Of Blutwurst and Brewmaster

My Generations 

I wrote over two years ago of the 1944 beer tasting at the Waldorf-Astoria of the Wine and Food Society of New York. 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 focuses 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 herein of its menus are courtesy www.nypl.org).

The three tastings all occurred in the 1940s: one before America entered the war, one in 1942 after the war started, and the 1944 one. I intend to write at length in another forum of the first two tastings.

Just this morning I found a fourth tasting, held more recently in 1973; the one-page program appears below.

It is very interesting to compare the 1973 program to those of the 1940s. The 1973 is much shorter, as the earlier ones featured many more beers and also a broader range of foods. The 1973 event was a sausage-tasting, certainly valid until itself, but the earlier ones covered interesting cheeses, vintage hams and other meats, and numerous smoked fish and herring, all sourced from high-end suppliers.

The earlier tastings were gastronomic in the true sense; 1973’s was more limited in scope although no doubt enjoyable.

Also, the 40s tastings have a pronounced New York and regional brewing character. By 1973 no New York or Jersey beers were represented. Imports were selected almost exclusively, and only one American beer offered, the rather jejune Schlitz (with roots in the Midwest).

It 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 typical sausage 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 would have made more sense (tasted in the 1940s), or say Murphy Stout. Moreover lager is not a style traditional to Ireland.

Still, for the time, the Harp offered an exotic note, as did Kronenbourg of France, or Pripps. Offering a dark version of Heineken instead of the familiar blond version – New York knew regular Heineken well – was a good choice: everything is relative to time and place.

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

 

I include above two extracts from the 1942 tasting to give a sense of contrast. The early tastings sought to explain the beers more by type and individual characteristics, just as we do again. Things have come full circle.

But classifying beers by nation was a potent idea in the 1950s-1970s. Beer writing in that period often used the approach, even Michael Jackson’s early books did although his learned introductions and creative chapter sub-divisions gave a wider context.

The styles he helped popularize, and invented, have now moved around the world. Therefore, classifying beer by geographic area is less valid than it ever was. There is little difference between a Black IPA made in Italy and one made within a mile of where I write.

Wine is somewhat similar with the spread of the famous 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 some food anomalies on the 1973 menu, but not serious ones. A haggis for Brewmaster Pale Ale is not really right. Brewmaster was a classic southern English taste, flowery and delicate. A banger sausage, the Oxford type perhaps, would have done better.

Holland’s national sausage is not bratwurst, which is German, but braadworst, but maybe that is what was served, simply under a name more familiar to New Yorkers.

Most of the beers were certainly good or excellent for their style: Pripps’ lager of Sweden for example, or the Munich-style of Heineken (dark).

The choice of Pilsner Urquell, known in New York since the late 1800s, was a wise one, as was Germany’s Wurzburger, a popular import in the 1970s. I believe it was tanked in and bottled close to distribution by Anheuser-Busch. I knew the light version (Helles) which was very good: well-matured, zesty but not sulphury as many lagers today.

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

Who led the tasting? I believe Harriet Lembeck as she is described in the program as “commentator”. Ms. Lembeck is still active in the wine and spirits world. She gives classes on wine education in New York and has been called the dean of wine education in America.

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

Harold Grossman and indeed Ms. Lembeck are part of how wine appreciation migrated from small influential groups into the national consciousness.

To a died-in-the-wool beerman the 1940s tastings and notes are more contemporary than the somewhat attenuated 1973 event.

On the beer side, the changes are explained by the transformation of the brewing industry in the prior 30 years. Consolidation and expansion in New York of national brands took their toll. Also, old ethnic ties – Anglo, Irish, German and Central European – that kept distinctive beers going had weakened by 1970.

To be sure newer ethnicities arose but beer was not their remit other than to favour light lagers of the international style.

That’s how things go, change is ever a leitmotif of cultural studies.

Still, that 1973 tasting must have been enjoyable, many of the beers and the food too. I wonder about the condition of the beers though. Having commenced beer tasting in the 1970s I can say many imports tasted poorly then.

Skunky, oxidised and autolysized flavours were all too common. Logistics and handling have improved immeasurably and consequently imported beer tastes much better today.

Maybe that’s why the event finished with Swiss cherry cake, good coffee* and Cognac – all stale beer flavours swept way on a wave of unimpeachable gemütlichkeit!

I’d recreate this event too, why not? If anything the results would be more authentic given that imports taste much better today. And the food would be certainly interesting to try. We can add a vegetarian option or two.

Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, and early disco on the sound system. And old Bert Kaempfert, he’d go well with those German and Czech beers.

