Great Cabernet, Great History: Inglenook

Francis Coppola Recreates the Great Cabernet of Inglenook Legend

This is, I think, my first second wine review. The first was on Virginia’s Horton Vineyards Norton the other day.

I don’t plan to have many wine discussions, not because of any particular focus to this blog, but because I don’t drink that much wine.

Why is that? It’s not that I don’t like it. I like most examples of fermented and distilled beverages, wine included. It’s just that both budget and a rational weekly drinks limit exclude wine for the most part.

For the drinks I permit myself, they must be mostly beer and a little spirits.

Wine features therefore only where I have a particular interest, usually historical as for the Norton, or there may be some other reason, perhaps something I find on holiday.

For the wine pictured above, I wrote recently about a dinner in 1954 at which all-Inglenook wines were featured. The event was the inaugural dinner of the Wine and Food Society of Pasadena, its menu is shown below, sourced from the chapter’s website. I outlined some of the winery’s history in my post mentioned.

Inglenook had a high reputation in the 1950s and 60s as it did in the years following its establishment in the 1880s by pioneering vinifera grower Captain Niebaum. With restoration of winemaking after Prohibition, 1940s Inglenook Cabernets were particularly esteemed and acknowledged in wine circles internationally.

The post-1935 winery (year of passing of Niebaum’s widow) achieved a high pitch of excellence especially for estate reds.At the 1954 dinner a 1946 Cabernet Sauvignon was served, possibly made 100% of that grape or blended with Merlot or another grape. It was eight years old when the neophyte Pasadena branch of the Wine and Food Society held its first dinner.

1940s Inglenooks were legendary, also pictured is the 1941 vintage put up for auction with similar items some years ago as chronicled in this 2011 Decanter article by wine writer Adam Lechmere.

What did 40s Cabs taste like? What did Captain Niebaum’s acclaimed early noble wines taste like? He grew Cabernet Sauvignon among other European varieties and it’s not clear (from my reading) how his early wines were composed. Given he admired Bordeaux red it’s likely though he was seeking the character of the French classified estates whence his cuttings issued.

Inglenook after its 1950s-60s upmarket heyday went into a relative decline by being passed through different hands and focusing ultimately on the supermarket category. Its European-style wines were good average quality, good value for table wines, but the halcyon vintage days were passed.

Francis Ford Coppola, now in his late 70s, bought parts of the winery in stages from the 1970s and finally rescued the Inglenook trade mark. His wines today come out under his own name and a few years ago he issued a premium “1882” as a tribute to Niebaum’s groundbreaking work in California viticulture.

The all-Cabernet Sauvignon wine is issued, as further tribute, under the Inglenook name, clearly as an attempt to restore lustre to the brand. The name indeed is hard to find on the label, but presumably will get a ramp-up as time passes.

The current winemaker is French and is implementing a long-term plan for the winery including restoration of the highest quality for its Bordeaux-style wines.

We rarely get the chance to taste premium wine, Champagne apart at festive moments. But I have read acres of prose over the decades what fine Bordeaux and estate Napa red are like. So the first taste brought back, not so much personal experience, but all that reading.

The nose was, in a sometimes-derided cliche but it’s true, lead pencil. The lead more than the wood, with background notes of blackberry and dark-skinned fruit, also a tarry note.

The taste was plush yet dry, easily carrying the 14.5% ABV. The 1882 is easy to drink slowly, and no acidity seemed to build as for many red wines. It’s very good, let’s just say that. It gives me an inkling what the fuss was about when quality Bordeaux-style wine started to emerge from Napa, Sonoma, and Livermore valleys in particular.

It was interesting to compare it to the Norton of Horton Vineyards in Virginia. Norton is a North American grape once viewed as a contender in the international premium red wine stakes. It is somewhat acid (its nature) and offers a more frankly but non-foxy, I underline, fruit character.

The analogy of Norton is not really to Cabernet IMO but to Pinot Noir and perhaps more Gamay for Beaujolais, or to a cross of Gamay and Zinfandel.

Both wines were excellent but different. I’d serve them with different foods at different temperatures.

A good example of a beer analogue to the 1882 is Timothy Taylor’s Landlord from Keighley, England: every bit as good but on the malty vector. I could see a dinner at which just those were served serially (beer first) with Ontario ice wine to finish. Yes?

Coppola and his winemaker should be very proud of 1882. I’d guess it is on a par with the best superwines and so-called garage wines of California’s best wine regions (damaged as some were recently but they will come back).

The only California superwine I’ve had I’d put on a par with it is 1970s Mayacamus with its violet-scented nose and taste – softer and more flowery than 1882 but a similar level of quality.

Some years ago I had the chance to taste different vintages of Heitz Cabernet but this 1882 easily outclassed those, IMO, as for most other premium Golden State reds I can recall.

Note re images: the last two images above were sourced from the sites respectively linked in the text. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to the lawful owners or authorized users, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

Rustic New England Food and the Big City

Welcome to the Hotel Pennsylvania, 1936

A vintage menu that points to the future of North American dining and wine culture is the December 1936 dinner of the New York-based Gourmet Society.

The full menu is archived here, from the invaluable menu archive of Johnson and Wales University. The charming document, typed and mimeographed for distribution, featured the pioneering radio journalist and author Mary McBride as speaker. You may read of her career here.

The Gourmet Society was helmed by writer and food authority J. George Frederick, and lasted from 1933 until about 1960. I profiled the group earlier and have discussed a number of their menus.

The 1936 dinner was held at Hotel Pennsylvania in New York, across from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. Then comparatively new, the hotel is a New York stalwart although the glamour has faded.

