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 Makes Early U.S. food and wine History

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

The Los Angeles branch was the first, founded in 1935, and indeed 20 years later had reached a stage of maturity to warrant its first history being published as I discussed recently (in fact, two histories have appeared to date).

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”. Now, as we move along in the 21st century, the Pasadena Wine & Food Society anticipates many more opportunities for the best in wine, food and fellowship.

On the same website you may read the first menu, a simple affair as far as typography and design but setting out an authentic, inviting Italian dinner prepared by a local restaurant.

We are not certain if Piccadilly Restaurant was another name for Piccadilly Cafeteria which was part of a small southern chain, but no restaurants under those names exist today as far as we know.

All the wines at dinner were from Inglenook, the famed California winery that began in the late 1800s, founded by – in typical U.S. fashion – a Finnish seafarer and his American wife.

Inglenook had many twists and turns after the captain died. The winery was revived after Prohibition and became one of the four or five wineries of national scale to dominate the U.S. wine business. Its fortunes changed after hundreds of small wineries took the momentum from the late 1960s (will it happen that way in brewing??).

Francis Ford Coppola, who needs no introduction, bought the vineyards after a winding history involving notably Constellation Brands. Initially he did not own the Inglenook name but today owns that too.

Wines now appear again under its name from the original estate. Earlier he put out wines under the name Coppola-Niebaum, the latter was the founding Finn.

Almost certainly the Los Angeles chapter, today the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, had held Italian dinners and featured California wines with them or certainly in other contexts.

So the Pasadena group did not innovate that way, but to base its inaugural dinner on all-local wines was a sign of the growing confidence of the informed wine consumer and the California wine industry. Most new gastronomy societies would have selected all-French wines or taken another conservative vinous course.

Go gourmets go, you might say, and they did. Despite the quaint sound to some of the 1954 proceedings – for one thing it was an all-male affair – the group was forward-looking and intrepid for what counts, the subject matter. It could have selected mostly Italian wines with one or two local selections, but it went all out.

Charbono on the list is an Italian-origin red wine grape that goes under many names, it is still grown occasionally in California. It’s not the same cultivar as Barbera but offers some of its taste qualities, or Zinfandel, vigorous and rustic. It was and still is used in blending too, in so-called field blends, but sometimes just with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Inglenook’s Cabernet Sauvignon at the dinner speaks for itself and was a fairly vintage one. The other wines served mostly still resonate today as well.

In fact, you can buy an Inglenook cab sauv at the LCBO, one with an 1880s date in its name that suggests therefore a character going back to the winery’s earliest days. We like that, and will pick it up soon for an assay.

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.

 

 

 

 

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 tutelage of wine and food author Charles H. Baker, Jr., Dr. Lewis C. Skinner, Jr., Stephen A. Lynch, Jr., and others. From the current website of the IWFS, the following neatly pens the origins:

 

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 founders and leaders were 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 which sparkles by its perceptive comments. He covers the evolution of the membership, the wine cellar of the branch and how it changed over the decades, and types of events held. For example, for many years black-tie was required and in fact the meals were stag: only later were women included.

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

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

Initially the meals were European in focus and rather “Francophile”, not so much at the very beginning, as he notes the first meal, which started with oysters Rockefeller, was more “supper club chic” than truly French. But a 25th anniversary meal showed classic French cuisine at its most sophisticated. The wines included top classified Bordeaux, not just the Burgundy enthusiasm of 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 Napa and other California vintages would be regularly offered the membership.

The focus for decades was noble French wines (Bordeaux, Burgundies, Champagnes), other French regions especially Alsace and Rhone, German wines, and to a degree Italian, Spanish and Portugal wines.

After ’94 however 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. This would have resulted from a member hosting a gathering at his club, or from a restaurant’s list providing the offerings rather than the branch’s cellar.