We’ll close by playing David Bowie’s Changes – to a last round of … what shall we use for Brewmaster dear me?

Note re images: the menu images herein were sourced from the www.nypl.org menu archive. The Brewmaster Pale Ale image is from the invaluable Tavern Trove site, 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 licenceAll property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*It’s 1973 but this is the Waldorf-Astoria and a European-theme event. Moreover, the chef, Arno Schmidt, is – not was – Austrian-born and top of his profession. The Waldorf would not ruin fine Swiss cake and French brandy with bad coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 www.nypl.org. (Extracts appear courtesy that link).

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 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, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

“Now if You’re Ready, Oysters Dear, we can Begin…”

A Stunning 1936 Tasting of Wines and Oysters

The International Wine and Food Society

I have written earlier of the historic role played by the Wine and Food Society of New York, now part of the International Wine and Food Society based in London, in creating the modern food and wine culture. (The full original programme discussed below can be viewed, and the extracts herein are included, courtesy www.nypl.org).

Many of their activities from the 1930s-1970s presaged important features of today’s food world. These include pairing foods and wines in formal tastings; comparing varietal wines of different countries, especially the U.S. and France (well before the 1976 Judgement of Paris); holding sophisticated beer tastings with historical and taste notes in the program; slowly but steadily covering American wines from the 1940s; and creating regional American, ethnic, and international menus, from a “Vermont breakfast” (late-40s)* to a Nordic smorgasbord (60s).

One of the founders of the New York branch was Robert Jay Misch, a New York advertising executive. He was only 30 in 1936 when the wine and oyster tasting described below was held.

André Simon, of the original London branch, was the driver behind the international expansion of the Society. I’ve previously referred to its activities in places as far afield as Liverpool, U.K.; Melbourne, Australia; Baltimore, MD; and San Francisco, CA.

The New York board of directors was a varied group comprising business executives including publishers, food or wine writers, and society figures.

Misch later turned to food-and-wine writing full-time. He was still giving tastings, one at the famed New York “Y” with wine maven Alexis Lichine, not long before his passing at 84 in 1990.

Misch probably authored many of the notes on wine for the luxe 1936 wine and oyster tasting. At the height of the Depression, no effort was spared to present a luxury of choice among bivalves and products of the vine, in appropriately swank surroundings of the St. Regis Hotel, Manhattan.

A New Wine Writing Style?

The wine notes are crisp, authoritative, lively, not overly mannered. They probably inaugurated an international “style” for the Society in this regard. I would argue too they clearly influenced the wine writing of later generations in general.

There is probably some precedent for it in pre-1933 wine writing – in fact George Saintsbury’s 1920s Notes on a Cellar-book should be cited – but still the 1936 notes have a striking clarity and modernity.

Saintsbury can express well a wine’s attributes but his ornate Victorian style often gets in the way for modern readers.

Sometimes things are like that; something significant gets started almost from whole cloth and remains a totem, I guess that’s what classic means. The 1936 wine notes speak to us clearly today.

The Beer

The committee who organized the tasting were too clever to omit any reference to stout or porter in connection with oysters, so Guinness was included, the “wine” of Ireland, it was called.

And so it was then: long-aged, unpasteurized, somewhat lactic, the legendary black wine of Eire via – to begin with – raucous silk weavers’ pubs in Spitalfields, London with their three-threads and other porters-of-the-loom black beers. (“Porter” for beer derives from c. 1700 London weaving terminology, as I’ve argued earlier).

Guinness was last in the list, but better late than never. Later, from 1946 until the early 1950s, the New York branch included more beers in its oyster tastings although always fewer than the wines.

At its three beer tastings proper I have now identified in the 1940s, one of which (1944’s) I wrote up here two years ago, the foods served did not include oysters. Various smoked fish, cheeses, quality hams, and breads or crackers were served.

Beer then seemed to denote Central Europe for the food side more than English or Yankee food customs.

The Wines

The French wines included were well-chosen, from the classic Chablis – no less than four, appropriately, as it is “the” wine for oysters really – to some Alsatians, Graves, and Hermitage.

The latter included a dry rosé, Tavel’s, still a staple of the rosé scene internationally although somewhat eclipsed in recent years by the fashion for the drier rosés of Provence.

Numerous German wines were listed, Germany was second only to France in the number of wines represented. This is rather surprising given that by mid-1936 the Nazis were firmly in control of Germany and moreover had passed the Nuremberg “citizenship” laws that removed Jews from public life and helped set the stage for their annihilation.

The Jewish members of the New York Wine and Food Society, I’d guess Misch was one, must have gritted their teeth at German wines being served, nay lauded in dulcet tones. But this was a different time, few nations in general at the time spoke up in favour of persecuted peoples and least for the Jews.