In the late 1930s it was stylish, the perfect place to host a creative dinner of the type pioneered by the Gourmet Society and New York Wine and Food Society.

Each dish was typical of coastal or interior New England, from the Vermont turkey pie to Connecticut Oysters Casino and Maine stuffed potatoes. Really though, the menu can be styled Northeast rustic, it is as Canadian as American.

British readers will be forgiven for thinking the meal has an oddly familiar look. Oysters, a crusted pie of poultry, mashed winter vegetables, with a sweet sauce to accompany – it could have appeared in Dickens or Thackeray. Even New England rum was British, or British Colonial, originally.

New World influences include the tomatoes and perhaps the cranberry, although Cumberland Sauce is a hop and skip from that – or vice versa.

The “chablis”, a generic label from one of the restored California wineries, was a good choice. Yet, it took imagination at the time to choose such an item over French or German types.

1936 is only three years after liquor comes back, still the dark age of the American wine business. But even 1930s New York had the imagination to drink American at a gourmet dinner.

The Old Pilgrim rum was a conscious attempt to recall the grand era of New England’s Medford rum – grand in retrospect, of course. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone…

What makes the Hotel Pennsylvania dinner foodism, a construct? The menu was a conscious investigation, or interpretation, of regional foodways. It wasn’t just tonight’s dinner or even a festive menu as such. It was a group of “cosmopolites” – intellectuals leading the way – viewing food in a cultural lens, not just as sustenance or tradition.

It presaged an Anthony Bourdain visiting Cajun country or South America. It presaged the Iron Chef, Graham Kerr, the Time-Life cookery series, James Beard, and Ruth Reichl.

This way of dining gets the goat of some people, but it’s as valid a way to eat as any other way. Food and foodways belong to the world.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced via Pinterest hereAll intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

Norton Virginia: Fascinating History and Taste

Pre-Civil War Grape Type Shines 

Earlier I discussed the Norton Virginia grape, a native American type discovered c. 1830 by Dr. Daniel Norton in Richmond, Virginia. It is of the Vitis aestivalis species, and of unconfirmed lineage. Some think it has some European heritage (Vitis vinifera) but it is considered of the wild American grape family.

Most American grapes, of the six or seven types native to the continent (labrusca, riparia, etc.), have the fox flavour. This is the wild grape taste, a funky, blackcurrant note that traditionally is eschewed for quality wine-making.

Some of the grape types or hybrids associated with the taste are Concord, Delaware, Catawba. These wines had local markets in North America for generations both before and after Prohibition, either for table grapes, sweet and dry wine or both.

With the introduction of European vinifera types to California where they were a marked success, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling (and now many other areas including Ontario), viticulture based on native grape varieties has slowed considerably.

For example, little of this type is grown in Ontario because the provincial retail liquor monopoly, Liquor Control Board of Ontario, only buys Vinifera wines from growers, who are incented in other ways not to grow native varieties.

While this structure to our modern wine system was felt drastically to improve wine quality here, it has resulted in viticulture based largely on European grape types and the few hybrids authorized by Ontario’s wine standards body, Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA).

In the U.S. many wineries persist with native grapes especially in the East where climate often is unfavourable to cultivating vinifera or the most popular sorts. I recall drinking Delaware and Catawba wine in the Finger Lakes region of New York years ago, and I’m sure some is still made.

A lot was sweetened but not all and winemakers are constantly trying to come up with the magic formula that will produce a widely appealing flavour albeit it might disclose some fox flavour.

Fox flavour characterizes many of the American-grown hops popular since the 1970s. Beer drinkers readily accepted these tastes, the wild fruit taste that characterizes Concord, say, which has relegated its use to sacramental wine, grape juice, and jam.

Welch’s grape juice typifies the taste to those reading who know the brand. Grape jelly for toast has the same taste.

Enter Norton Virginia, sometimes known as Norton or Cynthiana. While a charter member of the native grape group, it lacks the fox taste. This was noted immediately on production of wine from the grape in early 1800s. Three states are known for its cultivation historically, Arkansas, Virginia, and Missouri.

The absence of fox taste made it a star in the eyes of Europeans and those in their thrall making authoritative determinations of wine quality. Norton grape wine won  a gold medal at the Vienna world exhibition in 1873 and was even grown in France.

It was thought to be a first class “claret” wine and set to be a major international variety comparable to Bordeaux red, fine Burgundy, and other noble reds. See some background in this excellent precis of its history from the Appellation America website. A search of “Norton Virginia” will disclose many other good short accounts.

But that world stage never came. There are a number of reasons: California with its lush European variety wines, in the market since the 1880s after pioneer growers brought European cuttings, started to overshadow eastern winemakers.

Also, the Norton grape is difficult to propagate which inhibited its spread to otherwise receptive vineyards. Further, it requires a receptive climate, especially a long growing season albeit it is strongly resistant to the cold weather period and the phylloxera pest. Modern viticulture and science probably could find ways around the limitations, as they have for vinifera in many regions.

Finally, WW I and especially Prohibition ended any chance of a world greeting for Norton. The 1930s was period of transition where growers back in business were deciding what to grow and how to sell it during the Depression, then WW II came. Norton Virginia fell by the wayside.

So the grape has remained on the fringes of the wine world but a dedicated group of winemakers, most in its three heartland states, persist with it including Horton Vineyards in Virginia where Dennis Horton has grown the grape since 1989. I tasted his wine last night in company of an English guest.

We all agreed it was flavourful and interesting. The guest thought berry-like, an accurate view IMO and I’d add spicy, with good acidity. It is somewhat like Zinfandel but less “hot” and with no jammy quality – a cooler climate Zin with some resemblance to the best Beaujolais as well, Morgon, say, and Fleurie.

