldn’t find an example of it elsewhere**. (It would surprise me if that drink in turn doesn’t have something to do with the Red Bull beverage).

Bull may have been one of those old English mixtures, like shandy-gaff, dog’s nose and so forth. A number of foods and drinks which pop up as French-Canadian after WW II are really English colonial in origin.

Indeed the beans and bacon recipe seems of this character vs. old French:

The first recipe above would serve as a good vegetarian main course today if the sugar was lightened considerably and another vegetable or two added. I’d mix sweet potato with the white, as well.

In a subsequent post I’ll look further at the 1967 recipes and the Brewers Pavilion.

Note re website sources of images: the first and second images were sourced here (U.K. National Archives) and here (Canadian Press site), respectively. The third image was sourced here (City of Montreal Archives), and the fourth here (from Beer Canada’s website). The last and third-to-last were sourced from the 1967 brewers’ publication (of what is now Beer Canada) linked in the text. The second-to-last image, of the Whitbread Tankard, a commemorative item from the Expo ’67 fair, was sourced from the e-commerce website Etsy, hereAll intellectual property in the images belongs to solely to their lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Porter is mentioned also (I later noted) in the section on different mixtures for drinks: beer cocktails and similar. Stout is mentioned too in the same connection. But no taste description of these beers or production details are given. These products had of course significantly declined in sales by 1967, but still, information on classic beer styles should have been offered, IMO.

**I later found the references in question, see in the Comments section below on this point.

The British (Beer) Invasion, 1964

The 1964 New York World’s Fair featured a pub at the British pavilion called the British Lion, pictured here.

The name is apt: the Lion (not exclusively of course) is a potent symbol of British nationhood, Anglo-Saxon ethnicity and Judeo-Christian belief. Britishness has evolved since the 1960s but Lion rampant would have suggested these ideas internationally 60 years ago.

Indeed the Red Lion remains Britain’s most popular pub sign.

What was Britain’s pub called at the 1939 New York World’s Fair? There wasn’t one.

Instead, the “British Buttery and Restaurant” was built. You can read its elaborate menu in a scholarly archive, here. The term buttery in this context means larder or storehouse for ale or wine, originally.

Buttery is an obsolete term, and probably was in the 1930s, but was useful as an “olde Englyyshe” expression.

Also, since Prohibition had ended a mere six years earlier a euphemistic term was probably felt necessary to describe the part of an English eating place to get a drink.

By 1964 all such considerations were passé and so the British Lion public house stood proudly in its mock-Tudor and thatching.

A website on the 1964 World’s Fair, from which the image above was selected, sets out this explanation of the pub’s mission, taken from a 1964 information release:

The British Lion Pub is a careful reproduction of the popular British half-timbered gable roofed Tudor Inn. Inside, the dining room offers a substantial British and American menu at moderate prices. The walls of the dining room are lined with attractively displayed products of the British Isles and the bar in an adjoining room is stocked with the customary American beverages as well as British beers and ales. The atmosphere is traditional, comfortable and English down to the heavy oak bar and the dart board. Outside is a large terrace with gaily colored umbrellas, tables and chairs for eating from the reasonably priced outdoor food and counter bar. Also an English shop with quality imported souvenirs is on the ground.

To our mind, the building connotes 1600s England, 1950s rec room, and 1960s church design, but it must be remembered all such buildings were meant as temporary. Even with the most authentic features they were always a compromise – any such effort is really.

Hopefully, the effort did convey some aspects of the English public house to an American public eager for new experiences.

We won’t review the food side of the menu but do note that some dishes in the 1964 menu were clearly taken from the 1939 menu, the curried meat and rice dish is one, Chicken a la King another.

The Chicken a la King inclusion is probably a culinary-cultural in-joke, get it?

In 1939 only two British beers featured, both in bottle, Bass pale ale and Guinness stout.

In 1964, the then powerful, if not always loved, Watney brewing empire dominated the beer selection. The listing included taste notes presented seriatum, as you would read in a modern beer handbook.

Taste descriptions were rare for beer before the mid-1970s. Menus might describe wines that way but rarely beer. The other day I discussed a menu from the same era, from Wursthaus in Cambridge, Mass. It set out taste notes and comments on the wines, none for the beers.