By 1970 California wines were occasionally offered, sources included Inglenook, Beaulieu, Buena Vista, and Robert Mondavi. This January 6, 1970 meal is an illustration with well-penned product and taste notes included. 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 in the early years the Miami chapter lacked the enthusiasm for California viticulture the Los Angeles chapter demonstrated as soon as the industry got on its feet after Repeal. This is understandable as L.A. was in America’s “wine central”: foodies, to use today’s rather unsatisfactory term, had access to what was happening on the ground.

As well, Lewis Skinner was internationally known for his matchless collection of French vintages especially from the great years 1929, 1945 and 1962. 1982 would be 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 the subsequent phase of branch activities. This means 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 particularly for national (non-French) and regional dinners.

Hence, in the 1970s and 80s a Spanish-and-Basque dinner was held, a luxury Chinese one 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 sampling or include 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 by Scott Bailey’s essay and the menus themselves, is a miniature lesson in American foodways evolution. To be sure the people enjoying the experience were a small group, privileged in numerous ways – prosperous, educated – but they were taste-makers.

With IWFS members in other cities, with other gastronomic organizations, with Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Clairborne, Mimi Sheraton, and TV cooking shows, they 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 but at bottom 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 it goes. But the scholarly tone of old-style foodies has an intrinsic value 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 something, some people take offence when others drill down for something purely quotidian for them. (Hey it’s just beer man, leave it alone).

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 kind of popular interest the avatars mentioned cater to.

Finally, as Marcus Crahan put it in his 1955 book I discussed yesterday what is important is not the wine but the memories, meaning the learning, the discussions, disputations, community. Wine provides the impetus but isn’t the main thing, else why create a group centered around its elucidation and enjoyment?

His dictum applies to today’s nerve centres for good food and drink: the tv chefs and competitions, the glossy culinary mags, food festivals, all of it.

Net-net, the activity of the most cosseted of the early food societies can be likened to a good pub evening, a lively corner of a cask ale festival, an ardent Twitter thread.

Otherwise one might just as well drink his vintage Chateau Latour, or choice Imperial Stout, or historically interesting Horton Vineyards Norton, on his 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

I’ve learned a lot about this subject matter but have less time to write it up, so am compressing. Dr. Marcus E. Crahan (1901-1978) was a psychiatrist who was Medical Director of the Los Angeles County Jail. Apart from his considerable gastronomic importance, he is remembered for his work involving investigation of the deaths of Robert F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.

Crahan was from a prominent California family established for generations in the state. He was a bon vivant, bibliophile, and very literate gastronome, a 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 that London-based, French-born André Simon established after 1933. Others included the New York, Boston, and Chicago chapters. This group were all set up about the same time, 1933-1935.

The Southern California branch continues today and retains an exclusive aura: the International Wine and Food Society website states in its regard that each branch has its own traditions while all generally follow IWFS policies (promotion of gastronomy, wine culture and education).

This means in part that accession to the Southern California branch is by invitation only. Many of the newer branches – California has some 20 alone – accept members by application.

20 years after the Southern California branch was founded, in 1955, Crahan compiled a history of the group, which you can read here. It is an invaluable record, one that contains not just numerous early menus but many other facts and figures pertaining to its operation and the IWFS in general.

Clearly the L.A. wing were composed or at least directed by a social elite, some of the other key early members were Messrs. Converse, from the wine industry, and Hanna, another doctor. However, the extent of their culinary and wine adventures shows a questing, democratic spirit. They tasted almost everything in their day that could reasonably be found and considered of possible interest to those with a fin bec.

Truth be told the word whiskey does not appear in the book but Crahan states only a representative description of dinners was included, so the L.A. group may have held events for whiskey, and probably rum. After all by 1955 it had held 155 meetings.

Crahan also states that as early as 1937-1938 the group had reached a pitch of its activity, had engaged in every kind of tasting and dinner that it ever would. Some of the events were a Chilean wine tasting and dinner, an Armenian dinner, Swedish and English dinners, and a foray into Peruvian cuisine and pisco brandy.

