Dora Keogh Irish Pub and Gary Gillman to Recreate Upscale 1944 Beer Tasting August 5, 2015

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.

6 thoughts on “Dora Keogh Irish Pub and Gary Gillman to Recreate Upscale 1944 Beer Tasting August 5, 2015

  1. I believe “hell” in German means light as in colour. Of course, clear is a related notion, so the meanings probably merge and blend for its sense in beer. Clarity in beer is a funny thing, sometimes a light-coloured beer becomes very popular, pale ale say in the 1800’s, sometimes a style becomes much darker – English mild ale from the late 1800’s, say – and people adopt that for generations to come. But no question pale, clear lager was the rage increasingly in Europe from the mid-1800’s, and Pilsner Urquell apparently had a lot to do with that.

  2. Excellent comment, thanks Alan. Light then meant helles- or pils-style (or export) vs. Bavarian dunkel (also some other styles of German lager were dark) – in other words light in colour vs. darkish brown. Dry meant, IMO, an adjunct beer, i.e., using some corn or rice. Adjuncts were generally cheaper than barley malt and were used to enhance clarity of American beers, but IMO again, the former reason was predominant. So marketing turned a “negative” into a positive. No question that light became associated in time, maybe even then, with light body and lower calorie – this trend seems to have started in the U.K. in the later 1800’s, in fact. But in the U.S., light primarily had the old German meaning until the 1950’s. I stress this is my view based on many years study of beer and brewing history, others may disagree.

    • Thanks for your response Gary!
      Do you think that the use of adjuncts would have imparted a “dry” aspect to the beer?
      It seems an odd term….
      One would think that the addition of rice or corn would also contribute to a “light”-er product, both in taste and colour.
      Alan.

      • Yes, grain adjust would often lighten the colour, especially if 30% or more of the mash was comprised of this substance, as was typical then (and still for mass market beers). It would also tend to make for a clearer beer because the 6-row barley then typically used in North American brewing would have a relatively high protein content, i.e., vs. 2-row barley typically used in Europe. Adjuncts lack these proteins so using them tends to help clarify the beer all things being equal, they “dilute” the “protinacious substances” as they were called in the 1800’s. This too would tend to make a drier palate because the starches in corn and rice mostly convert to fermentable sugar and lack the dextrins of barley malt which add the typical body and mouthfeel. Adjunct, I understand as a non-brewer, basically contributes fermentable “power” to the mash – i.e., production of alcohol – and would lessen the total percentage of unfermentable (by ordinary yeast) dextrins which barley malt contains. So this has a drying effect on the palate. Clearly the market approved of the taste then – and still to a great degree. Although, it is always hard to know whether people accustomed to it since that is what the brewers mainly offered or were driving the market for this taste. Of course, an all-malt beer can be made drier by increasing the bittering hop quotient and lowering the ABV, but all things equal it is fair to say I think that grain adjunct tends to make beer less sweet certainly in the 5% ABV range. Compare, say, a Heineken and an (American-origin) Budweiser…

        • Gary,
          Interesting that you speak of making the beer lighter in colour and more “clear”.
          You mentioned in your original reply “helles” style.
          I may be off-base hear but “hell” in German can mean “clear”. (“Helder” in Dutch, I live in Holland).
          In fact there’s a famous Heineken ad from, I believe, the 1950’s, where they state “Heerlijk, Helder, Heineken” (Delicious, Clear, Heineken).
          Would I be wrong in assuming therefor that a “clear” beer would be a mark of quality?

  3. Fascinating. I wish you all the best Gary with this recreation. I’m sure it will be great (and authentic) and it’s unfortunate that I won’t be able to participate. There’s no doubt I’ll be missing something very special.
    Regarding the original menu, the terms “light” and “dry” would certainly have meant something else back then……or not?

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