I’d imagine that Jewish presence in any elite social organization of the 1930s was somewhat parlous, and any members lucky to gain entry didn’t protest at the anomaly – to say the least – of German wines being given a showcase.

After the Second World War began the Society set German, French, and Italian wines aside. Most stocks of these were probably exhausted anyway as trade embargoes prevented re-supply, but some vintage items would have remained in hotel and haute restaurant cellars even in the mid-40s.

Still, they stayed there as far as the Society was concerned anyway until after V-Day. Indeed because of the war, the tastings of the Society I’ve reviewed between 1941 and 1945 looked beyond the tried and true for new vinous inspiration.

This meant California of course but also New York, Ohio, Chile, Argentina, (neutral) Iberia, and South Africa.

These forays into secondary or tertiary wine regions later had a rebound effect in the form of the world-wide interest in regional wine, the “wine of the country”.

Had the Second World War never occurred, I’m convinced the vibrant viticulture and enology of many world regions today would have never have started, or at least be much reduced in importance.

The Oysters

The oyster section of the 1936 programme is nothing less than a short primer on the subject, masterfully written. An oyster promotion organization was enlisted to provide this help, and it did not fail.

The wealth of Long Island varieties alone in the 1930s was notable. Some oysters, including the Robbins Island type on the list, are still available but oystering on the Island has almost disappeared, sadly.

This is due to … you know it: overfishing; pollution; possibly climate change. But oysters still abound in other parts of the world, especially Canada. The Gaspé’s briny Malpeque! Not as creamy as Bluepoints, but world-class in their way: if you ask me, half-way between the Belons off Brittany and the Bluepoint type.

I may get some Malpeques for a dinner soon to host an English friend, or Nova Scotia smoked salmon, another stalwart of 1940s Manhattan gastronomy.

Recreating Historically Significant Gastronomic Events

I keep saying this to all and sundry, with little resonance so far, but someone should recreate classic early culinary and wine events such as this 1936 oyster and wine tasting. Doing so offers a unique opportunity to blend epicurean adventure with absorbing social history in numerous dimensions.

In other words, it would be fun.

I did this two years ago in Toronto for the Society’s 1944 beer tasting, and it went over very well.

It’s wine’s turn now. Many of the wines in the program still exist, certainly most of the shippers and estates do.

And Guinness does, even though it’s less like the original Guinness than the 1936 (Foreign Extra) Stout served at the stylish St. Regis. The closest form of Guinness today is probably its West Indies Porter although the current Extra Stout, or Foreign Extra Stout, will do nicely enough.

I’m happy to help out…

Note re images: the first five images were sourced from the New York Public Library link given in the text. The final image, of the top floors of the St. Regis Hotel in New York, was sourced at www.thecityreview.com, 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.

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*See the American menu collector’s Henry Voigt’s informed discussion of this event, here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spirit of ’55

Waiter Please Bring me my Blatz

There will never be a completely satisfactory definition of “American cooking”. I use this term for convenience but Canadian cooking is pretty much the same.

Cooking changes with the times, of course. In turn the times are shaped by many things: growth of certain ethnic groups or their rising prestige; concepts such as “clean” or green eating; new food technologies; and other factors not always easy to delineate much less forecast.

(New Yorker magazine three years ago contained a provocative cover story,“The End of Food”. It profiled a young San Francisco-based entrepreneur and his product Soylent. Inspired by lifehacking and other ideas prevalent in Silicon Valley he developed a “meal replacement”, a kind of paste designed to store well and deliver all essential nutrients. 

Soylent was designed as cost-effective feeding for those who work almost non-stop, who don’t have time to shop or cook, or much extra money: a kind of converse of the market-shopping and slow food notions popular for the last 20 years. An interesting idea but I don’t think it’s time has come, at least nationally).

Still, American cooking is easier to recognize than to describe intellectually: you know it when you see it, at least in different periods over the last 100 years.

American cooking describes to a “t” the food offered in the 1955 menu below from Barney’s Market Club in Chicago (1919- c.1990). Rick Kogan in 2011, of the Tribune Newspapers, wrote a good short profile of the restaurant here. He also describes the current use of the site, a happening brewpub called Haymarket Pub and Brewery.

Barney Kessel was a classic old-time American maverick, “a character” as the phrase goes. He started up in 1919 and in the 1930s moved to larger premises in the West Loop. It seems the place was basically a tavern to begin with but later became a restaurant proper due to Prohibition.