For Americans in the 1960s beer meant pale, light, cold, and fizzy. The restaurant operator probably thought more information was needed to explain beers that would otherwise confound the fancier of Schlitz or Schaefer. (For mid-1800s Manhattan such explanations would have been unnecessary, but that was then).

I like the way the two stouts are contrasted: both are “rich and dark” but one has a touch of bitter, one a touch of sweet. In this way they sound almost as two peas in a pod. Quite apt as Irish and English stout are just about the same thing.

Red Barrel was later a contentious beer in English beer mythology. Here it sounds pretty good: “smooth” yet “pleasantly bitter”, and tawny in colour. Colour in brewing often impacts flavour, not just aesthetics. Red Barrel in this period was almost all-malt too, so what’s not to like.

The Stingo was a dark barley wine or strong ale, the old Burton type if not a literal example. I probably had a couple in the 70s and 80s. In fact I had a beer of this style yesterday at Cask Days’ beer festival in Toronto, made in Maine but enviably British in character: malty, fruity, rounded and about 11% ABV. A Burgundy of beer.

If that Stingo came close, the fairgoers in ’64 were lucky.

Watney lager was clearly blonde but what was Export Dark? I can’t recall a Watney beer with that name, domestically I mean. Maybe it was a dark lager.

At first I thought it was really Watneys Milk Stout or Cream Stout, but Watney already had a stout in the list. Unless it had two, one with the lactose, one without.

These beers would have impressed the New Yorkers. British was in anyway, The Beatles, Bond, Barstow. Why not add Bitter, for an alliterative jamboree.

Speaking of A Kind of Loving, English sweet stout seems to be on the comeback trail, there were a few in the 400+ line-up at Cask Days. Also, down the road from craft beer shrines Birreria Volo and Foley’s in Toronto is the Caledonian Scottish pub. Its beer list has numerous old-school favourites that make it a modern counterpart to the British beers at the 1964 World’s Fair.

The Caledonian has Tennant’s Stout currently, Sweetheart Stout back in Scotland I think it was.

New and old schools exist side-by-side, at their best they match up in the middle.

Note re images: the first and second images above were sourced from the websites linked in the text. The Watneys Stingo Ale image is from the invaluable Tavern Trove site, hereAll property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Blutwurst and Brewmaster

My Generations 

I wrote over two years ago of the 1944 beer tasting presented by the Wine and Food Society of New York at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. In fact, I recreated the event at a local restaurant to salute early pioneers of beer appreciation and evoke the gastronomic experience of a previous era.

In researching early tasting menus of this Society, which generally focus on wine, by yesterday I had identified three beer events. This is based to be sure on publicly-available menus, most archived at the New York Public Library, www.nypl.org. (The extracts of the menus appearing below were sourced from the New York Public Library’s historic menu archive, www.nypl.org)).

The three tastings occurred in the 1940s: one in 1941 before America entered the war, one in 1942, and the 1944 one. I intend to write in another forum in greater detail on all three tastings.

Just this morning I found a fourth tasting, held more recently in 1973. The program appears below and was sourced here, at the archive mentioned.

It is very interesting to compare the 1973 program to those of the 1940s. 1973’s is shorter, and the earlier ones featured more beers and also a broader range of foods. The 1973 event was a gourmet sausage-tasting, resolutely focused on the encased viands specialty.

The earlier menus included numerous cheeses, vintage hams and other meats, and smoked fish and herring, all from high-end suppliers.

All the tastings were gastronomic but 1973’s was more limited in scope.

Also, the beers tabled in the 1940s have a pronounced New York and regional character. By 1973, no New York or Jersey beers were represented. Imports were selected almost exclusively, and only one American beer was offered, the rather pallid Schlitz – with roots in the Midwest.

The Schlitz was served with a hot dog, no doubt to evoke the ballpark idea. A more interesting approach might have paired a Rochester, NY “white hot” with a beer of that city, Genesee Cream Ale, say, or 12 Horse Ale.

The 1973 event matched a sausage speciality of a country with a beer from that land. Since the event took place at one of the Society’s old haunts, the Waldorf-Astoria, no doubt the kitchen produced high-quality versions of these foods.

