An English Brewery’s Product Guide, 1850

Michael Jackson-style Advice in Queen Victoria’s Era

An obscure brewery publication from 1850, The Proprietors of the Swan Brewery, etc., offers some real insight on contemporary English beer styles, this is in point of flavour (viewed as body or richness), aging, and strength.

The pamphlet, from Swan Brewery in Walham Green, Fulham has been examined (to our knowledge) on a couple of occasions. Once by Alfred Barnard who printed the front page in his Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland (1891) and referred to it as a price list.

Another notice was by Rob Woolley who authored an article some years ago in issue 126 of Brewery History, available here.

Barnard does not address Swan Brewery’s trade designations. Woolley recounts some of the styles and prices but does not go further: his focus is elsewhere and includes brewing procedures and the impact of contemporary science (which may be summed up as, almost nil).

The pamphlet’s descriptions for its range of beers are compelling as nothing similar exists in brewery history we are aware of. Countless Victorian advertisements contain recitations of terms such as X, XX, Pale Ale, and their prices. Brewing texts and journal articles contained similar information in more summary or fragmented form.

Swan Brewery’s promotional literature reveals early marketing skill, Crawford agency-style before its time, especially in the bucolic artwork and lyrical-poetic content. But the document was still a sales pitch and includes a serial description of the beers, like a modern pocket handbook.

It was designed for wholesalers, public houses and hotels, probably too favoured home purchasers, with something extra to entertain or instruct.

The key part is the statement that each class of beers, mild, pale, black, is distinguished by a gradation of strength, body and (especially) age, also in some cases quality, meaning the materials used.

While AK, which I discussed recently, is not mentioned, XK is. Its place in the schema is a mid-point between IPA and pale ale, not just for price and strength but especially again for aging, which gives a clue to the respective character. For example, quite possibly the oldest, IPA, had the brett tang while pale ale and XK did not, or more oxidative notes.

Perhaps Swan XK was simply a blend of the pale ale and IPA, or, all three were the result of three successive mashes later blended to a set gravity for fermentation. It could have been either but clearly XK received a mid-point of aging. Perhaps the range was something like two months for pale ale – four months for XK – 12 months plus for IPA.

The pamphlet supports the meaning of the “K” in XK and AK as keeping as it states all the pale beer range was aged, however short that was for some (in other words), or later became. Brewing history writers have suggested various alternate explanations, for example that K denotes the pale ale style, but in my view this is not consistent with the statement in the pamphlet that pale ale, XK and IPA “differ only in the degree of strength and age”. (My emphasis).

I should add, there was no need to refer to keeping in the designations for pale ale and India Pale Ale. By definition these were stored beers for much of their history and universally understood as such. But to describe the intermediate(s), what do you say?

Therefore it’s the same thing inferentially for AK, a light bitter. Had Swan produced a AK it would have come first in the schema.

Of course, terminology was never statutory or otherwise precise. Hence some breweries termed their range AK – pale ale – IPA, or AK – AKK – Pale Ale – IPA, etc. The variations are on record but the important thing, as the pamphlet states, is that an aging progression was in place.

There are other points of interest in the piece including its speculation that hop use in England is German in origin and goes well back in English history, before Henry VIII’s time.

Its lyrical evocation of the Kentish commons and hop fields should form part of the English pastoral and is a pleasure to read. What better term than “practical poetry” to describe an immersion in the vales at harvest time?

Woolley’s useful article contains an oddity to my mind in that part of the discussion revolves around pinning down the date of the publication. He concludes it was about 1850.

However, the pamphlet appears to state clearly the date of publication as you see above – 1850 in fact.

I think the answer is, Woolley states the pamphlet was “tiny”, only 3 1/2″ x 6 1/2″. The 1850 date at the bottom of the page was probably unreadable to the human eye or rubbed out in the copy he used. The volume on Google Books would have been magnified for uploading and looks in that form as normal folio more or less.

What happened to Swan Brewery? To make a long story short the brewery had a succession of owners in the 1800s. It was rebuilt in the 1880s near the original location by the Stansfeld investment firm which owned the share capital then. That firm later leased the brewery to the City Brewery, an old concern in the City, which needed more space.

In 1934, Ind Coope of Burton merged with Allsopp Brewery, and in ’36 the merged group bought Swan Brewery and closed it.

Note re source of images: the four images above were sourced from the 1850 publication linked from Google Books in the text. All property in the source belongs to solely to the lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

Beer at Montreal’s Expo ’67

I grew up in Montreal and was 17 when “Expo 67” started. I have spoken frequently of international expositions held since the mid-1800s, in connection with alcoholic beverage that is. Most recently I was writing of British beer at New York’s two world fairs, in 1939 and 1964, but Montreal’s exposition in 1967 should not be omitted.

Its full title, in grand Victorian style, was the 1967 Universal and International Exposition, part of a series running since the early 1800s. The nickname Expo 67 caught on early.

The theme of Expo 67 was Man and His World (Terre Des Hommes), which provided a striking sub-title.

The hosting by Montreal of an international exposition was a landmark in its history and indeed for Canada in general. Expo 67 is well-remembered and is occasionally commemorated in museum and other exhibits. A museum in Montreal, the McCord, just held a retrospective on fashion and clothing design at the Expo.

Expo 67 was held on a number of islands in the St. Lawrence River, the main one was St. Helen’s Island. They were reached from Montreal by its new rubber-wheeled subway. I visited over the summer a number of times but as it is 50 years ago, I can barely remember the exhibits. I know I saw the Biosphere – Buckminster’s Fuller’s geodesic dome – and some of the other national pavilions.

There were also many themed and private pavilions at the Expo.

Some expositions exercise an enduring cultural and other influence on the host countries and beyond; Expo 67 did that for Canada, certainly. An example of concurrent international influence was the Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie’s layered, irregular-shape apartment complex, Habitat, intended as permanent and a luxe habitation today.

Britain built a pavilion in the white “brutalist” style then popular, and Whitbread’s Bulldog Pub was part of it. Whitbread pale ale and Mackeson stout were some of the offerings. The Bulldog used a gable roof design as the pub in New York did only three years earlier but intentionally or otherwise also resembles a Quebec chalet. You see buildings like the one below everywhere in the wintering and summering parts of the Province, the look is still chic.

Each pavilion had an eating place and many featured beers of distinction from the exhibiting countries.

To give a flavour of the culinary offerings at Expo, this extract from a contemporary Canadian article, “The Wondrous Fair”, is helpful (and surprisingly modern in style – except the prices). The author was Frank Rasky:

If your taste runs to unorthodox soup, I’d recommend the 50 cent plate of black bean Habanera, which is accurately described by maître d’ Isadoro Arditti of Cuba’s cha cha restaurant as “fiery as our tropical sun.”

….

I had an equivalent hair-raising experience at the Moskva, the 1,000-seat restaurant in the Russian pavilion that looks massive enough to be a rocket-launching pad. I ordered a plate of Ukrainian borsch, (85 cents), and three Russian bliny ($1.10).

It was disappointing all around. The service was terrible. I had to wait three-quarters of an hour, meanwhile listening to a musician strum his balalaika to interminable, melancholy variations of the Volga Boat Song.

When my order did arrive, my overly-garlicked borsch was not half as tasty as the sweet cabbage soup my Russian grandmother used to make. And the buckwheat pancakes, I thought, would have tasted better with maple syrup rather than with their heavy garnish of sour cream.