Throughout Prohibition Barney Kessel sold beer delivered by Al Capone’s men. Due to Barney’s good relations with local power-brokers he had no trouble with the law until, one fateful day, a shooting at his bar compelled the law to sanction him for running a speakeasy.

Kessel spent a few months in jail, which hardly slowed him down as his big success came after liquor was made legal, from 1933 until his death in 1950. The restaurant continued in business for another 40-odd years, run by his son-in-law.

Kessel was the personification of the place in its heyday, a style often seen in dining then in North America. A “personality” who had the gift of gab and was likeable attracted business. We have much less of this today. Today, restaurants are distinguished more by their chefs and the difference they make in the kitchen.

In Barney’s day, what drew you there was not so much that his “Special Sirloin Steak” was the best in the Windy City, but that Barney was there.*

Restaurants are still set up by famous people, Wayne Gretzky’s place on Blue Jay Way downtown is an example, but almost invariably the restaurant is professionally run and managed. In the old days, the man on the sign was there much of the time. Kessel was, with his ever-ready catch-phrase, “Yes sir, Senator”.

He couldn’t remember peoples’ names and addressed everyone like that, which they loved.

Kessel made himself famous, or locally famous, in a way you don’t see much now. He made sure the Catholic fathers had a special corner, the local machine politicians had their favourite tables, the White Sox, and on it went. This could only happen in a time of real community, of “locality” to borrow from EU-speak. In a time of globality, which has rather done locality in, it’s harder to develop the kind of local celebrity a Kessel achieved.

In Chicago of course beef was popular due to the stockyards, in fact Kessel grew up in their shadow. So steak in all its variety was well-represented on his 1955 menu but there is plenty of other Americana too.

Stuffed squab (originally at least this was young pigeon). Broiled ham steak, with a sweet potato in this case, no ham slice. That sounds like a southern touch, perhaps contributed by a visiting blues musician or a migrating chef in the kitchen.

Roast turkey. Shrimp cocktail. Broiled chicken. Numerous fish from the Great Lakes – there’s your market cuisine, as the beef was.

Roast duck, chicken à la king with its creamy swath of sauce. Spaghetti, long Americanized by ’55 and needing no explanation on the menu.

Broiled English mutton chops, a vestige of pre-Prohibition grills and mens’ clubs, the aura of Albion mingling with the scent of sheep fat. Swiss steak, probably never very Swiss – out of fashion for decades now, a pity as it’s good if well-prepared.

Read the rest for yourself. That’s classic American eating, or was for much of the mid-1900s.

What would we add to it today? Fajitas, probably. BBQ, which at the time was strictly regional and didn’t therefore make the grade for a quality, “national” menu. A bigger salad repertoire than “combination salad”. More vegetarian options.

More Asian influences, too – sushi! (We are with the English writer David Benedictus who once wrote that he didn’t favour Japanese food in general and sushi in particular.  We all have our taste…).

But if you could go out tonight looking for a good meal you could do a lot worse than Barney’s Market Club circa 1955.

The drinks were carefully chosen, note that Kessel made sure to include Ballantine India Pale Ale – another pre-Prohibition salute. Wines are handled in no-nonsense terms: a glass of Burgundy, French or domestic, a couple of other varietals, and that’s it, but there was more on a separate list.

The beer got good attention. Heineken was on draft, surely a novelty in America then. For local he gave you Van Merritt, brewed in Wisconsin but long a Chicago favourite. The action was in the St. Louis and Milwaukee brands but this made sense as they were regional selections, familiar to a wide audience in the Midwest (and beyond).

I wonder what draft Heineken was like in 1955 in America – all-malt probably, as it is again today. The long trip couldn’t have done it any favours though. Me, I’d have gone for Ballantine IPA and maybe a Budweiser or Schlitz, which were good beers then (I think).

So that’s Culina americanus, at least from c. 1940-1980. Yes sir, Senators. 

Note re images: The first and third images are from the www.nypl.org archival menu linked in the text. The second was sourced from Tavern Trove, here. Images belong to their sole owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Nonetheless Darnell’s “vest-pocket” restaurant guide, the Zagat of its day, rated Barney’s Market Club in America’s Top 10 restaurants – this is late 1940s. The quality was there too…

The Athens of America Contemplates Wine and Beer

In the 1960s and 70s, if you were interested in wine as a middle-class pursuit – the same for beer was much less likely – the wine (and beer) menu of the Wursthaus in Cambridge, Mass. answered the call.

Its approach to the main wine styles was no-nonsense, sprinkled with doubtful humour: the menu queried why anyone would choose its California selections (all-Almaden Vineyards) over imported.

Good basic information is given on different German wines, a focus of the house, but also on Bordeaux and Burgundy reds, and more.