The choice of a lager from Ireland was odd since lager was well-represented at the tasting. Guinness stout would have made more sense (tasted at the 1940s events), or say Murphy Stout. Moreover, lager is not a style traditional to Ireland.

Still, for the time, Harp offered an exotic note, as did Kronenbourg of France, or Sweden’s Pripps. Offering a dark version of Heineken instead of the familiar blond version – New Yorkers knew regular Heineken even then – was a good choice. Everything is relative to time and place.

Carta Blanca from Mexico was a satisfying link to the 1940s since it appeared on some of the earlier menus.

 

The two extracts above from the 1942 menu give a sense of contrast. The early tastings sought to explain the beers more by type and individual characteristics, just as we do today. Things have come full circle. Perhaps with a range of lagers not great dissimilar in palate, it was felt taste notes were not necessary for 1973.

But as to classifying beers by nation (versus style), that was a potent idea in the 1950s-1970s. Beer writing in the period often used this approach, even famed beer guru Michael Jackson did in his early books.

The styles he helped popularize, and essentially invented as we view them today such as Imperial stout and Trappist beer, have now become known almost everywhere. Therefore, classifying beer by geographic area is not as useful as formerly. There is little difference between a Black IPA made in Italy and one made within a mile of where I write, say.

Wine is somewhat similar with the spread of the well-known varietals although local grapes still have a say and perhaps increasingly so in the future. For the foreseeable future though the lexicon of beer appreciation will remain international.

There are a couple of anomalies in the 1973 menu, but not serious ones. Brewmaster Pale Ale to pair with haggis might be questioned. Brewmaster was a classic southern English taste: flowery and delicate. A banger sausage, say the Oxford type, might have done better with that beer. Or, a Scotch ale such as MacEwan’s with the haggis.  Still, they did pair British with British.

Holland’s national sausage is not bratwurst, which is German, but braadworst, but perhaps that was served in fact, just under a name familiar to New Yorkers.

Most of the beers were certainly good or excellent for their style: Pripps’ lager for example, or the dark version of the Dutch Heineken.

The choice of Pilsner Urquell, known in New York since the late 1800s, was a wise one. So was Germany’s Wurzburger, a popular import in the 1970s. I believe it was tanked in from Europe and bottled close to distribution point by Anheuser-Busch. I remember the light version (Helles or Pils) in that era which was very good: matured, zesty, not sulphury as some lagers are today: satisfying on its own or with food.

The dessert and brandy look just right after a culinary/beery whirl like that.

Who led the tasting? I believe Harriet Lembeck did, described in the program as the commentator. Ms. Lembeck is still active in the wine and spirits world. She gives classes to this day on wine education in New York and has been called the doyenne of wine education in America.

Her mentor was Harold Grossman, an influential Manhattan wine and spirits importer who in 1940 inaugurated wine education in the city. He also wrote a well-known guide to wine, beer and spirits. Ms. Lembeck edited a couple of editions after his death, in fact.

Harold Grossman and Ms. Lembeck are part of the story how wine appreciation migrated from small influential groups in the U.S. onto a much broader canvass.

The beers in the 1973 menu show changes that occurred via transformation in the brewing industry in the preceding 30 years. Brewery consolidation in NYC and the expansion of national brands such as Budweiser and Miller High Life, based in the Midwest, took their toll.

Also, the old ethnic ties – Anglo, Irish, German, and Central European – that had kept distinctive beers going earlier had weakened by the 1970s. The old neighbourhoods that supported local breweries were breaking up with increasing prosperity and social mobility.

To be sure newer ethnicities came along but for many beer was not their remit, other perhaps than favouring light international lagers. That’s how things go, change is ever present in society.

Still, the 1973 tasting had to be enjoyable, both the beers, which included numerous reputed imports, and the food, too.  Not only that, but the combination of food and beer would have added that “third taste”.

I wonder about the condition of some of the imported beers in 1973. Having commenced beer tasting then, I can say many imports tasted a little tired. Logistics and handling have improved immeasurably since then.

Consequently, imported beer today is much more reliable. Indeed all beer tastes better today (all things being equal) as brewing technology has improved considerably since the 1970s.

The event finished with Swiss cherry cake, coffee, and Cognac – the crest of a wave of true gemütlichkeit.