I tried to drown my sorrow by asking the bar captain to mix me the strongest vodka drink the Russians had in stock. He turned out to be a vodka connoisseur with the highly unSlavic name of Eddy Sullivan – an Irishman from San Antonio, Texas, who worked for the French-Canadian Québec Sports Service. He poured me out a 75 proof shot of Moscow Starka ($1.50 plus 12 cents tax), which was scarlet-colored instead of the white vodka we are accustomed to. A wow of a drink.

For good measure, he also offered me a 10-year-old Russian brandy called Sturnik ($2 plus 16 cents tax). I was astonished to find it smoother and mellower than the finest French cognac, and it packed the wallop of a Molotov cocktail as well. I left the Soviet pavilion glowing with international amity and resisting the impulse to spring into a Cossack sabre dance.

Among other morsels I hugely enjoyed were: the roget rensdyr, or smoked reindeer, at the Scandinavian Midnight Sun snack bar ($2 a helping, a little gamey, but piquant when served with asparagus on a Danish smoerrebroed open-faced sandwich); the thick-crusted kirshwasser wine tart for 90 cents at the Swiss grotto and the paper-thin-crusted apfelstrudel for 65 cents at the Vienna Woods cafe; a mouth-watering crêpe Normande at Belgium’s Le Bruxelles restaurant (a $1.75 apple pancake soaked in brandy and caramel); and Israel’s kosher marriage with the Arabs – a $1.15 plate of falafel (Arabic beans ground into a savory dip) served with pita bread (a crusty pocket of baked dough).

By and large, imported beer is costly, but the cosy atmosphere of the beer gardens helps make up for the steep tariff. At Whitbread’s Bulldog Pub, you pay $1.08 for a pint of good Mackeson stout and $2.43 for a Melton Mowbray pork pie with potato salad and a roll.

At the Löwenbrau München Bavarian restaurant in La Ronde, it seems exorbitant to pay $1.08 for a small stein of beer, half of it foam. Yet it’s entertaining to listen to the brassy Munich band blare out a polka and to watch the waitresses in short dirndl skirts and Alpine hats dart about with their $3.92 plates of salad and wiener schnitzel.

 

At 17, I did not drink as yet but as I’m writing this, I have a distinct recollection of gurgling down some Montreal ale from bottles I or a friend – probably I – brought with our lunch to eat at Expo. There were areas to picnic and I think we chose a secluded lawn to catch a nip with our sandwich.

Beer got a star billing at Expo in the form of the Brewers’ Pavilion, a project of the Canadian Brewers Association (now Beer Canada) that showcased the industry. The pavilion had a hall with historical and production exhibits. There was a sizeable puppet theatre, where kids could be lodged while parents diverted themselves in their way, and also a large restaurant called La Brasserie.

Sadly I didn’t visit the pavilion, or have no recollection if I did. Reports today state some 60 beers were offered from across Canada, bottled and draft, at the restaurant. Note the stylized barrel design of the rotundas.

Departing visitors were given a souvenir brochure that outlined the importance of the industry in Canada and contained numerous beer-and-food recipes and hosting suggestions. The document was issued both in English and French but I could only find the French version online. Two extracts appear herein including the title page.

The document was stylishly produced with striking, gaily-coloured illustrations. The images combine urban chic with the informality of active lifestyles. The pictures capture the spirit of those days.

I should add French Canada itself had a kind of international début at Expo, it was a chance to show the world how French-speakers were part of the urban and industrial mainstream. Earlier in Quebec history the province tended to be withdrawn, a defence strategy that allowed French-speaking life to survive in a sea of anglophone culture.

The introversion showed in politics, at times right-wing and reactionary, and in what many felt was excessive domination by the clergy. There was also a strong focus on the professions, the church and teaching as careers versus full participation in modern economic life.

By 1967, the long domination by Anglophones in commerce started to wane and Expo 67 showed the world French Canada could take its full place in contemporary urban society. (Incidentally as I write Conrad Black reports in the National Post that Quebec, after a long period of relative decline in part due to post-1960s separatist agitation, has the fastest growing economy in Canada).

From a beer standpoint, the 1967 industry document is rather astonishing in that it virtually has nothing to say about beer itself, as a drink that is, its styles, its taste. Almost nothing. The product is treated as completely generic. Once or twice it is stated that beer is either lager or ale, with the implication the difference is hardly relevant.

Only once* is another beer style mentioned, porter, and not even to drink but as an ingredient in the Québecois dish fèves au lard, or beans and bacon. The lengthy document never states what porter is or shows an image. If I recall correctly, it does not discuss hops either, barley is mentioned once or twice.

To some degree this is understandable as the document was a joint industry effort. Still, the lack of emphasis on the sensory qualities of beer and the different types – beer qua beer – is étonnant.

In the next 50 years beer would return to its roots as a distinctive product of gastronomy with a renewed focus on its history, national styles, and highways and byways of flavour.

Of course, earlier in Quebec history a much fuller gamut of flavours was in the market: different kinds of ale, different kinds of lager, different kinds of black beer. But that older tradition had withered with increasing consolidation of the industry and uniformity in the product. That has since been completely reversed and then some.

Still, the 1967 recipes and industry snapshot are interesting to read and most of the recipes look very good. Many are of traditional Quebec foods where it was felt beer could add an élan, some are clearly of international inspiration.

The drink called “bul” is interesting. I have a recollection of an old English compound of some kind being called bull but couldn’t find an example of it elsewhere**. (It would surprise me if that drink in turn doesn’t have something to do with the Red Bull beverage).

Bull may have been one of those old English mixtures, like shandy-gaff, dog’s nose and so forth. A number of foods and drinks which pop up as French-Canadian after WW II are really English colonial in origin.

Indeed the beans and bacon recipe seems of this character vs. old French:

The first recipe above would serve as a good vegetarian main course today if the sugar was lightened considerably and another vegetable or two added. I’d mix sweet potato with the white, as well.

In a subsequent post I’ll look further at the 1967 recipes and the Brewers Pavilion.

Note re website sources of images: the first and second images above were located here and here. The third here, the fourth here. The last and third-to-last were sourced from the 1967 brewers’ publication linked in the text. The image of the Whitbread Tankard, a commemorative item from the Expo 67 fair, was sourced hereAll property in the images belongs to solely to their lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Porter is mentioned also (I later noted) in the section on different mixtures for drinks: beer cocktails and similar. Stout is mentioned too in the same connection. But no taste description of these beers or production details are given. These products had of course significantly declined in sales by 1967, but still, information on classic beer styles should have been offered, IMO.

**I later found the references in question, see in the Comments section below on this point.

The British (Beer) Invasion, 1964

The 1964 New York World’s Fair featured a pub at the British pavilion called the British Lion, pictured here.

The name is apt: the Lion (not exclusively of course) is a potent symbol of British nationhood, Anglo-Saxon ethnicity and Judeo-Christian belief. Britishness has evolved since the 1960s but Lion rampant would have suggested these ideas internationally 60 years ago.

Indeed the Red Lion remains Britain’s most popular pub sign.

What was Britain’s pub called at the 1939 New York World’s Fair? There wasn’t one.

Instead, the “British Buttery and Restaurant” was built. You can read its elaborate menu in a scholarly archive, here. The term buttery in this context means larder or storehouse for ale or wine, originally.

Buttery is an obsolete term, and probably was in the 1930s, but was useful as an “olde Englyyshe” expression.

Also, since Prohibition had ended a mere six years earlier a euphemistic term was probably felt necessary to describe the part of an English eating place to get a drink.

By 1964 all such considerations were passé and so the British Lion public house stood proudly in its mock-Tudor and thatching.