The type is said to age well – Horton on the label suggests 7-10 years – but drinking it fairly new showed appealing qualities all the same.

While I hold nothing against the fox taste as such on the theory of the relativity of taste and using the beer analogy again, lacking the fox taste can do nothing to harm Norton’s future prospects. The grape performs differently too depending on local growing conditions and this variety of character would broaden its appeal.

Perhaps it can be grown successfully in parts of Ontario. I’d think the southwestern corner may be apt, which has a warmer climate than other parts of Ontario.

Based just on this one bottle, Norton deserves to be much more widely known. It may one day become America’s answer to the red wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel (Zin of course is an American variety but its lineage is 100% European, effectively it is an import as the other three).

It may fulfill the destiny, finally, many forecast in the 1800s.

 

Origins of the Beer Sparkler

The Road to Wigan’s Pint – and the North’s

A beery controversy in the U.K. since the 1970s is whether the “sparkler” is good for beer. A sparkler is a perforated ball fitted to the end of the tap. It aerates and forces CO2 from the beer as the handpump draws it from the cask. The pint acquires a dense head and creamy texture.

Without the sparkler cask ale pours fairly flat with a loose, thinnish head that dissipates quickly. Serving the pint sans sparkler is popular in the south of England. In the north the sparkler is generally liked although custom can vary by sub-region and pub.

You don’t read much today about “the sparkler – is it good or bad?”, but oceans of ink and bandwidth were sacrificed in the past to a cause that seems delphic to non-initiates.

It’s not that the hard core has tired of the controversy. Newer issues arise and attention turns elsewhere.

Still, the matter of sparkler and cask ale quality remains. For what it’s worth I prefer cask bitter without the sparkler. Its effect seems to blunt hop flavour and generally flatten out the taste.

The sparkler was referred to parenthetically in a 1949 brewing journal article by J.W. Scott, “From Cask to Consumer”. Initially, I thought it was a post-1945 invention, or perhaps an expedient to make thin, wartime beer more attractive in the glass.

In fact its use well precedes that date. The sparkler was invented and patented in the early 1880s by George Barker. He advertised the device for sale in 1885 and identified himself as from the “Crown Hotel, Ince, near Wigan”.

The first advertisement I saw left off the “l” in Hotel, or the upload to Google Books did that. I thought that “Ince” must also be a misprint, or an imperfect uploading again. But no, Ince is a real place nearish to Manchester, Ince-in-Makerfield. (About 17 miles).

The above short article is from p. 707 of the November 1, 1885 issue of The British Trade Journal and Export World, Vol. 23. It explained what Barker’s device did, indeed exactly as people describe the effect today. The sparkler makes flat beer seem more sparkling by agitating the beer and creating the creamy effect.

The ad shown above is from the journal mentioned.

Anyone familiar with beer knows you can swirl the glass to pick up the foam, or with a stirrer of some kind. Barker’s invention did the same thing but methodically.

Cask ale of course has no CO2 added at the brewery or pub, so, as it pours fairly flat, the sparkler enlivened pints that looked unattractive. For some reason the south has never minded flat pints, it may be palate-related, it may be the desire to have a brimful glass.

I cannot find any trace of a Crown Hotel at Ince. But there was one – and is – at 106 Wigan Road, New Springs, near the canal. Ince was a kind of suburb of Wigan, itself some miles from Manchester.

New Springs is only two miles from the centre of Ince. You see its Crown Hotel pictured, a handsome house that looks old enough to have been the locale where Barker did his field work.

Maybe he lived in Ince and worked at the hotel, or used the hotel for a business address. It’s a nice looking pub, isn’t it? It’s still going strong and gets fine reviews, see details here. It serves, need I say, cask ale, presumably through Barker’s Aerator, the formal name of his device.

In this Google maps view, you see the route from Ince to the Crown Hotel. The route wends further to another Crown Hotel in Worthington. That is another old public house, now closed. I thought it might have been the place Barker did his testing.

But Worthington is seven miles from Ince, likely too far for Barker to have travelled there unless he did so intermittently.

I feel fairly certain his Crown Hotel is as pictured, at 106 Wigan Road – unless you sleuths reading – you know who you are – uncover a Crown Hotel in Ince. If you do, a pint on me, but you must meet me in Toronto. Okay, two pints.*

Wigan, for non-Britons reading, is Lancashire – up north you know, so that part ties in.

Note re images: the first two images above were sourced from the 1885 journal article linked in the text. The third was sourced from this Google Maps view, and the last, from the Google Maps view linked in the text. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to the lawful owners or authorized users, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*In fact, reader Roy Pearson has shown that there was a Crown Hotel in Ince, tenanted by Barker, see his message in the Comments. We thank Roy for straightening this out.

 

Pint of Burning Gold

Bring Me Pint of Burning Gold, Laden with Green and Pleasant Hops

Having sampled Timothy Taylor Landlord, an English pale ale, in bottle recently it brought back the commanding heights of English brewing. The cask version in England would only be better.

The flavour of these beers – meaning old school bitter and pale ale – is often incomparable. While lower amounts of hops are used today vs. the 1800s, the balance and gastronomic quality resulting from using English hop varieties especially for aroma are evident. If you used 1800s levels of hops they would equal a typical modern IPA in intensity and might often be better, beer for beer.

This brings to mind the many local attempts, by which I mean, Canadian, Ontarian, American, to make an English beer similar to England’s surviving best old-school beers.

I’ve tasted many of them in the last 40 years. I am not talking here about English-inspired beers that use local hops for terroir and practical reasons – this ended by creating the American pale ale/IPA format – but where local brewers try to emulate the English taste. This means in part using English hops brought here, just as European brewers successfully use New World hops to create American-style beers there.