The selection was sound for the time, with well-known appellations from noted shippers, featuring both “vintages” and “estate-bottled”. A young prof at Harvard who dabbled in wine would have felt at home.

We are a distance nonetheless from the sophisticated vintages and scholarly notes of contemporary Wine and Food Society menus, or of Manhattan’s Gourmet Society from 1933-1960s. These elite groups served a different market – the “oenophile”, a comparative rarity.

The specimen inhabited large coastal centres, nesting in faculty clubs and epicurean societies.

The Wursthaus was aiming for a broader demographic, from its original student base in choc-a-bloc Harvard Yard to students’ parents, Harvard faculty, and young professionals. The wine notes are exactly in that zone.

This was of course before the wine boom, before the Judgment of Paris (1976), before anyone knew what Napa or Sonoma were other than (at best) agricultural sectors in distant California.

A sense how different that time was is that the menu notes Almaden’s wines came “all the way from California”. California was in many ways as foreign to The Hub as Isle of Man.

What about the beer notes to elucidate the styles and examples of Gambrinus’ domain? Of course, there weren’t any. Just a list of beers by country of origin.

But not a bad list certainly. They had oyster stout in 1961 you know, from Isle of Man. The beer is in the earliest writings of the late, great English beer critic Michael Jackson, and launched a thousand inky-briny imitations once craft brewing got its legs.

Do you think anyone ordering that stout – it was still on the menu in 1972 – ever thought to ask why “oyster” featured in the name? There must have been an unusually reflective professor who wondered about it.

If he (she) did, it’s a safe bet they never found out, unless they were still drinking beer decades later, perhaps.

The list also featured Carnegie “stout”, probably one and the same with renowned Carnegie Porter. That was – is – a taste of Georgian London via Sweden.

Carnegie had a decided influence on the beer revolution to come. The porter is about as intense as beer gets short of sours and wild beers – pretty good for ’61 in one of the larger American cities, or anywhere.

Also, there was Black Velvet from Trinidad, a rich sweet stout surely, and Murray’s stout from Scotland. The great Pilsner Urquell was present, and both Bass pale ale and Whitbread’s ditto from England.

A bunch of good German beers featured including Munich’s fine Augustiner in both helles and dunkel. No less than four beers from America’s former enemy, Japan, were offered – only 16 years after Japan collapsed in an atomic cloud.

Ekla was a brand of Vanderheuvel, a brewery with early-1800s roots in Brussels – think of Uccle, Brussels. The brewery lasted until absorbed in Watney’s maw, and was closed in 1975.

No style of Ekla is mentioned. Vanderheuvel in the 1950s was known for its pils, export, and stout, and it bottled lambic as a nod to its earliest days. Whatever was in the bottle, it was “Belgian” and that was enough for the Stateside taster.

What could “India” have meant for the Puerto Rican beer? Maybe it was a India Pale Ale that survived from Victorian times in the (not always…) languid Caribbean. The beer originated in the 1930s and the brewery still continues.

I suspect the 1961 India Cerveza was very good, perhaps like today’s India Pale lagers.

There was no rhyme or reason to the beer selection other than being international; this was typical for the era. A helter-skeler selection was made from wholesalers’ inventories, and people chose without guidance other than the, um, small beer of national origin.

To treat of beer in the way the menu did for wine would have elicited astonishment. It wasn’t done, wasn’t on anyone’s horizon.

In 1961 Anchor Brewery in San Francisco, which made a distinctive beer that would have fit well on the list, was in deep financial straits (later rescued by white knight Fritz Maytag with help of washing machine money). Anheuser-Busch had just started to put rice in Michelob. Brewery consolidation was picking up rapidly almost everywhere.

The world seemed intent on vapid yellow beer.

A new day would take a while to dawn.

Some of the other U.S. beer haunts then were the late-lamented Brickskeller in Washington, D.C., the Peculier Pub in New York, Barney’s Beanery in L.A., and Tommy’s Joynt in San Francisco. Their approach to beer would have been similar to the Wursthaus.

Brickskeller was a bridge certainly to the craft beer era so perhaps its menu offered some beer instruction in 1961, it’s possible.

Barney’s Beanery is still going strong in Los Angeles, indeed is now a small chain. Its bottled selection (check online) shows a vestige of the simple national classification of the 1950s-1970s, which is satisfying in a way.

What happened to Wursthaus? It closed in 1996, a victim of changing times. A deli in the Square was established in the 1950s by members of the family, so some influence continues from the Wursthaus era, after a fashion. I’d guess a few 1960s-70s wholesalers’ brochures languish in the deli’s basement…

If I ever get to Beantown again, I’ll ask.