A website on the 1964 World’s Fair, from which the image above was selected, sets out this explanation of the pub’s mission, taken from a 1964 information release:

The British Lion Pub is a careful reproduction of the popular British half-timbered gable roofed Tudor Inn. Inside, the dining room offers a substantial British and American menu at moderate prices. The walls of the dining room are lined with attractively displayed products of the British Isles and the bar in an adjoining room is stocked with the customary American beverages as well as British beers and ales. The atmosphere is traditional, comfortable and English down to the heavy oak bar and the dart board. Outside is a large terrace with gaily colored umbrellas, tables and chairs for eating from the reasonably priced outdoor food and counter bar. Also an English shop with quality imported souvenirs is on the ground.

To our mind, the building connotes 1600s England, 1950s rec room, and 1960s church design, but it must be remembered all such buildings were meant as temporary. Even with the most authentic features they were always a compromise – any such effort is really.

Hopefully, the effort did convey some aspects of the English public house to an American public eager for new experiences.

We won’t review the food side of the menu but do note that some dishes in the 1964 menu were clearly taken from the 1939 menu, the curried meat and rice dish is one, Chicken a la King another.

The Chicken a la King inclusion is probably a culinary-cultural in-joke, get it?

In 1939 only two British beers featured, both in bottle, Bass pale ale and Guinness stout.

In 1964, the then powerful, if not always loved, Watney brewing empire dominated the beer selection. The listing included taste notes presented seriatum, as you would read in a modern beer handbook.

Taste descriptions were rare for beer before the mid-1970s. Menus might describe wines that way but rarely beer. The other day I discussed a menu from the same era, from Wursthaus in Cambridge, Mass. It set out taste notes and comments on the wines, none for the beers.

For Americans in the 1960s beer meant pale, light, cold, and fizzy. The restaurant operator probably thought more information was needed to explain beers that would otherwise confound the fancier of Schlitz or Schaefer. (For mid-1800s Manhattan such explanations would have been unnecessary, but that was then).

I like the way the two stouts are contrasted: both are “rich and dark” but one has a touch of bitter, one a touch of sweet. In this way they sound almost as two peas in a pod. Quite apt as Irish and English stout are just about the same thing.

Red Barrel was later a contentious beer in English beer mythology. Here it sounds pretty good: “smooth” yet “pleasantly bitter”, and tawny in colour. Colour in brewing often impacts flavour, not just aesthetics. Red Barrel in this period was almost all-malt too, so what’s not to like.

The Stingo was a dark barley wine or strong ale, the old Burton type if not a literal example. I probably had a couple in the 70s and 80s. In fact I had a beer of this style yesterday at Cask Days’ beer festival in Toronto, made in Maine but enviably British in character: malty, fruity, rounded and about 11% ABV. A Burgundy of beer.

If that Stingo came close, the fairgoers in ’64 were lucky.

Watney lager was clearly blonde but what was Export Dark? I can’t recall a Watney beer with that name, domestically I mean. Maybe it was a dark lager.

At first I thought it was really Watneys Milk Stout or Cream Stout, but Watney already had a stout in the list. Unless it had two, one with the lactose, one without.

These beers would have impressed the New Yorkers. British was in anyway, The Beatles, Bond, Barstow. Why not add Bitter, for an alliterative jamboree.

Speaking of A Kind of Loving, English sweet stout seems to be on the comeback trail, there were a few in the 400+ line-up at Cask Days. Also, down the road from craft beer shrines Birreria Volo and Foley’s in Toronto is the Caledonian Scottish pub. Its beer list has numerous old-school favourites that make it a modern counterpart to the British beers at the 1964 World’s Fair.

The Caledonian has Tennant’s Stout currently, Sweetheart Stout back in Scotland I think it was.

New and old schools exist side-by-side, at their best they match up in the middle.

Note re images: the first and second images above were sourced from the websites linked in the text. The Watneys Stingo Ale image is from the invaluable Tavern Trove site, hereAll property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Blutwurst and Brewmaster

My Generations 

I wrote over two years ago of the 1944 beer tasting presented by the Wine and Food Society of New York at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. In fact, I recreated the event at a local restaurant to salute early pioneers of beer appreciation and evoke the gastronomic experience of a previous era.

In researching early tasting menus of this Society, which generally focus on wine, by yesterday I had identified three beer events. This is based to be sure on publicly-available menus, most archived at the New York Public Library, www.nypl.org. (The extracts of the menus appearing herein are from the New York Public Library).

The three tastings all occurred in the 1940s: one in 1941 before America entered the war, one in 1942 after the war started, and the 1944 one. I intend to write in another forum in greater detail on all three tastings.

Just this morning I found a fourth tasting, held more recently in 1973; the program appears below and was sourced here.

It is very interesting to compare the 1973 program to those of the 1940s. The 1973 is much shorter, as the earlier ones featured many more beers and also a broader range of foods. The 1973 event was a sausage-tasting, certainly valid until itself, but the earlier ones covered interesting cheeses, vintage hams and other meats, and numerous smoked fish and herring, all sourced from high-end suppliers.

The earlier tastings were gastronomic in the true sense; 1973’s was more limited in scope although no doubt enjoyable.

Also, the 40s tastings have a pronounced New York and regional brewing character. By 1973 no New York or Jersey beers were represented. Imports were selected almost exclusively, and only one American beer offered, the rather jejune Schlitz (with roots in the Midwest).

It was served with a hot dog, no doubt to evoke the ballpark idea. A more interesting approach might have paired a Rochester, NY “white hot” with a beer of that city, Genesee Cream Ale, say, or 12 Horse Ale.

The 1973 event matched a typical sausage of a country with a beer from that land. Since the event took place at one of the Society’s old haunts, the Waldorf-Astoria, no doubt the kitchen produced high-quality versions of these foods.

The choice of a lager from Ireland was odd since lager was well-represented at the tasting: Guinness would have made more sense (tasted in the 1940s), or say Murphy Stout. Moreover lager is not a style traditional to Ireland.

Still, for the time, the Harp offered an exotic note, as did Kronenbourg of France, or Pripps. Offering a dark version of Heineken instead of the familiar blond version – New York knew regular Heineken well – was a good choice: everything is relative to time and place.

Carta Blanca from Mexico was a rare satisfying link to the 1940s since it appeared on some of the earlier menus.

 

I include above two extracts from the 1942 tasting to give a sense of contrast. The early tastings sought to explain the beers more by type and individual characteristics, just as we do again. Things have come full circle.

But classifying beers by nation was a potent idea in the 1950s-1970s. Beer writing in that period often used the approach, even Michael Jackson’s early books did although his learned introductions and creative chapter sub-divisions gave a wider context.

The styles he helped popularize, and invented, have now moved around the world. Therefore, classifying beer by geographic area is less valid than it ever was. There is little difference between a Black IPA made in Italy and one made within a mile of where I write.

Wine is somewhat similar with the spread of the famous varietals although local grapes still have a say and perhaps increasingly so in the future. For the foreseeable future though the lexicon of beer appreciation will remain international.

There are some food anomalies on the 1973 menu, but not serious ones. A haggis for Brewmaster Pale Ale is not really right. Brewmaster was a classic southern English taste, flowery and delicate. A banger sausage, the Oxford type perhaps, would have done better.

Holland’s national sausage is not bratwurst, which is German, but braadworst, but maybe that is what was served, simply under a name more familiar to New Yorkers.

Most of the beers were certainly good or excellent for their style: Pripps’ lager of Sweden for example, or the Munich-style of Heineken (dark).

The choice of Pilsner Urquell, known in New York since the late 1800s, was a wise one, as was Germany’s Wurzburger, a popular import in the 1970s. I believe it was tanked in and bottled close to distribution by Anheuser-Busch. I knew the light version (Helles or Pils) which was very good: well-matured, zesty but not sulphury as many lagers today.