Recreating the event would be most valuable. If anything, the results would be more authentic now given that beer imports generally taste better today as noted. And the food would be certainly interesting to try as a canvass of Europe’s treasure of sausage specialties.

A 1970s soundtrack would perfect the picture by further summoning up period atmosphere.

Note re images: the menu images herein were sourced from the digitized historic menu archive of the New York Public Library. The Brewmaster Pale Ale image is from the fine Tavern Trove website, a collection of historic beer labels and brewery information, here. The last image was authored by “IG Zuger Chris – Ueli Kleeb”, was sourced from Wikipedia, here, and is used pursuant to the terms and conditions of this Creative Common intellectual property licenceAll property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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The Roots of World Cuisine

The program shown is the Seventh Anniversary Dinner of the Wine and Food Society of New York held on December 9, 1941 at the Starlight Roof, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

December 9 was two days after Pearl Harbor, and two days before Germany declared war on America. The menu, while of elegant design, is yet spare and quite short even for the few wartime menus of the Society appearing in the menu archive at the New York Public Library, www.nypl.org.

Whether the menu was hastily abbreviated or modified due to the onset of war with Japan cannot be known. The use of contrasting red type for the drinks perhaps indicated substitution(s) from the original plan, or was simply a design motif.

No French, Italian or German wines are represented. The war in Europe explained this, either by a cessation of imports to America since the outbreak of hostilities or American sympathies with Britain and France.

That is, even if these wines were still available in hotel cellars, which I would think must have been the case, the Society would not have been inclined to feature them in events.

It is surprisingly difficult to pin down from Internet sources – at least I found it so –  what exactly was the trade regime between America and the Axis before 1942. One thing is clear though, the British naval embargo of Germany imposed in the fall of 1939 proved highly effective to stop ocean trade with America.

The Americans didn’t protest too much given the majoritarian sympathies with Britain and France. Isolationist sentiment, led or symbolized by controversial figures such as Charles Lindhberg, Father Coughlin, Henry Ford, and their ilk was declining. Still, the embargo did cause ruffles at times especially regarding the delivery of mail, not wines.

For whatever reason, drinks from the main Axis nations stopped appearing on Society menus from 1939 (there was the odd minor exception).

Impact on Wartime Society Menus 

A March 25,1940 tasting of liqueurs and brandies at the Waldorf-Astoria included a sizeable range of Cognac and other French brandies, but France had not yet fallen.

A similar tasting in November, 1941 still included one Cognac, Hennessey’s, and a “Bellows Imported Brandy” – source not stated. Of the latter the notes stated “… it lacks, perhaps, the austerity and grandeur of great natural Cognacs …”.

The November, 1941 tasting included a five-year-old Park & Tilford bourbon, a “blend of straight bourbons” – the first time bourbon appeared in a Society tasting judging by the available published menus. One can see how the war encouraged looking in one’s backyard for spirituous alternatives of quality.

By October 1942 a “red table wine” tasting at the Hotel Pierre featured an extensive California selection, some wines from Ohio, and even a few from New York State. Only Chile was represented for the offshore: a 1934 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The significance of the extensive California foray cannot be over-estimated. In the 1940s 80% of grapes grown in California were high-yielding types suitable for table or sweet wines. It took years for Vitis vinifera to recover its c. 1900 importance in the Golden State.

By focusing on California’s best dry wines in default of the usual suspects being available, the Society helped create the interest in quality domestic wine that grew steadily after WW II.

The Wines and Other Drinks at the Seventh Anniversary Dinner

What drinkables were served to the guests? Quite a heterogenous group, as the menu above shows. A South African hock, or Rhine Valley-type, called Imperium appeared. Britain had supplies of South African wine too during the war, I’ve seen a number of references to it.

Different sherries and ports were served. One sherry was Harvey’s Gold Cap. Gold Cap was a term generally used by Harvey for port, but it must have also used it for sherry at times, I think it may have been an Oloroso.

There were two dry California wines, one from famed Beaulieu Vineyards. A Rioja, too – Spain was neutral and perhaps its wines were still being imported either directly or via a third country such as Cuba. Even if supplies had stopped, fetching up a bottle from the cellar had a different implication than for a French cru.

Vintners was a merchant’s house brand for wine selections from the “Lakes”, the Finger Lakes in western New York. Finger Lakes’ sparkling wine always enjoyed a good reputation but clearly red wine was being bottled too. This would have been from native-variety grapes almost certainly.