Rarely can I recall an English bitter or pale ale being successfully made here. They don’t really come close, in my experience. We can get the malts or use similar ones of our own; we can get the hops; we can adjust brewing waters; we can select an English yeast; we can do cask; so why can’t we make a Timothy Taylor Landlord?

The English-type beers I’ve tasted rarely have the right malt profile, often I get a kind of mixed or “cracker” grain flavour, as e.g. for Goose Island’s (quite decent) Bitter Half the other day. I wonder if it comes from using too many malts. Where brewers disclose the number you read often of 5, 6 or more malts being used.

Is this really necessary? 1800s pale ale used one malt. Modern bitter often combines just pale malt and caramel malt.

I’ve had English-style beers with wheat in them – Britain does this too now sometimes – and I cannot see why this grain is necessary. It seems often to thin the beer and leave a faint dryness that doesn’t belong in pale ale.

You want – or I want – a clean sweet maltiness, the Maris Otter Pete Brown writes so well of in his new book is ideal but I’ve had many North American beers with great malt qualities. Celebration Ale from Sierra Nevada, for example.

Use that malt profile with English hops and you should end up with something Hook Norton, Timothy Taylor, Shepherd Neame, or many other English brewers would be proud of.

I’m not complaining, as we have innovated many styles of beer that now form part of the Gambrinal pantheon. But a fine English-style beer should be part of many brewers’ ranges.

I did have the odd beer over time that did deliver the true taste. Once, at Russian River in California. Probably the odd one in Ontario or Montreal over the years.

But even when the profile is right it’s usually too timid. You can get a small burst of flowery hop that is clearly English but it should dominate the beer, as say it did years ago for John Martin’s Special Pale Ale, brewed at the time if memory serves by Courage in Bristol.

Where the taste gets close, in other words, it doesn’t take you all the way – for me, that is, and here we speak of course of our palate, our tastes, but I can’t imagine a true English beer wouldn’t attract followers here. For one thing it’s a market opportunity given the proliferation of IPAs and pale ales with the American stamp.

Europe is brewing our styles faithfully; we should be returning the favour, not just for Germany or Belgium – overdone! – but for England’s classic forms of pale ale, bitter, and strong ale.

Note re image: the image shown was sourced from Timothy Taylor’s website. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historic purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

Pasadena and Early Gastronomy

As California’s population and economy grew post-WW II, new chapters of the International Wine and Food Society were formed in the state.

The Los Angeles branch was first to be founded in 1935. Indeed 20 years later it reached a stage of maturity to warrant its first history being published as I discussed recently (in fact, two histories have been published to date). This is years before a foodie culture pervaded America as a whole.

Two members of the L.A. group formed the nucleus of a new Pasadena chapter in 1954, as explained on its website:*

… a second organizational meeting was held at the Stuft Shirt Restaurant. Each charter member was requested to invite a few good friends who enjoyed food, wine, and camaraderie to join the new Society. It was determined that there would be four annual dinners, a logo was designed , and annual dues of $50 per member were assessed. ($10 was allotted to each dinner, to include both food and wine). The minutes of the second meeting were closed by Mr. Goss, stating “the meeting was adjourned in a gentlemanly fashion, sans stagger.” The first full membership dinner of the Wine and Food Society of Pasadena was held at The Piccadilly Restaurant in Pasadena on 9 November 1954. It was titled “An Italian Dinner accompanied by Inglenook Wines”.

On the same website you may read its first menu, a simple affair for typography and design but which sets out an inviting Italian dinner held in a local restaurant.

The Piccadilly Restaurant was perhaps another name for the Piccadilly Cafeteria, long part of a small, southern chain. No restaurant exists today in the general area under either name, as far as I know.

All the wines served were from Inglenook, the famed California winery that opened in the late-1800s. The winery was founded – unconventionally, in typical U.S. fashion – by a Finnish seafarer and his American wife.

Inglenook winery took many twists and turns after the captain died. The business was revived after Prohibition and became one of four or five wineries of national scale to dominate the U.S. wine business. Inglenook’s fortunes declined, with other big names, after hundreds of small wineries took the momentum from the late-1960s.

Francis Ford Coppola needs no introduction. He bought the vineyards after a wending history that involved the mighty Constellation Brands. Initially he did not own the Inglenook name but later acquired that, too.

Hence, estate wines now appear under its original name. Before that Coppola had issued wines under the name Coppola-Niebaum – Niebaum was the founding Finn.

Almost certainly the Los Angeles Wine and Food Society, today called the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, had held Italian dinners, possibly with California wines, and in any case early in its history supported local wineries, as I discussed earlier. So the Pasadena group did not innovate in that area.

Still, to base an inaugural dinner on all-local wines in the mid-1950s showed the growing confidence of Eisenhower-era gastronomes in California wines. Most budding epicurean societies would have selected European wines at the time, and probably (we think) French or German before Italian.

Despite a period sound to the 1954 proceedings, for one thing it was all-male, the group was forward-looking and intrepid for the subject matter. It could have selected mostly Italian wines, but went all out for California. Possibly the wines were sponsored, but in any case an early focus on localism can be perceived, on terroir, in effect.

The Charbono on the list is an Italian-origin, red wine grape that goes by many names, and is still grown sometimes in California. It’s not the same cultivar as Barbera but offers some of its taste qualities, or of Zinfandel: vigorous and rustic.

Charbono was and still is used in blending, both in so-called field blends but also to buttress the noble Cabernet Sauvignon.

An Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon at said dinner speaks for itself and was vintage-dated 1946, as for other selections. The non-Cab wines on the menu mostly resonate today as well.