The dessert and Cognac look just right after a culinary/beery whirl like that.

Who led the tasting? I believe Harriet Lembeck as she is described in the program as “commentator”. Ms. Lembeck is still active in the wine and spirits world. She gives classes on wine education in New York and has been called the dean of wine education in America.

Her mentor was Harold Grossman, an influential Manhattan wine and spirits importer who inaugurated wine education in the city in 1940. He also wrote a well-known guide to wine, beer and spirits. Ms. Lembeck edited a couple of editions after his death, in fact.

Harold Grossman and indeed Ms. Lembeck are part of how wine appreciation migrated from small influential groups into the national consciousness.

To a died-in-the-wool beerman the 1940s tastings and notes are more contemporary than the somewhat attenuated 1973 event.

On the beer side, the changes are explained by the transformation of the brewing industry in the prior 30 years. Consolidation and expansion in New York of national brands took their toll. Also, old ethnic ties – Anglo, Irish, German and Central European – that kept distinctive beers going had weakened by 1970.

To be sure newer ethnicities arose but beer was not their remit other than to favour light lagers of the international style.

That’s how things go, change is ever a leitmotif of cultural studies.

Still, that 1973 tasting must have been enjoyable, many of the beers and the food too. I wonder about the condition of the beers though. Having commenced beer tasting in the 1970s I can say many imports tasted poorly then.

Skunky, oxidised and autolysized flavours were all too common. Logistics and handling have improved immeasurably and consequently imported beer tastes much better today.

Maybe that’s why the event finished with Swiss cherry cake, good coffee* and Cognac – all stale beer flavours swept way on a wave of unimpeachable gemütlichkeit!

I’d recreate this event too, why not? If anything the results would be more authentic given that imports taste much better today. And the food would be certainly interesting to try. We can add a vegetarian option or two.

Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, and early disco on the sound system. And old Bert Kaempfert, he’d go well with those German and Czech beers.

We’ll close by playing David Bowie’s Changes – to a last round of … what shall we use for Brewmaster dear me?

Note re images: the menu images herein were sourced from the menu archive, New York Public Library. The Brewmaster Pale Ale image is from the invaluable Tavern Trove site, here. The last image was authored by “IG Zuger Chris – Ueli Kleeb”, was sourced from Wikipedia here, and is used pursuant to the terms and conditions of this Creative Common licenceAll property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*It’s 1973 but this is the Waldorf-Astoria and a European-theme event. Moreover, the chef, Arno Schmidt, is – not was – Austrian-born and top of his profession. The Waldorf would not ruin fine Swiss cake and French brandy with bad coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Roots of World Cuisine

The program shown is the Seventh Anniversary Dinner of the Wine and Food Society of New York held on December 9, 1941 at the Starlight Roof, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

December 9 was two days after Pearl Harbor, and two days before Germany declared war on America. The menu, while of elegant design, is yet spare and quite short even for the few wartime menus of the Society appearing in the menu archive at the New York Public Library, www.nypl.org.

Whether the menu was hastily abbreviated or modified due to the onset of war with Japan cannot be known. The use of contrasting red type for the drinks perhaps indicated substitution(s) from the original plan, or was simply a design motif.

No French, Italian or German wines are represented. The war in Europe explained this, either by a cessation of imports to America since the outbreak of hostilities or American sympathies with Britain and France.

That is, even if these wines were still available in hotel cellars, which I would think must have been the case, the Society would not have been inclined to feature them in events.

It is surprisingly difficult to pin down from Internet sources – at least I found it so –  what exactly was the trade regime between America and the Axis before 1942. One thing is clear though, the British naval embargo of Germany imposed in the fall of 1939 proved highly effective to stop ocean trade with America.

The Americans didn’t protest too much given the majoritarian sympathies with Britain and France. Isolationist sentiment, led or symbolized by controversial figures such as Charles Lindhberg, Father Coughlin, Henry Ford, and their ilk was declining. Still, the embargo did cause ruffles at times especially regarding the delivery of mail, not wines.

For whatever reason, drinks from the main Axis nations stopped appearing on Society menus from 1939 (there was the odd minor exception).

Impact on Wartime Society Menus 

A March 25,1940 tasting of liqueurs and brandies at the Waldorf-Astoria included a sizeable range of Cognac and other French brandies, but France had not yet fallen.

A similar tasting in November, 1941 still included one Cognac, Hennessey’s, and a “Bellows Imported Brandy” – source not stated. Of the latter the notes stated “… it lacks, perhaps, the austerity and grandeur of great natural Cognacs …”.

The November, 1941 tasting included a five-year-old Park & Tilford bourbon, a “blend of straight bourbons” – the first time bourbon appeared in a Society tasting judging by the available published menus. One can see how the war encouraged looking in one’s backyard for spirituous alternatives of quality.

By October 1942 a “red table wine” tasting at the Hotel Pierre featured an extensive California selection, some wines from Ohio, and even a few from New York State. Only Chile was represented for the offshore: a 1934 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The significance of the extensive California foray cannot be over-estimated. In the 1940s 80% of grapes grown in California were high-yielding types suitable for table or sweet wines. It took years for Vitis vinifera to recover its c. 1900 importance in the Golden State.

By focusing on California’s best dry wines in default of the usual suspects being available, the Society helped create the interest in quality domestic wine that grew steadily after WW II.

The Wines and Other Drinks at the Seventh Anniversary Dinner

What drinkables were served to the guests? Quite a heterogenous group, as the menu above shows. A South African hock, or Rhine Valley-type, called Imperium appeared. Britain had supplies of South African wine too during the war, I’ve seen a number of references to it.

Different sherries and ports were served. One sherry was Harvey’s Gold Cap. Gold Cap was a term generally used by Harvey for port, but it must have also used it for sherry at times, I think it may have been an Oloroso.

There were two dry California wines, one from famed Beaulieu Vineyards. A Rioja, too – Spain was neutral and perhaps its wines were still being imported either directly or via a third country such as Cuba. Even if supplies had stopped, fetching up a bottle from the cellar had a different implication than for a French cru.

Vintners was a merchant’s house brand for wine selections from the “Lakes”, the Finger Lakes in western New York. Finger Lakes’ sparkling wine always enjoyed a good reputation but clearly red wine was being bottled too. This would have been from native-variety grapes almost certainly.

Alberto Valdivieso is a venerable Chilean house, and supplied its Champagne-style wine to the FDR-era crowd at the Starlight. It is still going strong, see this excellent report from wine writer Lisa Denning in New York. One of its current sparkling wines is a Blanc de Blanc, echoing its Chardonnay range.

An old New England rum was served, not as part of a punch or other mixture, but to savour on its own – another likely result of war conditions which on the other hand surely helped explain the merits of aged rum as a digestif. 

We are, here, only 20 years after the start of National Prohibition, which delivered the coup de grace to New England’s rum business, long-declining due to relentless pressure from anti-drink zealots. A little rum continued to be made after 1933 but I’d guess the carriage trade firm S.S. Pierce’s “very old” rum was pre-Pro stocks.

Lejon was a blended California brandy (straight brandy plus high-proof grape distillate) and in the market for at least two generations from the 1930s. The name is still included for brandy on the website of the West Coast bottler Frank-Lin, but I don’t think Lejon brandy is currently being sold.

Lejon was devised by California wine pioneer Lee Jones and later associated with the famed Italian-Swiss Colony winery. Some of its subsequent history can be gleaned from this collector’s link.

The Drambuie may have been a first for the Society although the Scottish specialty could have been served earlier at a “holiday drinks” or liqueurs/after-dinner drinks event, the Society held these almost every year.