The onset of the Nazi era in Germany did not deter the group from essaying German wines, and in April,1938 German (and Alsatian) wines were tabled for the group’s assessment.

Indeed Simon 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 general American society.

Craven’s book contains a bibliography of Simon’s writings, a lengthy, comprehensive list that is remembered to this day. 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 which itself is a short history of the International Wine and Food Society and is of interest on many accounts.

Did the Society in L.A. ignore beer? Not at all, and below I include details of a beer tasting it held on September 7, 1938. Nowhere in the book does Crahan give any indication he or others considered tasting beer lesser in relation to their (general) wine devotions. This is commendable especially considering the early date.

It is no surprise craft beer took flight from the 1970s in the same state. One can credit in part the Wine and Food Society of Southern California for the beer revival, as of course for the steady growth of interest in American wines after WW II.

California wine figures almost from the beginning in the group’s tastings, and as quality and availability grew so did the number of wines and American focus in some of the tastings.

During WW II the book reports the group largely ceased its activities, holding only small gatherings. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the New York branch continued some tastings which gave it an opportunity to explore American viticulture with new attention, so the situation seems broadly comparable.

Below I also include a couple of pages from the book’s prologue. Crahan eloquently explained how the mingling of Yankee and Spanish cultures in his state produced a unique environment for the epicurean spirit to flourish, something that went national finally.

The New York branch – indeed all the U.S. branches – were important in this regard but given Crahan and his fellow Angelenos were located in America’s premier wine state their early promotion of California wines is especially significant.

Indeed Crahan himself published a book on California wines in the 1940s. And L.A. Society member Maynard McFie published a commentary on significant California wines in 1941, it is mentioned in the extracts below.

Another example of prescient California wine interest – at a time when California was still struggling to reset the wine business after Prohibition – is the visit the group made to Santa Clara vineyards with members of the San Francisco branch.

Finally, and viz. beers again, the L.A. group had an annual award for the best non-wine beverage. Acme Bock Beer consistently won, see pp 44-45 for the listings. Carlsberg beer won this award in 1939.

Acme Brewery, which originated in San Francisco, was probably “the” Southern California brewery from the 1930s-1950s. It is a sign of the Society’s unsnobbish gastronomic spirit that it awarded this prize consistently to a local dark beer.

 

 

 

Note re images: all images above except the Acme Bock image are via the HathiTrust digital library, from the book linked in the text. The Acme Bock image is from the Tavern Trove site, here. 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

“Whisky-and-Soda and Today’s Curry, Please”

 

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

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

Tens of thousands of Indians of different ethnicities were in the province both to work in rice plantations and help power British administration and commerce. They helped staff the police, army, civil service, railways and numerous retail and service occupations. An important activity was selling liquor and the Parsi community were strong in that sector, having had a long history of consuming and selling alcohol in India.

(India was their second national home following an early emigration from their first land, Iran. In reviewing Parsi history I was fascinated to learn Freddie Mercury, one of the great rock figures of the post-1960s, was of Parsi origin. Parsis, followers of Zoroaster, have long been distinguished for high achievement beyond their numbers in business, science, culture, the military and more).

By 1900 it was necessary to establish a quality hotel in Rangoon to support the burgeoning economy. The famous hotel associated with the British era is the Strand, built in 1901 and a jewel in the string of hotels owned by the famous Sarkies brothers. These 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 and advertised all modern conveniences including an elevator.

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

The menu shown, from 1910, is redolent of expatriate and peripatetic life in the days of the British Raj. Plain as the document seems romance inhabits every corner, every line.

British business acumen was evident in the form of the menu template, obliging supplied by White Horse Scotch whisky.

The Mackies, a Scots uncle and nephew duo who also owned a few distilleries, created the brand in the close of the Victorian era. We find the whisky notes of interest to try to glean the tastes and savours of a revolved era, an object of many of our quests.