Wursthaus had been founded by a German-American in 1917, and was sold to an Italian family in ’42.

The pre-’42 owner probably thought a German-theme bar wasn’t a good idea for the next few years but the new owners didn’t change the name or sign. The menu did evolve, retaining finally just a few German dishes. It became all-American, mostly.

Do wish I could have visited Wursthaus in its prime? No, because I did.

Back in July, 1970 I took a car trip from Montreal south to Cape Cod and visited Cambridge on the way, to see Harvard.

I stopped in Tanglewood, NJ – I wanted to see The Who but I missed them by a day. I remember asking in town about it and was told the lawns were completely filled to the back and people were hanging in trees.

(Do you want to see why? Look here).

In Cambridge, I had lunch at the Wursthaus, and remember it was dark inside, as current remembrances attest. I think I had schnitzel and certainly draft beer, probably a “dark”. This was before I had ever read a book on beer, but the germ of the interest was there.

September, 2017 is “all the way” certainly from 1961. And in that month Doug Holder released his new poetry collection, Last Night at the Wursthaus. See an informative local report, here.

The old joint isn’t quite effaced from memory, yet.

Note re images: The first three images are from the www.nypl.org archival menu linked in the text. The fourth was sourced from Pinterest, here. The fifth, of The Who, was obtained from Internet sources. The final image was sourced from the producer’s website linked in the text. Images belong to their sole owner, as applicable. Used here for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

Manhattan’s New Beer Scene

A Library of Congress website neatly summarized the arc of Prohibition, as follows:

The 18th Amendment (PDF, 91KB) to the Constitution prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors…” and was ratified by the states on January 16, 1919. The movement to prohibit alcohol began in the United States in the early nineteenth century. On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act (PDF, 2.03MB), which provided for the enforcement of the 18th Amendment. Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, with the ratification of the 21st Amendment(PDF, 88KB).

Of course, the reality was much more dense, in that many states had adopted prohibition in all or part of their territory well before the 18th Amendment was ratified. A delayed wartime prohibition measure was also enacted in the fall of 1919, ahead of the scheduled nation-wide liquor ban one year after the 18th Amendment was adopted.

Finally, the Volstead Act provided many practical rules for the working of Prohibition, including by defining what was alcoholic beverage, .5% was the threshold. Various exemptions were provided for medicinal alcohol and alcohol for religious rites. Homes could ferment up to 200 gallons of wine as well, i.e., for private use.

When Prohibition ended, beer was legalized first. The Volstead law was amended effective April 7, 1933 by the Cullen-Harrison Act to allow “3.2” beer, that is 3.2% ABW. There were exemptions again for ale, which could be stronger but lager, the standby of American beerdrinking before 1920, was henceforth permitted by the device of raising the non-alcohol ceiling to 3.2% ABW.

This is equivalent to 4% ABV beer, certainly beer by any definition albeit on the weaker side of the spectrum. English draft beer is about that strength, for example.

The states had to ratify the change in their territory, with some acting more quickly than others. New York acted fast and by the time the menu shown below (courtesy www.nypl.org) was printed, beer was legal again in Manhattan.

 

 

The menu is dated May 23, 1933, less than two months after Cullen-Harrison‘s liberation of the beer business. It is interesting to examine the menu to note that a reasonable beer selection was available despite the short time available to stock up. Clearly breweries had ramped up in anticipation of the legal sale of beer, and wholesaling mobilized quickly to get beer to the restored market, even from overseas as beer from Munich was available, and English beer.

Schaefer of Brooklyn could be supped, one of America’s oldest lagers. Trommer’s all-malt lager, too. And Ruppert, another great New York beer name, long associated with Yankees baseball. Rheingold, of the German-Jewish Liebmann family, was back. Bass Ale in two bottlings too, as often the case before Prohibition.

Pabst and Schlitz from Milwaukee could be ordered, Bud from St. Louis, and Pickwick Ale from the former beer hive of Jamaica Plain, Boston – many shrines of Gambrinus were represented.

The German beer appears to have been Zum Dürnbräu’s, one of Munich’s oldest restaurants and probably also a brewery in 1933 or with a brewery attached.

That was pretty fast, to get beer in from Germany like that. When New York wants something, they get it in the proverbial New York minute…

Even Canada pitched in (quite literally) via Oland’s ale from Nova Scotia, still available today but in the AB-In Bev family now.

The wine offerings seem rather a puzzle, as wine in its conventional sense, along with liquor, was legalized at the end of 1933 with the adoption of the 21st Amendment. The answer is that Cullen-Harrison permitted “3.2” wine. See footnote no. 132 in Thomas Pinney’s second volume of his American wine history.