In fact, you can buy an Inglenook Cab Sauv in Ontario, with an 1882 mention on the label. It’s to suggest a character in the wine attributable to the winery’s early days. We like that, and will pick it up soon for a trial.**

Note re image: the image above was sourced from Pinterest, here. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized users, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*Unfortunately at December 6, 2019, the links in the text to these aspects of the chapter’s history appear no longer operative.

** Note added December 6, 2019: I later bought it and it was first rate, inky, pencil shavings, blackberry, all that good stuff.

 

 

 

 

Miami and Birth of Modern Food Culture

The Miami Wine and Food Society: a getty that grew

The Miami Branch of the International Wine and Food Society was inaugurated in 1962 under the tutelage of wine and food author Charles H. Baker, Jr., Dr. Lewis C. Skinner, Jr., and Stephen A. Lynch, Jr., among others. The current website of the IWFS neatly explains:

 

The Miami Branch was founded by Dr. Louis C. Skinner Jr., a world traveler and respected authority on wine and food.  In the summer of 1961, Lou and Society founder André Simon met in London.  Upon leaving London, Lou traveled to Bordeaux and purchased four cases of red wine of that glorious vintage from 52 different Bordeaux chateaux [en primeur], which he received in 1963 and cellared in his home.  This was reputed to be the best 1961 Bordeaux collection in the world.

In October 1961, the Miami Branch Organizational Committee convened its first meeting at Café Louis in Lou Skinner’s Home.   Lou declined to be the first Branch President, and the honor was bestowed upon Charles Baker.  The inaugural dinner was held on March 28, 1962 at the Columbus Hotel, Miami, FL

Similar to the Los Angeles branch founded 28 years earlier, the Miami founders and leaders were in the cream of society. Membership was limited for many years.

In 2009 Scott Bailey, a member since 1983, penned an account of the first decades that sparkles by its perceptive comments. He covers the evolution of the membership, the wine cellar of the branch and how it changed over time, and types of events held. For example, for many years black-tie was required and the dinners were stag; only later were women included.

This was of course a reflection of an earlier generation’s customs. My sense is the club was white-shoe and old-school, as many gastronomic societies were in previous times. It is surely quite different today. The current website shows an interesting roster of activities and a membership of almost 80.

Bailey included dozens of menus in his account starting with the first dinner in ’62. They make for absorbing reading but Bailey has helped us understand them even better with his insider’s perspective. We can conclude not just that the Miami branch changed with the times, but influenced the times in its turn.

Initially the meals were European in focus and rather “Francophile”, not so much at the very beginning, as he notes that the first meal, which started with oysters Rockefeller, was more “supper club chic” than truly French. But a 25th anniversary meal featured classic French cuisine at its most sophisticated. The wines included top classified Bordeaux, not just the Burgundy that tended to characterize early dinners.

Bailey notes that as late as 1994 the cellar did not contain any American wine. He states an early experiment was made to cellar California wine but it did not succeed, so this delayed the time when Napa and other California vintages would be regularly offered the membership.

The focus for decades was noble French wines – Bordeaux, Burgundies, Champagnes, and wines from other French regions especially Alsace and Rhone. German wines, and to a degree Italian, Spanish and Portugal wines, also figured in the events.

After 1994 the percentage of New World wines grew albeit France still dominated at the date of writing.

In fact, a number of early Miami branch dinners did offer California wines. These resulted from a member hosting a gathering at his club, or from a restaurant’s list rather than using the branch’s cellar.

By 1970 California wines were occasionally offered including Inglenook, Beaulieu, Buena Vista, and Robert Mondavi. This January 6, 1970 meal is an illustration which contain well-penned product and taste notes. It was held at the private The Bath Club (pictured). The meal is classic French but all the wines were American including a 12-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon.

My sense is that in the early years the Miami chapter lacked the enthusiasm for California viticulture the Los Angeles chapter demonstrated once as the industry got on its feet after Repeal in 1933. This is understandable, as L.A. was in America’s “wine central” State: foodies, to use a rather unsatisfactory term, had first access so to speak to wines that only later achieved acceptance in a broader compass.

As well, Lewis Skinner was internationally known for his matchless collection of French vintages especially from the great years 1929, 1945 and 1962. 1982 was included as well, finally. Skinner and Baker were friends with Michael Broadbent, André Simon, Cyril Ray and other international wine luminaries and generously made their private collections available for epic branch tastings.

So a French perspective, one way or another, ended by dominating branch events for some time. Bailey uses the term “International” to denote a subsequent phase of branch activities. This meant an increasing focus on New World wines and also regional and ethnic cuisines.

Even from the late 1960s menus on the website show a budding interest in non-French and regional cuisine.

Thus, in the 1970s and ’80s a Spanish-and-Basque dinner was held, a luxury Chinese dinner based on regional dishes (no alcohol served, only Chrysanthemum tea – Skinner was also a tea expert), various Italian dinners, a Provence-Côte D’Azur menu, an English “country house” menu (mostly French wines and a sherry, no beer), even a Belgian dinner (French wines again, no beer).

I haven’t inspected every menu, perhaps one did feature a beer or two with a meal, but I haven’t found one as yet. The same is true for whiskey, rum, and other spirits.

The arc of the Miami branch, as elucidated in Scott Bailey’s essay and by the menus, is a lesson in miniature for the how American foodways evolved at an epicurean level. To be sure the people enjoying these experiences were a small group, privileged in numerous ways – prosperous, educated – but they also were taste-makers.

Along with IWFS members in other cities, with other gastronomic organizations, with Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Clairborne, Mimi Sheraton, and TV cooking shows, they helped paved the way for today’s food culture.