Nuyens apricot brandy was blazed in the hot soufflé termed “Monte Woolley”. The liquor may have been French but I cannot trace the source. Nuyens was another merchant’s or bottler’s brand.

Certainly some French brandy was sold under the name, I have seen the labels. If Nuyens was the brand of an American merchant, the brandy could have been from anywhere. One may note though it was used just in the cooking, not served on its own, so maybe it was French but given a subordinate role as it were.

The Food

The food at first glance seems conventionally French, but on closer look shows numerous idiosyncrasies.

Nova Scotia smoked salmon was served to start, this is classic American eating. New York’s Jewish community always liked it, it was a staple in its dairy restaurants in Manhattan and Catskill resorts for generations – not so much today due to its high cost and/or decline in quality.

Turtle soup with sherry is a straight throwback to the Gilded Age and does evoke Escoffier and the haute. Lobster mousse too – Charles Scotto was a pupil of Escoffier who presided in the kitchen at the Pierre Hotel in this period, he also helped found the American Culinary Federation, and was a charter member of Les Amis d’Escoffier, the trade promotion body for the elite chefs and hospitality managers of America, it still exists.

The coq au vin is French all the way, but not really classic cuisine, it is more regional and bonne femme cooking. Here we see a sign of the great influence the local, regional and terroir would have on post-WW II culinaria.

And Virginia ham was served with the autumn salad finale, a southern American food that heretofore enjoyed no particular culinary regard – it was something you saw in corner diners and regional restaurants. Someone probably realized that its quality equalled the best French or German ham, so why not go for it?

The soufflé was of course French again, named here for a noted actor and former drama professor, Monte Woolley, Wikipedia has some good bio on him, here. Woolley, pictured above, was probably a typical member of the Society in the 1930s-50s. He was high-born and well-educated, a man about town.

What We Can Learn

It’s a nice dinner, isn’t it? And interesting. Inspired to a good degree by the exigencies of war, a kind of jerry-rig, the program ends by offering what we now call world cuisine. Its grammar is exactly that of today’s culinary world.

Can’t you just see Anthony Bourdain hopping about from Chile to Nova Scotia to Jerez to Burgundy to get inspiration for a dinner like this?

Get hip to this timely tip, Anthony.

Note re images: the first four images were sourced from the respective links stated in the text. The final image was sourced from an eBay listing, here. All property in the images belongs to their sole owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 1936 Wine and Oyster Tasting in New York: an Attendee Reports

Present at the Creation

Only after I completed my posts yesterday on the New York Wine and Food Society’s 1936 Wine and Oyster Tasting did I locate an extraordinary document. It would be long odds that someone who attended that event was still living in the 2000s, but this is the case.

Edward B. Marks was an American who had a long career in refugee resettlement and assistance starting in the late 1930s. He worked for numerous American and international organizations including finally UNICEF.

Marks was born in New York in 1913, of German-Jewish origin. He was a Dartmouth graduate and gained a master’s degree in sociology from Columbia.

His long career in public service, as well as his occasional journalism and other writing, earned him numerous obituaries in well-known newspapers. See this one from the New York Times.

At the age of 92, not long before his death in 2005, he published the memoir Still Counting: Achievements and Follies of a Nonagenarian. Substantial portions can be read on Google Books including from the chapter on his 1930s days in alcoholic beverage publishing, here.

Between 1933 and 1938 Marks worked as a editor for a brewing industry magazine and later for a wine and liquor journal. The work is recalled in the chapter of his book I linked.

He describes attending numerous events of the New York Wine and Food Society in the mid-1930s as part of his work in beverages publishing.

He is very complimentary of these events, and mentions three in particular including a Champagne tasting at the Ritz-Carlton and the 1936 Oyster and Wine Tasting I profiled yesterday.

Marks is so precise in his recollections that he must have retained the menus. You can read them as well, in their entirety from the New York Public Library, here and here.

Marks later set up a small-scale winery at his property in Leesburg, Virginia, enough to pay its way at any event – clearly the early years in drinks publishing and gastronomy influenced his social habits.

Marks has a high regard for the early work of the International Wine and Food Society in America. He had met its mover and shaker André Simon and outlines Simon’s great efforts before and after WW II to improve American gastronomy and convert the nation to wine-drinking.

Marks gives great credit to the Society for introducing wine culture to America but considers that the work had a delayed reaction – in a word took longer than Simon had hoped. He states Simon would be amazed at how the country finally changed in regard to the use of wine as a beverage.

I don’t disagree but I feel that the influence of the IWFS and similar groups (e.g., Manhattan’s Gourmet Society) was noticeable well before wine-drinking became usual in America.

That’s how social trends develop: they appear first among small groups who exercise a disproportionate influence on the country – who are quite literally in this case, tastemakers.

The process never stops, today the culinary scene is led by people such as Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsay, even Rachel Ray, or say the bake-off show wildly popular in the U.K. that has spun-off numerous imitations.

The thousands of tastings and dinners in the country by various IWFS branches between 1933 and 2000 came to the attention of food and wine writers, wine importers, grape growers and vintners, and radio and tv chefs. They would have attended its events, spoken and promoted their work there, and in turn brought the message of civilized living to a wider audience.

Marks is an example himself, as the book amply testifies.

A typical early sub-culture were those who bought Julia Child’s landmark books and who viewed her first TV show, The French Chef. Just as for the equally influential chef and author James Beard, she would have been known the IWFS and have attended some of its events.

A similar thing happened in England with people such as Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Hugh Johnson, the Craddocks, and so on.

In the U.S. I should mention also Zagat, “the” restaurant guide for New York that later migrated to many other cities. Its style echoes that of the 1930s Consumer Union publications, telegraphic but informed commentary.

The IWFS’s tasting menus were similar but more refined: in essence a blending of technical information originating with producers with a literary flair, but not too heavy-handed.

Social trends always involve a complex interaction of the moving parts, but that the IWFS had an outsize influence on American foodways cannot be doubted. Marks confirms it in its essentials.

He mentions that German wines featured at the 1936 tasting and does not suggest any annoyance at that, or being discomfited in any way by his Jewish background.

Perhaps because he worked in an industry in which Germans and German-Americans were prevalent in the 1930s he was able to set aside personal considerations. Had any Jewish person chosen not to attend a tasting at which German wine was served in the Hitler era, that might have lessened his career prospects, always a consideration no matter what the ethics are.

Or perhaps it was just the nature of the times as I suggested yesterday: bad things happening in foreign countries didn’t register in the same way around the world as they do now.

It is interesting that Marks had first-hand knowledge of Nazi perfidy since he worked with Jewish victims of the Nazis, but that work came later. In 1936 he was still a journalist in the wine and spirits industry.

In any case, at the end of a long life, this aspect is not adverted to in the book, from what I could tell.

Marks clearly remained influenced by his early years in the alcohol business: he states even in his nineties he enjoyed a glass of beer, plus of course wine as mentioned.

Marks had a high regard for the taste of the new beer in the 1930s, feeling only that it should be stronger than “3.2”. During Prohibition he sometimes drank Canadian beer bootlegged into the country, probably as a student in college, which he clearly admired.

In his brewing work he was struck by the massive aging tanks at some of the pre-Prohibition New York breweries: he mentions Jacob Ruppert in particular.

He learned a considerable amount about hops and says some interesting things about competition between American and imported hops. He visited most of the older breweries starting up again and some of the newer ones.

One feature of modern living that disturbed him was the prevalence of campus drinking. He states that during his college years there was little use of alcohol. Sometimes students made a kind of raw gin from alcohol and juniper, but drinking was restricted in those days.