The footnote gives a recipe for such dilute wine, it sounds like rather a concoction. But the familiar words, Burgundy, Medoc, etc. had a resonance from pre-Pro days.

Pinney writes that German winemakers refused to make such a weak wine for the U.S., but the McAlpin menu seems to offer one, a Moselle, as well as a real Burgundy.

The McAlpin’s menu was mostly American with a sprinkling of German and Italian dishes. The beef stew and beer – the Belgian beef carbonnades – is an unusual touch. Beer rarely influenced the kitchen in American cooking with the exception of the 1870-1920 Welsh Rabbit craze and some post-1950s interest in Beer and Cheddar Soup, a dish I’ve written about earlier.

I’d guess with the novelty of beer’s reappearance, someone thought a dish cooked with beer would attract attention.

The Hotel McAlpin was a New York institution, once the largest hotel anywhere. It still stands, today a residential building.

 

The Singleton of Dufftown

A Belter, Lads

Single malt Scotch has become wildly popular in the last 30 years. Prices are now much higher than even 10-15 years ago, and I buy much less of it as a result, ditto Irish whiskeys (the single pot still is the only one of interest to me, Redbreast and the like).

I look for values, and the availability in Ontario of Singleton 12 years old from Dufftown (in Banffshire) delivers traditional aged quality at a very attractive price.

Age statements are much less common now due to pressure on inventories, as for bourbon and straight rye. In and of itself this is not objectionable provided traditional profiles are maintained, which can be done through skilful mingling and batching, or close enough anyway.

Still, it is nice to see an old-fashioned age statement, especially in the range of 12-18 where the real quality lies.

When tasting almost any whisky, I try to forget the distillery narrative and just get on with the tasting and assessment. Knowing too much of the backstory can colour your judgement, for good and bad.

When you read too much of the legendary this and that, you can be inhibited, quite unconsciously, from stating your instinctive view.

Conversely, knowing that a whisky typically secures a low or average score can influence you to do the same when objectively the spirit deserves better.

At $59 in Ontario, The Singleton Dufftown is an outstanding value. It is creamy, malty, lightly phenolic, glycerine-smooth – mild as mother’s milk, as an old tribute (early 1800s) to good malt put it. What more can be asked of a whisky?

Mighty Diageo, owner of the distillery, also markets a Glen Ord and a Glendullan under the Singleton name. In a typically lush website spread it burbles how these whiskies are balanced and approachable.

It’s an old idea, probably started by Michael Jackson, of a bridge or “entry level” to more complex flavours.

More complex would mean the hair-raising quality of many Islay whiskies, or the sherry cavalcade some Highlands offer, that kind of thing.

Jackson used to rate Dufftown malt under or around 80 out of 100. The modulated, well-expressed formulae of the Singleton website, e.g. “symphony in oak”, conveys the idea well, so Diageo probably absorbed the notion finally.

But guvs, its whisky. Is it good, crawish, great, what? It’s very good, trust me. The price is just a bonus.

Yet, online reviews seem rather ho-hum about Singleton Dufftown. The scorings I’ve seen are similar to what Jackson gave the brand or the earlier Dufftown 12 years old.

Some don’t like the malty quality (Scotch is from a barley mash – malt is good), some detect a chemical note (it signals some distillation character- that’s good), and so on.

The general line seems to be “unoffending”, as if offensive whisky is good…?

We used to get Singleton Glendullan in Ontario and it was not nearly as good IMO: appley, coarse, a little edgy. The Dufftown is deeper, stylish, brandy-like, closer to the very first Singleton from 1986 (see below).

While the label vaunts oak, the wood effect is quite restrained for the age: a good primer in relation to bourbon, doubly woody at half the age. We think whisky should taste at least as much of whisky as wood; this one does.

I haven’t tried the Glen Ord but this Dufftown is hard to beat, indeed this bottling in particular. I say that because no two bottles of almost any decent whisky are really alike. Sometimes small differences can alter the next experience.

The current Singleton Dufftown reminds me of Highland Park 12 years old – I hope that classic expression is still available, at any rate. Singleton Dufftown is not “the same” but offers a similarly good-tasting set of malt whisky attributes.

The first Singleton was from Auchroisk in 1986, a relatively new distillery built to supply malt for big-selling blends. Its Singleton, at the same 12 years as the current line, was older than what went into the blends: soft, elegant, a touch oily, as close to brandy as one might imagine.

When the Glendullan Singleton was first available I recall keen disappointment as it was nothing like that whisky.

