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.