He clearly disapproved of widespread use of alcohol on campus in the 2000s, and in this I can only agree. Perhaps it is a price to pay for making alcohol generally unobjectionable in society at large.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the New York Public Library, as 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vision of Andre Simon of the Wine and Food Society

While brief, this video uploaded to Youtube in 2015 on the history of The International Wine and Food Society shows the unique features of its mission which reverberate to this day.

The sane approach advocated by founder André Simon for wine in one’s lifestyle fit naturally into the aspirational American ethos which took root from the 1930s – as indeed it did for England where the first branch was founded, in London in 1933.

This way of life was conditioned not just by the new (or perfected) element of Madison Avenue and West End advertising, but by the essence of the bourgeois morality: enjoy life but everything in just measure. Don’t drink too much, drink quality not quantity. If you can, learn something useful, or interesting, as you go.

Before Prohibition, a few epicures in big cities apart, drinking meant boozing, not necessarily continual but with the idea of excess encoded.

In Britain too, from Georgian times at least to the gin palace and workmens’ pubs of the 1800s, the use of alcohol in social life often was often synonymous with heavy drinking.

André Simon brought a new sensibility to this picture, informed by his French background.

The message: indulge in wine, one of life’s pleasures, but with enough discretion so you will last a reasonable time and continue as an upstanding citizen: a bon père de famille. Enhance your life over its normal span but don’t abbreviate it in the psycho or cirrhosis-treatment wards of your local hospital.

Where does the self-improvement come in? From the pedagogy that was implicit in Simon’s message from the beginning. Wine is worth learning about, pondering, studying. It’s a matter of culture and history; gastronomy is, in general.

Yes drinking is for relaxation and socializing but do it with food and try to learn something at the same time, be useful.

Previously, a tiny minority had this perspective, the George Saintsburys and Alfred Barnards in the U.K., the L.J. Vances in America: Simon opened it up to the upwardly mobile middle classes and after WW II it spread beyond. Lots of people know today about “Chardonnay”, not just a tiny privileged coterie in the largest coastal cities.

To be sure the initial members of most of the Society’s branches were probably grandees of one type or another; that’s how things get started, often*. But can anyone doubt that at bottom the group was and remains democratic in spirit?

Had this not been so it would never have spread around the world as it did, to Melbourne, Liverpool, Toronto, Auckland, New Orleans, Pasadena, and far beyond.

When you examine the some 100 menus of the New York Wine and Food Society in the NYPL menu archive covering the period from 1934 to the mid-1970s, these values resonate from its pages.

The menus were well and carefully written, but not baroque or affected in tone. The influence of the wine and liquor agencies which often supplied some of the table is there, but so is the need to speak literately to people without abstruse literary or other affectation, a tendency of pre-1930s drink literature.

Indeed some of the books issued in the 1930s in the U.S. to explain wine and alcohol to a newly enfranchised populace show those older traits. Selmer Fougner’s is one, IMO; I wrote about him earlier in these pages.

At day’s end, the style of the wine and food notes of The Wine and Food Society, forged in the 1930s and continuing for decades with a decided influence on the wider culture, were a kind of magic formula. They struck just the right notes of practicality and pleasure, of commercial reality and romantic history.

The influence is there to see in the work of countless food and wine writers post-WW II, in tv food shows, and in the colour weekend supplements and their current online equivalents.

The template still informs most consumer wine writing today. The same applies to beer and spirits which were greatly influenced by wine writing in their development.

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*Christel Lane, in her 2014 study of the fine-dining industry, puts it that upon formation the Society in London sought members from the “professional classes”. The New York group could not have been very different.

“Now if You’re Ready, Oysters Dear, we can Begin…”

A Stunning 1936 Tasting of Wines and Oysters

The International Wine and Food Society

I have written earlier of the historic role played by the Wine and Food Society of New York, now part of the International Wine and Food Society based in London, in creating the modern food and wine culture. (The full original programme discussed below can be viewed, and the extracts herein are included, courtesy www.nypl.org).

Many of their activities from the 1930s-1970s presaged important features of today’s food world. These include pairing foods and wines in formal tastings; comparing varietal wines of different countries, especially the U.S. and France (well before the 1976 Judgement of Paris); holding sophisticated beer tastings with historical and taste notes in the program; slowly but steadily covering American wines from the 1940s; and creating regional American, ethnic, and international menus, from a “Vermont breakfast” (late-40s)* to a Nordic smorgasbord (60s).

One of the founders of the New York branch was Robert Jay Misch, a New York advertising executive. He was only 30 in 1936 when the wine and oyster tasting described below was held.

André Simon, of the original London branch, was the driver behind the international expansion of the Society. I’ve previously referred to its activities in places as far afield as Liverpool, U.K.; Melbourne, Australia; Baltimore, MD; and San Francisco, CA.

The New York board of directors was a varied group comprising business executives including publishers, food or wine writers, and society figures.

Misch later turned to food-and-wine writing full-time. He was still giving tastings, one at the famed New York “Y” with wine maven Alexis Lichine, not long before his passing at 84 in 1990.

Misch probably authored many of the notes on wine for the luxe 1936 wine and oyster tasting. At the height of the Depression, no effort was spared to present a luxury of choice among bivalves and products of the vine, in appropriately swank surroundings of the St. Regis Hotel, Manhattan.

A New Wine Writing Style?

The wine notes are crisp, authoritative, lively, not overly mannered. They probably inaugurated an international “style” for the Society in this regard. I would argue too they clearly influenced the wine writing of later generations in general.

There is probably some precedent for it in pre-1933 wine writing – in fact George Saintsbury’s 1920s Notes on a Cellar-book should be cited – but still the 1936 notes have a striking clarity and modernity.

Saintsbury can express well a wine’s attributes but his ornate Victorian style often gets in the way for modern readers.

Sometimes things are like that; something significant gets started almost from whole cloth and remains a totem, I guess that’s what classic means. The 1936 wine notes speak to us clearly today.

The Beer

The committee who organized the tasting were too clever to omit any reference to stout or porter in connection with oysters, so Guinness was included, the “wine” of Ireland, it was called.

And so it was then: long-aged, unpasteurized, somewhat lactic, the legendary black wine of Eire via – to begin with – raucous silk weavers’ pubs in Spitalfields, London with their three-threads and other porters-of-the-loom black beers. (“Porter” for beer derives from c. 1700 London weaving terminology, as I’ve argued earlier).

Guinness was last in the list, but better late than never. Later, from 1946 until the early 1950s, the New York branch included more beers in its oyster tastings although always fewer than the wines.

At its three beer tastings proper I have now identified in the 1940s, one of which (1944’s) I wrote up here two years ago, the foods served did not include oysters. Various smoked fish, cheeses, quality hams, and breads or crackers were served.

Beer then seemed to denote Central Europe for the food side more than English or Yankee food customs.

The Wines

The French wines included were well-chosen, from the classic Chablis – no less than four, appropriately, as it is “the” wine for oysters really – to some Alsatians, Graves, and Hermitage.

The latter included a dry rosé, Tavel’s, still a staple of the rosé scene internationally although somewhat eclipsed in recent years by the fashion for the drier rosés of Provence.

Numerous German wines were listed, Germany was second only to France in the number of wines represented. This is rather surprising given that by mid-1936 the Nazis were firmly in control of Germany and moreover had passed the Nuremberg “citizenship” laws that removed Jews from public life and helped set the stage for their annihilation.