I like the approach of the International Food and Wine Society as exemplified by its early years. There is a learned tone to it that appeals to me. Some of the “epicurean” language and attitudes seems a bit high-flown. At bottom though, they took food and drink seriously and made education a central part of their mission.

Today the world of the Ramsays, Bourdains, Rays, Olivers, Iron Chefs and bake-offs seems rather different. They bring good or interesting food to a broader range of people than in the old days, so it’s good as far as that goes. But the scholarly tone of old-style foodies has an intrinsic value (IMO) that can’t be gainsaid.

And need I say: it’s wrong to think a deep interest in drink or food, shared with the like-minded and enjoying the best money can buy, is elitist or snobbish. It’s not, there is an old tradition for it going back to Socrates. It’s an area of endeavour as valid as miniature trains, go-karting, steam-punk or whatever drives your boat.

Because everyone needs to eat and drink, some people take offence when others drill down on what is quotidian for them. But there’s no reason gastronomy should be exempt from the countless passions that move people to hyper-enthusiasm.

I’d guess today’s IWFS covers both the old-style approach for those inclined and the more modern interests the avatars of today cater to.

Finally, as Dr. Marcus Crahan put it in his 1955 history of the L.A. chapter I discussed yesterday, what is important is not the wine but the memories, meaning the learning, the discussions, disputations, the community. Wine and food provide the impetus but are not the main thing, else why create a group centered on its elucidation and enjoyment?

His dictum applies today no less, to tv chefs and their competitions, the glossy culinary mags and websites, food festivals, all of it.

Otherwise, one might just as well drink his vintage Chateau Latour, or choice Imperial Stout, or (historically interesting) Horton Vineyards Norton Virginia, or whatever it is, on his or her own. What fun is that?

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the website of The Bath Club in Miami, FL, here. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Image is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

Angelenos, Ales and Aristocrats

Early California Epicures Omit not the Beer

Dr. Marcus E. Crahan (1901-1978) was a psychiatrist and long-time Medical Director of Los Angeles County Jail. Apart from his considerable importance in gastronomy, he is remembered for his investigations of the deaths of Robert F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.

Crahan was of a prominent California family, one established for generations in the State. He was a bon vivant, bibliophile, and key early member of the Wine and Food Society of Southern California (originally, the Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles).

This group was one of the first American branches of the London-based Wine and Food Society, set up in 1933 by the French-born culinary author and wine expert André L. Simon.

Simon was the President and the Briton A.J.A. Symons, the Secretary. Simon edited the Society’s influential Wine and Food Journal.

The New York, Boston, and Chicago chapters of the WFS were all established between 1933 and 1935 as a result of Simon’s indefatigable missionary efforts, which indeed ranged around the world. Hence many more chapters would arise, both in the U.S. and other continents.

The Southern California branch continues today and unlike many other branches retains a somewhat exclusive aura. Many of the newer branches – California has about 20 in total – accept new members on application while the Southern California branch still vets new members.

The website of the International Wine and Food Society, as it is now termed, explains that each branch has its own traditions, which permits a degree of autonomy in the selection of members. Nonetheless, all branches must follow general IWFS policies which include the promotion of gastronomy, of wine culture, and food education.

In 1955, 20 years after the Southern California branch was founded, Crahan compiled a comprehensive history of the group, which you can read here. It is an invaluable record, one that describes many early branch dinners and other data on its operations, and on the IWFS in general.

Clearly the early L.A. wing was composed of, or at least directed by, socially prominent Californians, an elite if you will. Early key members included W.I. Converse, Sr., from the wine industry, and Dr. Phil Hanna, another medico.

Nonetheless their culinary and wine adventuring shows a questing spirit, one rather in tune with today’s world cuisine culture. The members tasted and drank from many traditions that covered a wide geographical and cultural range.

By 1955 the group had held no less than 155 sessions. Even in 1937-1938 he writes that the group had reached a pitch of activity, engaging in every kind of tasting and dinner it ever would. Activities included a prescient Chilean wine tasting and dinner, an Armenian dinner, Swedish and English dinners, and a foray into Peruvian cuisine and pisco brandy.

Among the drinks tasted, both stand-alone and with meals, whiskey and some other spirits are not present. Yet, Crahan writes that he included only representative dinners so the group may have held early whisky tastings, and perhaps for rum or tequila. Wines of course were extensively sampled including from the restored but still gestating California vineyards.

The onset of the Nazi era did not deter the group from sampling German wines. In April 1938 German (and Alsatian) wines were tabled for assessment, for example.

Andre Simon even published a book, German Wines, in 1939 that apparently had support from Germany’s Ministry of Agriculture. Until the war directly entangled America, such activities were not viewed askance in many segments of American society. Perhaps the group came to regret such dubious actions, yet they are part of its history.

Craven’s book includes a bibliography of Simon’s writings, a lengthy and comprehensive set of works by a prolific writer. It is especially impressive for someone who left school at 17 and was writing in a second language. A letter from Simon to Crahan is included that itself constitutes a revealing short history of the International Wine and Food Society.

Bruiting the Beer, the Wine of the Country

Did this Los Angeles group ignore beer? Not at all. It held at least one impressive tasting on September 7, 1938. Nowhere in the book does Crahan give any indication that he or fellow-members considered beer inferior to their (more usual) wine interests.

At the time, this approach to beer was unusual, certainly in elite society. California, however, by its nature – a later pattern of settlement, the early multi-cultural cast, the climate – favoured a more expansive approach than traditional epicures approved.

Crahan and company conferred an annual award for the best non-wine beverage (spirit or beer). Acme Bock, brewed in California, consistently won. Clearly the Society was willing, as applicable, to place domestic brewing on a par with reputed international names. In that regard, Carlsberg beer, from Denmark, won the award in 1939, an example (among many) of its pre-craft fame.

