Octoberfest Dinner in Camelot America
The dinner* was served on October 23, 1961 to a gathering of the L.A. Society at Anheuser-Busch brewery in Van Nuys, CA, built in 1954. The brewery still operates, with another in the state of 1970s vintage, at Fairfield.
One difference from the menus discussed earlier is the “member cook” feature, which is self-explanatory. I would think the dishes were brought to the site and heated or chilled as needed in the hospitality room kitchen.
Van Nuys is under 20 miles from Los Angeles to the north-west, in “The Valley” (San Fernando) as it is famously known.
A Feierliches Fest means, to my understanding, a celebration event or party. In Munich in 1961, Oktoberfest was held from September 23 until October 8. See the (fabulous) poster with dates displayed in a Jay Brooks blogpost, here.
The L.A. Society elected a seasonal fest later in October, at Anheuser-Busch. Many North American celebrations inspired by Oktoberfest take place through the month of October.
There was a preliminary tasting in the “Brew Room”. I’m not clear exactly what that was, whether an actual production area, or the hospitality room.
As reported in the Los Angeles Daily News on June 26, 1954, an event to host the press on opening of the brewery was held in its Rathskeller.
The same term appeared in the caption to a 1955 photo (via Calisphere) showing American Legion members at the brewery.
Although the Society’s menu did not use the term Rathskeller, perhaps the dinner was held there, after tasting beer in the Brew Room.
At the time, Anheuser-Busch brewed Budweiser, Michelob, and Busch Bavarian, the price brand now called simply Busch. The light and other iterations came later.
Since Budweiser and Michelob were served with dinner, what other “selected beer” might have been tasted in the Brew Room, apart Busch Bavarian? A Michelob Dark perhaps, as a 1958 menu of the Society mentions it next to “light” Michelob.
Maybe Budweiser, Michelob(s) and Busch Bavarian were first tasted on draft, with bottles served at dinner. It needs to be emphasized that Michelob in particular, but also Budweiser, were considered top quality then, among the best in America next to some imports.
A chance to drink Michelob at will would be ardently embraced by beer fans of the day. Michelob was first bottled in the year of this dinner, 1961. A business story on August 24 that year in Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star stated the new format would appear “before long”.
I’d think by October 23 it was available in Los Angeles, particularly as Anheuser-Busch had a brewery there. The distinctive lava lamp look had to impress the group even as the lamp dates from 1963.
(Design trends seem to be of an era, with precise origins rarely ascribable to one example).
The ad following is from the Plattsburgh Press-Republican in 1963 (via NYS Historic Newspapers), and shows the original bottle.
Bottled Michelob, and the draft henceforth, used some rice in the mash.
As beer historians know, Michelob had been draft-only and 100% barley malt prior to this change. Today, regular Michelob is all-malt again.
I was not wowed by it on release some years ago but am interested to try it again.
The meal started with oysters and cold meats. While today one does not associate Germany with oysters, research suggests that the German North Sea at one time abounded in the flat European oyster.
See “Return of the native: Survival, growth and condition of European oysters reintroduced to German offshore waters” by Verena Merk, Bérenger Colsoul, and Bernadette Pogoda (2020).
Today, the beds are fallow although proposals have been floated to restore the stock. Facebook discussions attest to a tradition among some families of Prussian or Russian German background to eat oyster stew on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.
Some think it is a spin-off of American immigration, others say there is no consensus.
As oysters with beer is a North American tradition, and October is a good month to obtain them, perhaps that explains bivalves on the menu. Society menus seem to have stressed oysters, especially on the half-shell, over the years.
The beer soup was a good inclusion, and there are many types in Central Europe. I suspect it had a cream base although we cannot know at this distance.
The trout in wine sauce sounds excellent, many recipes can be found online. The next dish was rabbit stew and sauerkraut with potato pancakes, which sounds excellent too. Hasenpfeffer is an iconic German dish, often featuring vinegar and strong seasoning.
To finish, German cheesecake and coffee. A capital meal by any description.
Unlike before World War II, by 1961 American beer was not strongly associated with German culture and traditions. Most early menus of the Society where beer figured (1938-1961) did not offer German food, although a couple did.
The non-German menus featured North American cuisine (often BBQ or steak), mixed European dishes, and on one occasion, an Indonesian dinner.
For October 23, 1961 an evident attempt was made to pair beer with traditional German food, perhaps as the Society had not done this very often. The evening was surely a success.
*Menu extracts are copyright of the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, reproduced with its kind permission. No further reproduction or use is authorized without its prior written consent. Newspaper extract is via NYS Historic Newspapers as linked in text, and all intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable; used for educational and research purposes, all feedback welcomed.