Alberto Valdivieso is a venerable Chilean house, and supplied its Champagne-style wine to the FDR-era crowd at the Starlight. It is still going strong, see this excellent report from wine writer Lisa Denning in New York. One of its current sparkling wines is a Blanc de Blanc, echoing its Chardonnay range.

An old New England rum was served, not as part of a punch or other mixture, but to savour on its own – another likely result of war conditions which on the other hand surely helped explain the merits of aged rum as a digestif. 

We are, here, only 20 years after the start of National Prohibition, which delivered the coup de grace to New England’s rum business, long-declining due to relentless pressure from anti-drink zealots. A little rum continued to be made after 1933 but I’d guess the carriage trade firm S.S. Pierce’s “very old” rum was pre-Pro stocks.

Lejon was a blended California brandy (straight brandy plus high-proof grape distillate) and in the market for at least two generations from the 1930s. The name is still included for brandy on the website of the West Coast bottler Frank-Lin, but I don’t think Lejon brandy is currently being sold.

Lejon was devised by California wine pioneer Lee Jones and later associated with the famed Italian-Swiss Colony winery. Some of its subsequent history can be gleaned from this collector’s link.

The Drambuie may have been a first for the Society although the Scottish specialty could have been served earlier at a “holiday drinks” or liqueurs/after-dinner drinks event, the Society held these almost every year.

Nuyens apricot brandy was blazed in the hot soufflé termed “Monte Woolley”. The liquor may have been French but I cannot trace the source. Nuyens was another merchant’s or bottler’s brand.

Certainly some French brandy was sold under the name, I have seen the labels. If Nuyens was the brand of an American merchant, the brandy could have been from anywhere. One may note though it was used just in the cooking, not served on its own, so maybe it was French but given a subordinate role as it were.

The Food

The food at first glance seems conventionally French, but on closer look shows numerous idiosyncrasies.

Nova Scotia smoked salmon was served to start, this is classic American eating. New York’s Jewish community always liked it, it was a staple in its dairy restaurants in Manhattan and Catskill resorts for generations – not so much today due to its high cost and/or decline in quality.

Turtle soup with sherry is a straight throwback to the Gilded Age and does evoke Escoffier and the haute. Lobster mousse too – Charles Scotto was a pupil of Escoffier who presided in the kitchen at the Pierre Hotel in this period, he also helped found the American Culinary Federation, and was a charter member of Les Amis d’Escoffier, the trade promotion body for the elite chefs and hospitality managers of America, it still exists.

The coq au vin is French all the way, but not really classic cuisine, it is more regional and bonne femme cooking. Here we see a sign of the great influence the local, regional and terroir would have on post-WW II culinaria.

And Virginia ham was served with the autumn salad finale, a southern American food that heretofore enjoyed no particular culinary regard – it was something you saw in corner diners and regional restaurants. Someone probably realized that its quality equalled the best French or German ham, so why not go for it?

The soufflé was of course French again, named here for a noted actor and former drama professor, Monte Woolley, Wikipedia has some good bio on him, here. Woolley, pictured above, was probably a typical member of the Society in the 1930s-50s. He was high-born and well-educated, a man about town.

What We Can Learn

It’s a nice dinner, isn’t it? And interesting. Inspired to a good degree by the exigencies of war, a kind of jerry-rig, the program ends by offering what we now call world cuisine. Its grammar is exactly that of today’s culinary world.

Can’t you just see Anthony Bourdain hopping about from Chile to Nova Scotia to Jerez to Burgundy to get inspiration for a dinner like this?

Get hip to this timely tip, Anthony.

Note re images: the first four images were sourced from the respective links stated in the text. The final image was sourced from an eBay listing, here. All property in the images belongs to their sole owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 1936 Wine and Oyster Tasting in New York: an Attendee Reports

Present at the Creation

Only after I completed my posts yesterday on the New York Wine and Food Society’s 1936 Wine and Oyster Tasting did I locate an extraordinary document. It would be long odds that someone who attended that event was still living in the 2000s, but this is the case.

Edward B. Marks was an American who had a long career in refugee resettlement and assistance starting in the late 1930s. He worked for numerous American and international organizations including finally UNICEF.