Is it any surprise that craft brewing took flight in 1970s California? One can credit in some small part Crahan’s group for the beer revival, as it viewed the subject in a serious way decades before the first modern craft breweries arose.

As noted, California wine figures almost from the beginning in the group’s activities. As quality and availability grew so did the number of Napa and other State wines in their tastings. The group also toured the newly energized wineries in the state, for example in Santa Clara.

Crahan himself published a book on California wines. Another member, Maynard McFie, published a California wine commentary in 1941, perhaps the first after restoration of legal winemaking in 1933.

Viz. the beer and wine forays, see pg. 44 of the book and the summary as of 1952 for the many awards Wente winery had won, including for its Pinot Chardonnay.

During WW II, the book makes clear the group ceased most activities but still held small gatherings. As I’ve discussed earlier, the New York branch of the WFS continued its tastings between 1942 and 1945, on a modified basis. This gave WFS members the opportunity to examine American viticulture from a new angle (necessity!). The situation in L.A. seems broadly comparable in   this period.

Surely the enforced focus on local, also hemispheric, wines by prestige culinarians helped foster a positive image for American wine after WW II.

Crahan Speaks

Below are a couple of pages from Crahan’s prologue. He eloquently explained how mingling Yankee and Spanish cultures produced a unique gastronomy in California. It’s a phenomenon that later repeated for many other cuisines in many places, as well-chronicled today.

In general, the L.A. group approached food and drink in a way similar to our podcasts, the Food Network, and other media that diffuse the modern food and drink culture.

What’s changed is the democratization factor: what was once a hobby or networking tool for the privileged and well-heeled has gone mainstream, or at least, much more so than existed in the 1930s-1960s.

The New York branch, indeed all the U.S. branches, were important in this history but given that California’s early members were located in America’s premier wine state, their early explorations of wine and food have outsize significance.

 

 

 

Note re images: all images above are via the HathiTrust digital library, from the book linked in the text. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

Beef, beef, beef, ale, ale, ale*

Beer Joins Cuisine at Table

In discussing early beer and food menus, I’ve drawn attention both to pairings of beer and food and dishes using beer as an ingredient: the two often go together.

Certainly before about 1900 one does not see either form, not as planned offerings for a bill of fare. Of course folk custom always paired beer with some foods. In England ale (or other beer) was legion with meat pie, steak or other beef, cheese, and famously, cake.

Steak and ale were occasionally blended under the pie or pudding pastry but this was more haphazard than anything else: England had no beer cuisine vs. the odd dish that sometimes used beer as an ingredient.

Germany had its pairings, in which the sausage figured not a little (still does), and its beer soups and such, but there was no organized beer cuisine, and the same for Austria, the Czech lands, and other beer countries. Even Flanders’ beer dishes before the 1950s seem rather thin on the ground, as I’ve discussed earlier.

And so writing a menu to pair different beers with foods or offering recipes with beer is comparatively new. I’ve given numerous examples starting in 1898, the first was a German-American dinner at a restaurant owned by Pabst Brewery. This example may be viewed perhaps as the start of a practice that derived from commercial impulse rather than long social custom.

(Things often start with commercial aims and then become accepted practice, there is certainly nothing wrong with that).

Pairing wine and food, in which France notably excelled with the gentry following in England, provided the template for what we now call “beer dinners”.

While French culture and English gentility provided the analogy, a spur was needed given the lack of a parallel tradition for beer and food. This came again from commercial impulses. An early example is provided by the menu shown from 1937, a luncheon of the United Brewers Industrial Foundation.

The UBIF was later absorbed into what is now the Beer Institute, one of the two main beer lobbies in the United States.

A number of the dishes used beer in the preparation – even good old American chocolate cake. Beer chocolate cake sounds contemporary, something the local brewpub might offer at its next beer dinner. Here we see it in 1937, at the height of the Depression and when malign dictators were strutting around Europe.

Clearly these dishes, and even the service of beer only at the meal (no wine), came from a conscious attempt to make beer the theme of the meal. This kind of meal was never seen before in American or European custom, at least to my knowledge.

The 1898 Pabst dinner pictured below is not quite the same as its dishes did not apparently use beer in the cooking. Still, it is a kind of precedent for the later event and perhaps more so since it pairs specific beers with specific courses.

Eloise Davison, one of the speakers at the lunch, wrote a book sponsored by the UBIF called Beer in the American home. It contained numerous recipes with beer, things like beer and beef kidneys, beer cole slaw and probably the said chocolate cake. Clearly the beer recipes in the 1937 menu were from that book as the menu invites requests to be sent the recipes.

Davison was a home economist, a journalist and editor who had long written about food. She was the ideal person to write the book she did. I have not read it and perhaps she suggests sources in the book for her recipes – in effect this was so for the Bohemian beer soup – but I suspect most recipes with beer were of her own devise.

Janet Clarkson, the Australian food historian who blogs at The Old Foodie, discussed in 2010 a number of the recipes promoted by the UBIF. Start here for an illuminating discussion.

One would think that if anyone was to invent a tradition of beer cuisine it would be the various brewers associations, at least for their own dinners.

The New York Public Library menu archive discloses about a dozen dinners or lunches held by such groups in the first half of the 1900s, but the 1937 luncheon is the first I’ve seen to present beer as the (drinkable, edible) theme of a brewers’ dinner.

The other events either don’t mention any alcohol or list various wines and other liquors to accompany the meal. Beer was sometimes included but one can tell it was “thrown in”.

 

Why would brewers of all people not make beer the theme of their culinary gatherings? First, these affairs were partly working luncheons, it makes sense no alcohol was served at some, especially perhaps in communities with an abstinence image.