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

Perhaps the alcohol notes of the neutral spirit did just that by cutting the rich foods offered on the menu. To a skilled marketer that was so, anyway. Let’s recall: whisky of any repute, whatever the type, whatever the era, is co-extensive with effective marketing, a verity distillers can go broke under-estimating.

Certainly whisky in this period was almost always cut with water, contrary to today’s practice at least for esteemed brands. Scotch whisky, in its ascendancy by 1910 around the Empire, was a long drink, either plain water was used, or soda, and finally ice.

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

Whisky may have started in frigid Scots hills and damp Irish vales but it didn’t end there, far from it.

The ex-colonies never quite forgot the long drink whisky originally was. Australian rockers AC/DC called for “whisky, ice and water” in 1980’s “Have a Drink on Me”, not an inch of single malt. Canada was the same except we like ginger ale or Coke for the water or seltzer.

The food items are a Hobson-Jobson of cuisine, offering 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 reaching for status with the French poulet. These rolls are a crepe filled with sweet or savoury, they look like a Jewish blintz and are still well-known in the Indian kitchen.

The “ball curry” is minced meat balls in a curry sauce served with rice – it’s a staple of the Anglo-Indian cuisine.* Blanquette of veal is rather French although long known in England as well.

Sadly no drinks menu accompanied the menu in question, if anyone finds it, let me know.

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 specific ethnic group of that name, descendants of the marriages of Britons and Indians who evolved a distinctive culture including for foodways. Independence in 1948 resulted in an exodus as many spoke English only and worked in administrative and other jobs that would become de-Anglicised with time. Many came to Canada, in fact.

 

 

 

 

Sampling Brown Stout and Brook Trout

Hipster Beers and Food Pairings, 1942

May 7, 1942 is exactly five months after WW II began for the United States. On that night the Wine and Food Society of New York held a luxurious beer and food tasting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. As I’ve mentioned before, the same society held two other beer events (that I know of) in the 1940s: one in 1941 before Pearl Harbor and one in September, 1944.

I’ve discussed the 1944 menu before and will describe in more detail later all three events. In this post I provide the link to the full 1942 menu with the comments below. All menu extracts are from The New York Public Library).

Beer-tasting may have been in its infancy but all essential modern features are in place including notes on style and flavour as well as inclusion and description of suitable foods to accompany.

The author of the notes clearly had a view on porter’s origin and for India Pale Ale. He may be right on both accounts. The “tang” mentioned for an IPA is probably the effect of the Brettanomyces yeast, in turn probably the “Bass stink” I flagged in c. 1900 government hearings when writing earlier this year on American musty ale.

The sourcing of the Heineken is interesting as it wasn’t from The Netherlands…

42 beers were tasted, more than double the number tabled in 1944. The foods were commensurately more abundant and interesting, for example the range of smoked and other fish served. As no German or Czech beers were served, the committee for the event found creative ways to offer similar tastes.

The notes on fish, ham, and cheese suggest high gastronomy in the selection and palate qualities. The beers are treated as wines in this respect, deserving of pairing with foods that accompany beer well yet are selected with quality in mind.

Nonetheless, some foods with a popular reputation found their way in, I’d imagine this was so for the Heluva cheese brand. All the foods and beers seem to have been donated, or sponsored as we say today, by producers, so in some cases quotidian items were included, what we would call now snack or convenience foods.

The committee probably felt that having more than less was good and also, what better way to appraise quality than to compare, say, a processed cheese to one nurtured in a rustic valley that had never seen a pasteurizer.

Most foods, the centrepieces of the tasting anyway, were clearly from upmarket provisioners.

An early glimmer of the whole foods movement can be seen by the inclusion of Pepperidge Farm’s stone-ground whole wheat loaf. White bread, still a novelty for many Americans in the 1940s, could be seen in epicurean circles as limited in palate interest.

Presenting Pepperidge Farm was a harbinger of things to come.

