In September, 1944 The Wine and Food Society, Inc. of New York held a “Tasting of Beers, Ales & Stouts” at the famed Waldorf Astoria hotel on Park Avenue in New York City. As accompaniment to the beer, a variety of foods were offered: smoked fish, marinated herring, smoked hams, a brandy-flavoured blue cheese, authentic Swiss cheese, different kinds of “Devonsheer” (a type of dried bread or cracker), and bar snacks such as popcorn and nuts. The provenance and quality of the food were carefully noted, as one would expect of a gastronomic society. I found the menu while perusing the historic menu archive of the New York Public Library recently.
The Society’s main focus, as one would expect from its name, pertained to wine, but occasionally beers and other drinks were explored. Thus, on September 28, 1944, Society members with an interest or curiosity about beer strolled into a Waldorf salon to sample “the malt”. The organizing committee – three ladies – did excellent work. They selected 18 beers, some in both draft and bottled form, no doubt so the guests could appraise any differences. Almost all beer styles then-current were represented. The menu contains some modern-sounding taste notes such as “sparkling old-time”, “all-malt”, “full-bodied”.
On August 5, Dora Keogh Irish Pub and I will present a recreation of that event. The Program is here: Beer Tasting – August 5, 2015
The 1944 tasting is nothing less than fascinating. First, it was held during the war which may explain the all-domestic beer choices except Guinness, which was probably pre-war stock. The Guinness was almost surely Foreign Extra Stout, unpasteurized and with residual yeast, so any extra time in the cellar was benign or a boon.
The vibrant, post-Pro New York/New Jersey beer scene provided numerous lagers, ales, and stouts for the tasting, famous names such as Ruppert, Rheingold, Trommer. The Committee also reached farther afield to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, for beers clearly regarded as having cachet. The reputed Prior Light, a pilsner-style, and Prior Double Dark, a pre-craft Czech or Bavarian dunkel type, were on the roster.
The tasting, if one allows for a bit (not much) period language, could easily be given today, such was the foresight and creative thinking of those who organized it some 40 years before it became common to do such things. Independence of mind they certainly had because not only would some Society members have objected to the idea of “tasting” beer, society in general tended to view beer as not worthy of prolonged musing, an attitude that endures in part to this day. The Society cast aside all such irrelevancies and forged ahead to take on beer as a gastronomic subject.
The event at Dora Keogh Irish Pub on August 5 is intended to recreate and imagine how the original guests enjoyed a gastronomic adventure of a different kind, and to honour an early foray into reflective beer appreciation. Mostly Ontario beers will be used, and the food will be similar in type or spirit to what was served at the original event. Beers were selected from breweries of different sizes although the preponderance are craft beers. As different-size breweries were represented at the Waldorf tasting, we wanted to follow suit.
I will write in the future on other aspects of the 1944 tasting, such as the influence of the wartime context, and a more elaborate beer event the Society held a few years earlier – one whose taste notes read like an extract from a top beer or wine writer of today.
Meanwhile, beer or wine fans in the Toronto area should consider buying a ticket for August 5 – it is expected to sell out.