Second, brewers can be excused for wanting to drink something different from their daily stock-in-trade. The organizing committees would have been encouraged to choose some nice wine or other liquor as a treat.

By the 1930s though and with the increasing sophistication of public relations and business in general, clearly brewers thought they should showcase their wares as part of their business gatherings. Two beers were offered with the meal, brand(s) not specified but this was due to the nature of the UBIF – a trade organization engaged in generic promotion.

Still, a bock beer was offered, a style quite different to the light lager Americans were familiar with as beer, so that was unusual right there.

The Waldorf hotel’s 1937 beer dinner is a harbinger of the beer dinners that would become typical of the post-1960s beer revival.

It was easy for the Waldorf to switch modes for this purpose, from Bacchus to Gambrinus. Many of its chefs were European-trained. Also, the New York Food and Wine Society, as we’ve seen, was holding beer and food tastings at this hotel or would before long. The idea was in the air.

Note re images: all images except the third are from the New York Public Library (www.nypl.org), the links are given in the text. Third image is via the HathiTrust digital resource, also as linked in the text. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*The title of this post is taken from a passage in an 1887 book by Charles Wilkinson attesting to the enduring link of steak and ale in English culture. The book is set in Germany but one Temple, an English coach-driver on assignment in Germany, is depicted as a sedulous follower of ale and beef and thus an emblem of John Bull. His old-fashioned nature is highlighted by his preference for the dark and strong “London particular”, in other words porter, as against the light, clear pale ale. Even the Germans, no tyros at beer, were impressed with Temple’s bibbing. They said of him, Morgens ein Bier-fass, Abends ein Fass-bier.

 

 

 

Luncheon, East of Suez

 

 

A slim two-page menu from 1910 of the Royal Hotel in Rangoon, now Yangon, discloses context that the faded, period type only hints it. The menu is yet another in the extensive archive of New York Public Library (nypl.org).

The British ruled Burma from 1824-1948. By 1885 it was a province in British India. Rice cultivation was a major factor in the colonial economy. Brokerage, transport, and financing developed in their turn, see this Wikipedia entry.

Thousands of Indians of different ethnicities lived in the province to work in the rice plantations and for British administration and commerce. They helped staff the police, army, civil service, railways, and many retail and service occupations. An important activity was selling liquor. The Parsi community was strong in that sector, with a long history of consuming and selling alcohol in India.

(India was their second national home following early emigration from their first land, Iran. In reviewing Parsi history I was interested to learn that Freddie Mercury, one of the great rock figures of the last 40 years, was of Parsi background. Parsis, followers of Zoroaster, have long been distinguished for high achievement in business, science, culture, and the military).

 

 

By 1900 a quality hotel was needed in Rangoon to support the burgeoning economy. The famous hotel associated with the era is the Strand, built in 1901. It was a jewel in the string of hotels owned by the famed Sarkies brothers. The talented hoteliers were perhaps best known for Raffles, in Singapore.

Just above the street for which the Strand hotel was named was aptly-named Merchant Street. The Royal Hotel (pictured), managed by two Britons, opened about 1904 on Merchant Street. It advertised all modern conveniences including an elevator.

The Strand was – and is, it continues as a luxury haunt – only a few paces from the wharves. The Sarkies always knew the importance of being near navigable water. The Royal advertised its establishment was only “five minutes” away.

The menu shown, from 1910, reflects expatriate and peripatetic life in the British Raj. The menu template was obligingly supplied by White Horse Scotch whisky, a good business gambit no doubt.

 

 

The Mackies, a Scots uncle and nephew who owned a few distilleries, created the White Horse brand in the late Victorian era. The whisky notes are of interest to glean the tastes and savours of a past era.

The “higher alcohol” is clearly the grain whisky component – the neutral spirit (more or less) that, in aged form with Lagavulin and other malts, formed a blend. This, in our view, puts a spin on grain whisky substituting for malt whisky but the menu obligingly tells us the grain element aided digestion.

Certainly whisky in this period was almost always cut with water, contrary to today’s practice at least for the esteemed brands. Scotch whisky in its ascendancy was a long drink: plain water, soda, or finally ice were added.

The menu makes a virtue of the water too, it brings out the fine aromas and taste, you see. Of course too in hot climates its addition was a practical necessity.

The former colonies never quite forgot the long drink whisky originally was there. The Australian rockers AC/DC called for “whisky, ice and water” in their 1980’s “Have a Drink on Me”, not a finger of single malt. Canada was the same except Coke or ginger ale substitutes for the water here.

The food items on the menu offer a mix of Scots, English, French, and Indian or Anglo-Indian dishes.

Scots mutton soup was on offer. And chicken pan rolls, possibly Parsi in origin. The Royal’s nomenclature sought status with the French word poulet. Pan rolls are a crêpe filled with something sweet or savoury. They look like a Jewish blintz and are well-known in the Indian kitchen to this day.

“Ball curry” is minced meat balls in a curry sauce served with rice, a staple of Anglo-Indian cuisine.* Blanquette of veal seems decidedly French although long known in England as well.

Sadly, no drinks menu accompanied the menu.

Note re images: the first two images above were sourced from the New York Public Public Library at the link provided in the text. The second was sourced from Pinterest, here, and the third from Wikipedia, here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the authorized owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Anglo-Indian means here the ethnic group of that name, descendants of British and Indian intermarriage. They evolved a distinctive culture including for the foodways. Independence in 1948 resulted in a large-scale exodus to Britain and the Commonwealth, spurred in that many spoke only English and held administrative jobs that became de-Anglicized in time. Many came to Canada, in fact.