The 1942 tasting exceeded even that of 1941 in the number of beers tasted but the design qualities of the 1941 menu were lush by comparison.

The latter event also included a detailed historical précis of beer and brewing, omitted for 1942. Perhaps that extent of detail was regarded as excessive once war had begun.

Still, there is little in the 1942 menu that speaks of restraint or economy: the tone is rather swank once the idea of beer’s inclusion in a gastronomic event is accepted, of course. To its credit the Society had no cavils on that score, none that passed organizing committee stage at any event.

In fact the event may have been planned before Pearl Harbor. If brewers, beer wholesalers, and provisioners had long prepared to make their wares available and space booked at the hotel, it may have been impractical to cancel or trim the event.

Certainly though by 1944 beer tasting at the Society was toned down, at least comparatively as one can see from the later menu.

From our standpoint today these events show that the basic idea of beer tasting existed long before the first modern beer and food events started in the 1970s. So did the idea of writing beer taste notes – in fact the latter goes back, as a consumer education tool, to at least 1850 in England as I showed the other day.

1942’s tasting may have been under marble arches, not chic-industrial railway ones, but even the passage of 75 years can’t efface the event’s familiarity. Indeed the concept as presented then was much newer than now – was radical simply by its novelty. If a similar event predates the 1930s I am not aware of it.

I did earlier discuss a beer and food menu presented at a German-American hotel in Wisconsin at the close of the 1890s. The 1942 event is of a different order due to the number of beers offered and the detailed notes on both the beers and food. One was an (interesting) dinner, the other more an event…

For us today, as the popular song goes, “it’s all been done before”. At the same time, the 1942 tasting represents significant cultural history with numerous period details that arrest attention.

 

 

Note re images: the images of the menus appearing above were sourced from the original menus linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Early Labatt Lager Brewings, 1911

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the brews seem all-malt as well.

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

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

The Jewish Food I Knew*

Five Types of Jewish Restaurant  mid-20th Century

 

I was examining wartime New York menus in the nypl.org archive to get a sense of how European wines were treated, for example was Champagne still sold, other French wine, German wine, etc.?

I came across a menu from Gluckstern’s Roumanian Restaurant, which largely resonated for different reasons, as detailed below. (All extracts shown are from the New York Public Library).

Gluckstern’s was a kosher Jewish eatery in the Lower East Side. It endured for about 60 years before expiring in the 1960s. Two restaurants with a somewhat similar menu were set up midtown in the 1950s by a son of one of the founders. They carried the flag for a time after the first restaurant closed but no restaurant associated with the surname exists today.

In Montreal when I grew up in the 50s and 60s, there was the “Roumanian steakhouse” – similar to Gluckstern’s for the steak side of its menu. One was called Schneider’s, on Decarie Boulevard. When I looked at the 1943 Gluckstern menu, it brought back many items on the Schneider’s menu.

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

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

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

There were Jewish steakhouses that didn’t identify themselves as “Roumanian” but the menus were all broadly similar. Moishes is the last one and still popular in Montreal. In fact I’m sure it attracts more Gentiles than Jews at this point.

Schneider’s, being a suburban middle-class restaurant and also a steakhouse vs. a general restaurant, did not offer as many dishes as Gluckstern’s. Schneider’s did not carry roast veal, roast chicken or duck, or stuffed derma, for example. That was available, but in a different kind of Jewish restaurant in Montreal at the time.

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

Last, the dairy restaurant, or milchig. Here there were cheese and potato blintzes, kasha and bow ties (buckwheat groats with pasta), knishes, smoked salmon, herring and carp, soups especially with beets (borsht), sour cream, cottage and cream cheeses, salads, eggs, bagels, rye bread, hummus, etc.

There was some crossover: chopped liver, say, could feature at the delicatessen or the steakhouse, or even the dairy restaurant but there it was “mock” chopped liver: vegetarian.