The Dufftown is much closer yet if anything is better, with more subtleties and Highland character. The Victorian whisky connoisseurs Alfred Barnard and George Saintsbury would have swooned for this dram. And they weren’t lads.

 

 

American Wines on the Seine

Gunflint and Gastronomy in Paris, Yankee-style

Below is a photograph of wine and liquor exhibits at the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition. As mentioned in our last post, many high quality American wines were excluded from the awards on the basis their labels infringed French “indications of origin”. In a word, their use of French wine or place names suggested an attempt to deceive, in the French mind.
This is even though the bottles clearly showed the wines were from vineyards in the State of California, U.S.A.

The image shown is from Volume 5 of the six-volume Report of the Commissioner-general for the United States to the International Universal Exposition, Paris, 1900. It detailed America’s role in the Exposition with a close examination of the exhibits offered and prizes won.

Volume 6 contains reports by Harvey Wiley, the chief chemist of the Department of Agriculture and pure food czar, whom we profiled earlier, and L.J. Vance. Wiley had been responsible to collect and present the wine samples as part of the American agricultural exhibit.

Leo Vance, a juror and New York-based writer, wrote a longer detailed analysis of the American exhibits, the American wine industry and the world wine industry; his account follows Wiley’s but both are well-worth reading.

Vance’s mini-essay provide a neat capsule of the industry in all these facets as the 20th century opened.

The great majority of the wines were provided of course by France, an enormous 6,000 vs. California’s tiny 80 and Canada’s near-infinitesimal, four. Still, the significance of the New World’s contributions far outweighed their numbers, as the awards to the United States at the 1889 Paris fair showed.

Reference to liquor’s morals was by 1900 virtually routine in any consideration of the wine, brewing, or distilling industries, even by the latter’s trade organs. Yet Vance’s account, which starts here, is notable for eliding a moralistic perspective. In this sense the piece sounds unusually modern.

The reasons are obvious: the exposition was a trade fair. There was no room to discuss political questions on booze including the desirability of limited or total prohibition. The interests of American industry needed to be advanced: end of story.

The value of this perspective though is that it shows clearly where the wine world was heading on its own terms. And clearly it had a bright future, the future it would fully reclaim only after the 1960s.

That first future was foreclosed to it by the advent of National Prohibition in 1920.

Vance and Wiley present an ambitious, forward-looking wine industry, one that unlike today was national, not just through distribution of wineries throughout the country, but in production as well. Data included showed states outside California still produced over 40% of the wine consumed in the country, see pg. 483.

Today, in contrast, California produces 90% of all U.S. wine.

New York was considered in fact a champagne specialist with the industry centered around Lake Keuka in western New York. You could still see remains of some of the large champagne houses in Hammondsport and Penn Yann, NY when I first visited there in the 1980s: large mouldering stone warehouses, for example. They probably still stand, perhaps repurposed for modern winemaking or other uses.

Had Prohibition, WW I and the Depression never come, this snapshot of 1900 wine culture would have matured into the wine world we know now – just much earlier. Whether the native grape tradition of the East described by Vance would have survived – or possibly flourished – is another question.

I think it may well have, but as things resulted, Vinifera, king in California by 1900, defined tastes nationally, finally.

Already in 1900 Vance offers a primer on wine-tasting. He recites a typically modern wine vocabulary, clearly by this time Franco-Anglo-American – international. One example is the term flinty, from pierre de fusil as the cosmopolitan Vance notes.

Vance was an epicure, obviously. The report uses neutral language to conceal the sensual and hedonistic aspects of wine, after all it was a government and bureaucratic document. Nonetheless between the lines, and not too far between them, is our consumer wine world of today.

Little seems to have survived on Vance himself. He is referred to in this restaurant history by Andrew Haley as a New York journalist important for having drawn attention to the city’s cosmopolitan food culture of the 1890s.

Clearly Vance was a progenitor of Manhattan’s 1930s food and wine clubs I profiled earlier, which in turn influenced the postwar food and wine boom. We are in a direct line of descent from Vance via the dusty pages of the solemn-looking Report.

Online sources suggest that Vance was also a business journalist; the sophistication of his commentary on the American and global wine business reinforces this conclusion.

In sum, Vance outlined the wine world we live in today, one in which American winemaking has had an outsize influence. It would have all happened much sooner – perhaps enlivened by a vibrant Eastern native grape tradition – but for the advent of repressive national laws, the Dirty Thirties, and World War.

Note re images: The first image above is from the Report referenced and linked in the text, via HathiTrust. The second is from the Wikipedia entry on the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition, also linked in the text. Images belong to their sole owner, as applicable. Used here for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.