Marks was born in New York in 1913, of German-Jewish origin. He was a Dartmouth graduate and gained a master’s degree in sociology from Columbia.

His long career in public service, as well as his occasional journalism and other writing, earned him numerous obituaries in well-known newspapers. See this one from the New York Times.

At the age of 92, not long before his death in 2005, he published the memoir Still Counting: Achievements and Follies of a Nonagenarian. Substantial portions can be read on Google Books including from the chapter on his 1930s days in alcoholic beverage publishing, here.

Between 1933 and 1938 Marks worked as a editor for a brewing industry magazine and later for a wine and liquor journal. The work is recalled in the chapter of his book I linked.

He describes attending numerous events of the New York Wine and Food Society in the mid-1930s as part of his work in beverages publishing.

He is very complimentary of these events, and mentions three in particular including a Champagne tasting at the Ritz-Carlton and the 1936 Oyster and Wine Tasting I profiled yesterday.

Marks is so precise in his recollections that he must have retained the menus. You can read them as well, in their entirety from the New York Public Library, here and here.

Marks later set up a small-scale winery at his property in Leesburg, Virginia, enough to pay its way at any event – clearly the early years in drinks publishing and gastronomy influenced his social habits.

Marks has a high regard for the early work of the International Wine and Food Society in America. He had met its mover and shaker André Simon and outlines Simon’s great efforts before and after WW II to improve American gastronomy and convert the nation to wine-drinking.

Marks gives great credit to the Society for introducing wine culture to America but considers that the work had a delayed reaction – in a word took longer than Simon had hoped. He states Simon would be amazed at how the country finally changed in regard to the use of wine as a beverage.

I don’t disagree but I feel that the influence of the IWFS and similar groups (e.g., Manhattan’s Gourmet Society) was noticeable well before wine-drinking became usual in America.

That’s how social trends develop: they appear first among small groups who exercise a disproportionate influence on the country – who are quite literally in this case, tastemakers.

The process never stops, today the culinary scene is led by people such as Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsay, even Rachel Ray, or say the bake-off show wildly popular in the U.K. that has spun-off numerous imitations.

The thousands of tastings and dinners in the country by various IWFS branches between 1933 and 2000 came to the attention of food and wine writers, wine importers, grape growers and vintners, and radio and tv chefs. They would have attended its events, spoken and promoted their work there, and in turn brought the message of civilized living to a wider audience.

Marks is an example himself, as the book amply testifies.

A typical early sub-culture were those who bought Julia Child’s landmark books and who viewed her first TV show, The French Chef. Just as for the equally influential chef and author James Beard, she would have been known the IWFS and have attended some of its events.

A similar thing happened in England with people such as Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Hugh Johnson, the Craddocks, and so on.

In the U.S. I should mention also Zagat, “the” restaurant guide for New York that later migrated to many other cities. Its style echoes that of the 1930s Consumer Union publications, telegraphic but informed commentary.

The IWFS’s tasting menus were similar but more refined: in essence a blending of technical information originating with producers with a literary flair, but not too heavy-handed.

Social trends always involve a complex interaction of the moving parts, but that the IWFS had an outsize influence on American foodways cannot be doubted. Marks confirms it in its essentials.

He mentions that German wines featured at the 1936 tasting and does not suggest any annoyance at that, or being discomfited in any way by his Jewish background.

Perhaps because he worked in an industry in which Germans and German-Americans were prevalent in the 1930s he was able to set aside personal considerations. Had any Jewish person chosen not to attend a tasting at which German wine was served in the Hitler era, that might have lessened his career prospects, always a consideration no matter what the ethics are.

Or perhaps it was just the nature of the times as I suggested yesterday: bad things happening in foreign countries didn’t register in the same way around the world as they do now.

It is interesting that Marks had first-hand knowledge of Nazi perfidy since he worked with Jewish victims of the Nazis, but that work came later. In 1936 he was still a journalist in the wine and spirits industry.

In any case, at the end of a long life, this aspect is not adverted to in the book, from what I could tell.

Marks clearly remained influenced by his early years in the alcohol business: he states even in his nineties he enjoyed a glass of beer, plus of course wine as mentioned.