The Jewish members of the New York Wine and Food Society, I’d guess Misch was one, must have gritted their teeth at German wines being served, nay lauded in dulcet tones. But this was a different time, few nations in general at the time spoke up in favour of persecuted peoples and least for the Jews.

I’d imagine that Jewish presence in any elite social organization of the 1930s was somewhat parlous, and any members lucky to gain entry didn’t protest at the anomaly – to say the least – of German wines being given a showcase.

After the Second World War began the Society set German, French, and Italian wines aside. Most stocks of these were probably exhausted anyway as trade embargoes prevented re-supply, but some vintage items would have remained in hotel and haute restaurant cellars even in the mid-40s.

Still, they stayed there as far as the Society was concerned anyway until after V-Day. Indeed because of the war, the tastings of the Society I’ve reviewed between 1941 and 1945 looked beyond the tried and true for new vinous inspiration.

This meant California of course but also New York, Ohio, Chile, Argentina, (neutral) Iberia, and South Africa.

These forays into secondary or tertiary wine regions later had a rebound effect in the form of the world-wide interest in regional wine, the “wine of the country”.

Had the Second World War never occurred, I’m convinced the vibrant viticulture and enology of many world regions today would have never have started, or at least be much reduced in importance.

The Oysters

The oyster section of the 1936 programme is nothing less than a short primer on the subject, masterfully written. An oyster promotion organization was enlisted to provide this help, and it did not fail.

The wealth of Long Island varieties alone in the 1930s was notable. Some oysters, including the Robbins Island type on the list, are still available but oystering on the Island has almost disappeared, sadly.

This is due to … you know it: overfishing; pollution; possibly climate change. But oysters still abound in other parts of the world, especially Canada. The Gaspé’s briny Malpeque! Not as creamy as Bluepoints, but world-class in their way: if you ask me, half-way between the Belons off Brittany and the Bluepoint type.

I may get some Malpeques for a dinner soon to host an English friend, or Nova Scotia smoked salmon, another stalwart of 1940s Manhattan gastronomy.

Recreating Historically Significant Gastronomic Events

I keep saying this to all and sundry, with little resonance so far, but someone should recreate classic early culinary and wine events such as this 1936 oyster and wine tasting. Doing so offers a unique opportunity to blend epicurean adventure with absorbing social history in numerous dimensions.

In other words, it would be fun.

I did this two years ago in Toronto for the Society’s 1944 beer tasting, and it went over very well.

It’s wine’s turn now. Many of the wines in the program still exist, certainly most of the shippers and estates do.

And Guinness does, even though it’s less like the original Guinness than the 1936 (Foreign Extra) Stout served at the stylish St. Regis. The closest form of Guinness today is probably its West Indies Porter although the current Extra Stout, or Foreign Extra Stout, will do nicely enough.

I’m happy to help out…

Note re images: the first five images were sourced from the New York Public Library, as linked in the text. The final image, of the top floors of the St. Regis Hotel in New York, was sourced at www.thecityreview.com, here. All property in the images belongs to their sole owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*See the American menu collector’s Henry Voigt’s informed discussion of this event, here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spirit of ’55

Waiter Please Bring me my Blatz

There will never be a completely satisfactory definition of “American cooking”. I use this term for convenience but Canadian cooking is pretty much the same.

Cooking changes with the times, of course. In turn the times are shaped by many things: growth of certain ethnic groups or their rising prestige; concepts such as “clean” or green eating; new food technologies; and other factors not always easy to delineate much less forecast.

(New Yorker magazine three years ago contained a provocative cover story,“The End of Food”. It profiled a young San Francisco-based entrepreneur and his product Soylent. Inspired by lifehacking and other ideas prevalent in Silicon Valley he developed a “meal replacement”, a kind of paste designed to store well and deliver all essential nutrients. 

Soylent was designed as cost-effective feeding for those who work almost non-stop, who don’t have time to shop or cook, or much extra money: a kind of converse of the market-shopping and slow food notions popular for the last 20 years. An interesting idea but I don’t think it’s time has come, at least nationally).

Still, American cooking is easier to recognize than to describe intellectually: you know it when you see it, at least in different periods over the last 100 years.

American cooking describes to a “t” the food offered in the 1955 menu below from Barney’s Market Club in Chicago (1919- c.1990). Rick Kogan in 2011, of the Tribune Newspapers, wrote a good short profile of the restaurant here. He also describes the current use of the site, a happening brewpub called Haymarket Pub and Brewery.

Barney Kessel was a classic old-time American maverick, “a character” as the phrase goes. He started up in 1919 and in the 1930s moved to larger premises in the West Loop. It seems the place was basically a tavern to begin with but later became a restaurant proper due to Prohibition.

Throughout Prohibition Barney Kessel sold beer delivered by Al Capone’s men. Due to Barney’s good relations with local power-brokers he had no trouble with the law until, one fateful day, a shooting at his bar compelled the law to sanction him for running a speakeasy.

Kessel spent a few months in jail, which hardly slowed him down as his big success came after liquor was made legal, from 1933 until his death in 1950. The restaurant continued in business for another 40-odd years, run by his son-in-law.

Kessel was the personification of the place in its heyday, a style often seen in dining then in North America. A “personality” who had the gift of gab and was likeable attracted business. We have much less of this today. Today, restaurants are distinguished more by their chefs and the difference they make in the kitchen.

In Barney’s day, what drew you there was not so much that his “Special Sirloin Steak” was the best in the Windy City, but that Barney was there.*

Restaurants are still set up by famous people, Wayne Gretzky’s place on Blue Jay Way downtown is an example, but almost invariably the restaurant is professionally run and managed. In the old days, the man on the sign was there much of the time. Kessel was, with his ever-ready catch-phrase, “Yes sir, Senator”.

He couldn’t remember peoples’ names and addressed everyone like that, which they loved.

Kessel made himself famous, or locally famous, in a way you don’t see much now. He made sure the Catholic fathers had a special corner, the local machine politicians had their favourite tables, the White Sox, and on it went. This could only happen in a time of real community, of “locality” to borrow from EU-speak. In a time of globality, which has rather done locality in, it’s harder to develop the kind of local celebrity a Kessel achieved.

In Chicago of course beef was popular due to the stockyards, in fact Kessel grew up in their shadow. So steak in all its variety was well-represented on his 1955 menu but there is plenty of other Americana too.

Stuffed squab (originally at least this was young pigeon). Broiled ham steak, with a sweet potato in this case, no ham slice. That sounds like a southern touch, perhaps contributed by a visiting blues musician or a migrating chef in the kitchen.

Roast turkey. Shrimp cocktail. Broiled chicken. Numerous fish from the Great Lakes – there’s your market cuisine, as the beef was.

Roast duck, chicken à la king with its creamy swath of sauce. Spaghetti, long Americanized by ’55 and needing no explanation on the menu.

Broiled English mutton chops, a vestige of pre-Prohibition grills and mens’ clubs, the aura of Albion mingling with the scent of sheep fat. Swiss steak, probably never very Swiss – out of fashion for decades now, a pity as it’s good if well-prepared.

Read the rest for yourself. That’s classic American eating, or was for much of the mid-1900s.

What would we add to it today? Fajitas, probably. BBQ, which at the time was strictly regional and didn’t therefore make the grade for a quality, “national” menu. A bigger salad repertoire than “combination salad”. More vegetarian options.

More Asian influences, too – sushi! (We are with the English writer David Benedictus who once wrote that he didn’t favour Japanese food in general and sushi in particular.  We all have our taste…).

But if you could go out tonight looking for a good meal you could do a lot worse than Barney’s Market Club circa 1955.

