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 was offered: smoked fish, marinated herring, smoked hams, brandy-flavoured blue cheese, authentic Swiss cheese, “Devonsheer” (a type of dried bread or cracker), and popcorn and nuts. The provenance and quality of the foods 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 indicated by its name, was wine, but occasionally beers and other drinks were explored. And so it was on September 28, 1944 that Society members with an interest or curiosity about beer entered a Waldorf salon to sample the “malt”. The organizing committee, composed of three ladies, did excellent work. They selected 18 beers, both draft and bottled. Some were the same brand, no doubt so the guests could appraise any differences. Almost all beer styles then usual were represented. The menu contains 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 can be seen here: Beer Tasting – August 5, 2015
The 1944 tasting is nothing less than fascinating. First, it was held during the war. This may explain the all-domestic beer choice except for Guinness, which was probably pre-war stock. This Guinness was almost surely the”Foreign Extra Stout” brand, unpasteurized and with residual yeast, so any extra time in the cellar was benign or a boon.
The vibrant, post-Prohibition New York-New Jersey beer scene afforded numerous lagers, ales, and stouts for the tasting, famous names such as Ruppert, Rheingold, Trommer. The Committee also reached further 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 some period language, could easily be given today. Such was the foresight and creative thinking of those who organized something around 40 years before it became common to do so. Independence of mind they certainly had because not only would some Society members have objected to “tasting” beer, society in general tended to view beer as not worthy of prolonged musing. It’s an attitude that endures to this day. But 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 selected, and the food similar in type or spirit to what was served at the original event. Beers will be offered 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.