Of these restaurant types, only the deli still has a real footprint. The dairy restaurant barely exists in Toronto, there are a couple I know that are pretty good. The ubiquitous bagel shop is a kind of watered-down version of what was the dairy restaurant.

The home-cooking places are gone. The Roumanian-denominated steakhouses are gone in Canada. A few un-hyphenated Jewish steakhouses continue here and there, sort of: Moishes is the most authentic. The Jewish steakhouse has tended to merge with the steakhouse of the larger community, but at one time was separate due to being kosher and offering numerous ethnic dishes apart the steak selection. For example, most steakhouses offer seafood today but the old Jewish steakhouse did not.

Why did we patronize the Roumanian steakhouse? Part of my ancestry is from Romania, they were artisans (tailoring) who lived outside of Bucharest. I grew up with some of the typical dishes, say mamaliga, which is cornmeal mush and eaten hot or cold. And certain eggplant preparations. Mamaliga was served with a chalky cottage cheese or with sour cream. I don’t remember eating it with meat but know some people did.

Of course, much of the Jewish food was common to the Diaspora everywhere, or close enough. At least for the European Jews that was so, we did not know the Sephardic side – when I grew up in Montreal, I mean.

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

Almost every Jew still in Grodno in 1939 – about half the population still – was killed by the Nazis, so it’s a good thing they left when they did. I used to ask my grandmother from there what she remembered, she said the parks, she loved the parks as a toddler. You can see pictures of them in the Wikipedia entry on Grodno. One day I’ll visit there, Bucharest too.

I did visit once a number of eastern European countries and despite the dolorous history of the Jews there I felt rather at home; something was very familiar. Not just the food and drink (instant rapport!) but everything. Something lingers in the folk memory, especially with us – famously with us.

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

Where was I … the wine.

Numerous wines on the Gluckstern menu were American, e.g., Cresta Blanca, but the other offerings too where identified by varietal or place name: Tokay, Sauterne, Burgundy, etc. No Riesling though, and I guess I know why.

There were a few selections from Palestine, and tucked away in that section, wines seemingly Italian and French (Chianti, B&G which must have been Barton & Guestier, the famous shipper). These must have been pre-war stocks and it was probably considered okay in New York to sell them off. If they were in inventory at the time wines from France and Italy became unobtainable, that is understandable for any restaurant given the investment made.

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

Anyway, wine is kind of an afterthought at a place like this. Beer too although I’m glad to see they had Guinness, the only beer identified by brand name. That would have been Foreign Extra Stout, all-malt, long-matured and non-pasteurized: they had good taste at Gluckstern, if the menu left any doubt on that.

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

And believe it or not a lot of families drank tea or soda pop. And many still do, Hebrew and other. Drink is not for everyone nor should it be.

But Schneider’s mixed grill and Gluckstern’s selections were, take my word for it, the apotheosis of the carnivorous genre. If you were vegetarian, and I knew some even in the 1960s, you didn’t go to a Roumanian restaurant. The dairy restaurant was fine though.

Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse in New York is the last of its type probably in North America. I went there once, it was fun. It’s a bit hammy (sorry) with the dancing in the centre and ice block-festooned vodka bottles, but we had a good time.

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

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*This article deals with restaurants as the food we ate at home was largely North American except no pork. Even bagel was only an occasional treat. We ate sliced white bread for toast and sandwiches and I still like it best among the breads I think. We had chala too of course, on Friday. Chala ranks up there among the breads, and the Jewish rye bread, but it’s rare to get them the way I remember. Whereas sliced white bread, if very fresh, is as good as ever. Also, of course we had holiday food such as unleavened bread or matzah and latkes (potato pancakes) but 90% of the meals we had at home were typical North American: burgers, spaghetti, stews, chicken, Swanson dinners, chops, roasts, omelettes, tinned vegetables, sweet corn in season, all the usual. I am speaking here of my own experience, of course.

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

 

 

A Champagne New Year’s Eve, 1942

New York Celebrates Under Unusual Circumstances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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