The drinks were carefully chosen, note that Kessel made sure to include Ballantine India Pale Ale – another pre-Prohibition salute. Wines are handled in no-nonsense terms: a glass of Burgundy, French or domestic, a couple of other varietals, and that’s it, but there was more on a separate list.

The beer got good attention. Heineken was on draft, surely a novelty in America then. For local he gave you Van Merritt, brewed in Wisconsin but long a Chicago favourite. The action was in the St. Louis and Milwaukee brands but this made sense as they were regional selections, familiar to a wide audience in the Midwest (and beyond).

I wonder what draft Heineken was like in 1955 in America – all-malt probably, as it is again today. The long trip couldn’t have done it any favours though. Me, I’d have gone for Ballantine IPA and maybe a Budweiser or Schlitz, which were good beers then (I think).

So that’s Culina americanus, at least from c. 1940-1980. Yes sir, Senators. 

Note re images: The first and third images are from the www.nypl.org archival menu linked in the text. The second was sourced from Tavern Trove, here. Images belong to their sole owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Nonetheless Darnell’s “vest-pocket” restaurant guide, the Zagat of its day, rated Barney’s Market Club in America’s Top 10 restaurants – this is late 1940s. The quality was there too…

The Athens of America Contemplates Wine and Beer

In the 1960s and 70s, if you were interested in wine as a middle-class pursuit – the same for beer was much less likely – the wine (and beer) menu of the Wursthaus in Cambridge, Mass. answered the call.

Its approach to the main wine styles was no-nonsense, sprinkled with doubtful humour: the menu queried why anyone would choose its California selections (all-Almaden Vineyards) over imported.

Good basic information is given on different German wines, a focus of the house, but also on Bordeaux and Burgundy reds, and more.

The selection was sound for the time, with well-known appellations from noted shippers, featuring both “vintages” and “estate-bottled”. A young prof at Harvard who dabbled in wine would have felt at home.

We are a distance nonetheless from the sophisticated vintages and scholarly notes of contemporary Wine and Food Society menus, or of Manhattan’s Gourmet Society from 1933-1960s. These elite groups served a different market – the “oenophile”, a comparative rarity.

The specimen inhabited large coastal centres, nesting in faculty clubs and epicurean societies.

The Wursthaus was aiming for a broader demographic, from its original student base in choc-a-bloc Harvard Yard to students’ parents, Harvard faculty, and young professionals. The wine notes are exactly in that zone.

This was of course before the wine boom, before the Judgment of Paris (1976), before anyone knew what Napa or Sonoma were other than (at best) agricultural sectors in distant California.

A sense how different that time was is that the menu notes Almaden’s wines came “all the way from California”. California was in many ways as foreign to The Hub as Isle of Man.

What about the beer notes to elucidate the styles and examples of Gambrinus’ domain? Of course, there weren’t any. Just a list of beers by country of origin.

But not a bad list certainly. They had oyster stout in 1961 you know, from Isle of Man. The beer is in the earliest writings of the late, great English beer critic Michael Jackson, and launched a thousand inky-briny imitations once craft brewing got its legs.

Do you think anyone ordering that stout – it was still on the menu in 1972 – ever thought to ask why “oyster” featured in the name? There must have been an unusually reflective professor who wondered about it.

If he (she) did, it’s a safe bet they never found out, unless they were still drinking beer decades later, perhaps.

The list also featured Carnegie “stout”, probably one and the same with renowned Carnegie Porter. That was – is – a taste of Georgian London via Sweden.

Carnegie had a decided influence on the beer revolution to come. The porter is about as intense as beer gets short of sours and wild beers – pretty good for ’61 in one of the larger American cities, or anywhere.

Also, there was Black Velvet from Trinidad, a rich sweet stout surely, and Murray’s stout from Scotland. The great Pilsner Urquell was present, and both Bass pale ale and Whitbread’s ditto from England.

A bunch of good German beers featured including Munich’s fine Augustiner in both helles and dunkel. No less than four beers from America’s former enemy, Japan, were offered – only 16 years after Japan collapsed in an atomic cloud.

Ekla was a brand of Vanderheuvel, a brewery with early-1800s roots in Brussels – think of Uccle, Brussels. The brewery lasted until absorbed in Watney’s maw, and was closed in 1975.

No style of Ekla is mentioned. Vanderheuvel in the 1950s was known for its pils, export, and stout, and it bottled lambic as a nod to its earliest days. Whatever was in the bottle, it was “Belgian” and that was enough for the Stateside taster.

What could “India” have meant for the Puerto Rican beer? Maybe it was a India Pale Ale that survived from Victorian times in the (not always…) languid Caribbean. The beer originated in the 1930s and the brewery still continues.

I suspect the 1961 India Cerveza was very good, perhaps like today’s India Pale lagers.

There was no rhyme or reason to the beer selection other than being international; this was typical for the era. A helter-skeler selection was made from wholesalers’ inventories, and people chose without guidance other than the, um, small beer of national origin.

To treat of beer in the way the menu did for wine would have elicited astonishment. It wasn’t done, wasn’t on anyone’s horizon.

In 1961 Anchor Brewery in San Francisco, which made a distinctive beer that would have fit well on the list, was in deep financial straits (later rescued by white knight Fritz Maytag with help of washing machine money). Anheuser-Busch had just started to put rice in Michelob. Brewery consolidation was picking up rapidly almost everywhere.

The world seemed intent on vapid yellow beer.

A new day would take a while to dawn.

Some of the other U.S. beer haunts then were the late-lamented Brickskeller in Washington, D.C., the Peculier Pub in New York, Barney’s Beanery in L.A., and Tommy’s Joynt in San Francisco. Their approach to beer would have been similar to the Wursthaus.

Brickskeller was a bridge certainly to the craft beer era so perhaps its menu offered some beer instruction in 1961, it’s possible.

Barney’s Beanery is still going strong in Los Angeles, indeed is now a small chain. Its bottled selection (check online) shows a vestige of the simple national classification of the 1950s-1970s, which is satisfying in a way.

What happened to Wursthaus? It closed in 1996, a victim of changing times. A deli in the Square was established in the 1950s by members of the family, so some influence continues from the Wursthaus era, after a fashion. I’d guess a few 1960s-70s wholesalers’ brochures languish in the deli’s basement…

If I ever get to Beantown again, I’ll ask.

Wursthaus had been founded by a German-American in 1917, and was sold to an Italian family in ’42.

The pre-’42 owner probably thought a German-theme bar wasn’t a good idea for the next few years but the new owners didn’t change the name or sign. The menu did evolve, retaining finally just a few German dishes. It became all-American, mostly.

Do wish I could have visited Wursthaus in its prime? No, because I did.

Back in July, 1970 I took a car trip from Montreal south to Cape Cod and visited Cambridge on the way, to see Harvard.

I stopped in Tanglewood, NJ – I wanted to see The Who but I missed them by a day. I remember asking in town about it and was told the lawns were completely filled to the back and people were hanging in trees.

(Do you want to see why? Look here).

In Cambridge, I had lunch at the Wursthaus, and remember it was dark inside, as current remembrances attest. I think I had schnitzel and certainly draft beer, probably a “dark”. This was before I had ever read a book on beer, but the germ of the interest was there.

September, 2017 is “all the way” certainly from 1961. And in that month Doug Holder released his new poetry collection, Last Night at the Wursthaus. See an informative local report, here.

The old joint isn’t quite effaced from memory, yet.

Note re images: The first three images are from the www.nypl.org archival menu linked in the text. The fourth was sourced from Pinterest, here. The fifth, of The Who, was obtained from Internet sources. The final image was sourced from the producer’s website linked in the text. Images belong to their sole owner, as applicable. Used here for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.