Marks had a high regard for the taste of the new beer in the 1930s, feeling only that it should be stronger than “3.2”. During Prohibition he sometimes drank Canadian beer bootlegged into the country, probably as a student in college, which he clearly admired.

In his brewing work he was struck by the massive aging tanks at some of the pre-Prohibition New York breweries: he mentions Jacob Ruppert in particular.

He learned a considerable amount about hops and says some interesting things about competition between American and imported hops. He visited most of the older breweries starting up again and some of the newer ones.

One feature of modern living that disturbed him was the prevalence of campus drinking. He states that during his college years there was little use of alcohol. Sometimes students made a kind of raw gin from alcohol and juniper, but drinking was restricted in those days.

He clearly disapproved of widespread use of alcohol on campus in the 2000s, and in this I can only agree. Perhaps it is a price to pay for making alcohol generally unobjectionable in society at large.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the New York Public Library, as linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vision of Andre Simon of the Wine and Food Society

While brief, this video uploaded to Youtube in 2015 on the history of The International Wine and Food Society shows the unique features of its mission which reverberate to this day.

The sane approach advocated by founder André Simon for wine in one’s lifestyle fit naturally into the aspirational American ethos which took root from the 1930s – as indeed it did for England where the first branch was founded, in London in 1933.

This way of life was conditioned not just by the new (or perfected) element of Madison Avenue and West End advertising, but by the essence of the bourgeois morality: enjoy life but everything in just measure. Don’t drink too much, drink quality not quantity. If you can, learn something useful, or interesting, as you go.

Before Prohibition, a few epicures in big cities apart, drinking meant boozing, not necessarily continual but with the idea of excess encoded.

In Britain too, from Georgian times at least to the gin palace and workmens’ pubs of the 1800s, the use of alcohol in social life often was often synonymous with heavy drinking.

André Simon brought a new sensibility to this picture, informed by his French background.

The message: indulge in wine, one of life’s pleasures, but with enough discretion so you will last a reasonable time and continue as an upstanding citizen: a bon père de famille. Enhance your life over its normal span but don’t abbreviate it in the psycho or cirrhosis-treatment wards of your local hospital.

Where does the self-improvement come in? From the pedagogy that was implicit in Simon’s message from the beginning. Wine is worth learning about, pondering, studying. It’s a matter of culture and history; gastronomy is, in general.

Yes drinking is for relaxation and socializing but do it with food and try to learn something at the same time, be useful.

Previously, a tiny minority had this perspective, the George Saintsburys and Alfred Barnards in the U.K., the L.J. Vances in America: Simon opened it up to the upwardly mobile middle classes and after WW II it spread beyond. Lots of people know today about “Chardonnay”, not just a tiny privileged coterie in the largest coastal cities.

To be sure the initial members of most of the Society’s branches were probably grandees of one type or another; that’s how things get started, often*. But can anyone doubt that at bottom the group was and remains democratic in spirit?

Had this not been so it would never have spread around the world as it did, to Melbourne, Liverpool, Toronto, Auckland, New Orleans, Pasadena, and far beyond.

When you examine the some 100 menus of the New York Wine and Food Society in the NYPL menu archive covering the period from 1934 to the mid-1970s, these values resonate from its pages.

The menus were well and carefully written, but not baroque or affected in tone. The influence of the wine and liquor agencies which often supplied some of the table is there, but so is the need to speak literately to people without abstruse literary or other affectation, a tendency of pre-1930s drink literature.

Indeed some of the books issued in the 1930s in the U.S. to explain wine and alcohol to a newly enfranchised populace show those older traits. Selmer Fougner’s is one, IMO; I wrote about him earlier in these pages.

At day’s end, the style of the wine and food notes of The Wine and Food Society, forged in the 1930s and continuing for decades with a decided influence on the wider culture, were a kind of magic formula. They struck just the right notes of practicality and pleasure, of commercial reality and romantic history.

The influence is there to see in the work of countless food and wine writers post-WW II, in tv food shows, and in the colour weekend supplements and their current online equivalents.

The template still informs most consumer wine writing today. The same applies to beer and spirits which were greatly influenced by wine writing in their development.

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*Christel Lane, in her 2014 study of the fine-dining industry, puts it that upon formation the Society in London sought members from the “professional classes”. The New York group could not have been very different.