Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part I.

Introduction to Series

In earlier writing I described tasting events between the 1930s and ’70s of the International Wine and Food Society (IWFS).

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

Some branches considered beer a serious beverage worthy of study. I discussed a large-scale beer tasting organized in 1942 by the New York chapter, for example.

In other posts, I examined innovative cheese and wine-tasting, e.g. an 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 early sophisticated wine and food forays.

Occasionally they tasted non-wine beverages such as beer, spirits, and tea. In my view, their activities and interests in time proved influential on the larger culture.

The Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles, today known as the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, was an early implant of IWFS in America. Earlier I discussed its first two decades as documented in 1957 by Dr. Marcus Crahan, one of the founders.

His book mentioned an elaborate beer tasting conducted by the group in 1938. At the time, I, and no doubt many reading wished they could know the 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, the group’s unofficial historian.

 

 

In posts to follow I will discuss this and other menus he sent. They mainly deal with beer and the accompanying food, but also other subjects 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, which he shared with me, on the branch’s history. The essay remarked:

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 used 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 the 1938 beer tasting held by Los Angeles epicureans. The event is surely among the earliest sophisticated, modern-style beer tastings in America or likely anywhere, by which I mean consumer tastings, vs. judging at commercial exhibitions and competitions.

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.

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