Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part I.

Introduction to Series

In earlier writing, I described tasting events held from the 1930s through the 1970s by the International Wine and Food Society (IWFS).

The IWFS was co-founded in London in 1933 by a French-born, London-based wine merchant, Andre Simon. Today, there are branches all over the world.

Some branches have considered beer a serious beverage, worthy of evaluation. I discussed for example a large-scale, indeed historic beer tasting organized in 1942 by the New York Wine and Food Society.

In other posts, I examined innovative cheese and wine-tastings, e.g. the event of the same chapter held at the Pierre Hotel in New York in 1945. These societies or clubs – another was the Gourmet Society in New York helmed by George Frederick –  engaged in sophisticated early wine and food forays.

Occasionally they tasted non-wine beverages such as beer, spirits, or tea. In my view, their activities and interests proved influential on the larger culture, helping to form the food and wine world of today.

The Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles, known today as the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, was another early implant of IWFS in America. Earlier, I discussed its first two decades, as documented in a book issued in 1957 by a founder of the branch, Dr. Marcus Crahan.

The book mentioned an elaborate beer tasting conducted by the group in 1938. At the time, I, and no doubt many reading, wished they could see the list of beers tasted and judging method used.

Against long odds, I now have that information, kindly supplied to me by George Ronay, a member of the WFSSC and in his words its unofficial historian.

In posts to follow, I will discuss this and other menus he shared with me. They mainly deal with beer and accompanying food served, but also other topics, such as a 1942 English dinner held at a pub in Los Angeles.

In 2010 the L.A. chapter held its 500th dinner. George Ronay authored for the occasion an essay on the branch’s history. Among his remarks he stated:

It was February 7, 1935 when the first dinner of the newly-organized Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles was held at the Victor Hugo Restaurant in Beverly Hills. Prohibition, the “Noble Experiment,” had formally ended in December 1933, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average had risen from its Depression-era low of 41.22 in February 1932 to close at 101 that afternoon. Andre Simon, born in Saint-Germain-des-Pres in Paris’ 6th Arrondissement and having worked in London as the Agent for Pommery Champagne, had subsequently joined with his friend A.J. A. Symons to form the Wine and Food Society and establish branches throughout the world.

Of the menus for branch events, George Ronay wrote:

Augmenting and documenting every dinner has been a printed menu listing each course and wine served. For the first decades through the 1960’s, the menus, printed by Grant Dahlstrom at the Castle Press, tended to be straightforward folded menus roughly 6 by 9 inches. In the 1970’s under the stewardship of Grafton Tanquary (a member for over 50 years), we entered the “Golden Age” of Society menus with some stunning large-format and artistic menus, many of which are displayed tonight for our enjoyment.

I will examine soon the 1938 beer tasting held by Los Angeles epicureans. It is among the earliest sophisticated, modern-style beer tastings I know of in America or anywhere. By this I mean consumer tastings versus by professionals for judging organizations or exhibitions.

Part II follows.

Note re copyright: menu and essay 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.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.