Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part VI.

From the lavish 40-beer tasting and pit barbeque of 1938, the Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles did the ostensible obverse: it tasted one beer, at the Swiss Chalet Tap-room on March 17, 1941.



The Tap-room was located at the Sequoia Lodge, a building next to Acme Brewery that served as hospitality centre both for the brewery and Bohemian Distributing Company, its sole distributor.

A dinner accompanied, for which steak was centrepiece.



As true beer fans know, or should know, the number of beers at a tasting doesn’t really matter. A tasting can take many forms. One good beer can be as satisfying as an (inevitable) mixed bag, maybe more so.

(Statements in the paragraphs below have been verified by advertisements or press stories in the California Digital Newspaper Collection, and other research. Citations, where not supplied, available).

Acme in California

When Prohibition ended on April 7, 1933 for 4% abv beer, Acme was ready with its brewery in San Francisco. Its new Los Angeles plant, the one established in partnership with Bohemian Distributing Company, would not be operational until June 1935.

The San Francisco brewery was built before Prohibition from the time Olympia Brewery in Tumwater, Washington established an affiliate in San Francisco. The San Francisco brewery underwent re-organization in the wake of WW I and endured through Prohibition, making near beer, with another in the group, National Brewery.

Both re-opened in San Francisco at end of Prohibition, and as mentioned, a new brewery joined them in L.A. in mid-1935.

Acme Bock

Acme issued a bock beer from 1934 annually until 1942. An ad on March 14, 1934 in the Oakland Tribune announced the first post-Prohibition bock:



In the city the breweries’ bock beer, those who made one, went on sale officially on March 17. From 1942, production was suspended due to the rationing of malt and grains by the U.S. government for the war effort.

In 1947 bock returned, and was brewed until 1953. In 1954 the Los Angeles and San Francisco breweries were sold to Liebmann Breweries, Inc. of New York, makers of Rheingold beer, who were trying to go national.

But in 1941 Acme Bock was still a paying proposition for Acme, whether produced in L.A. or San Francisco. Members of the Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles attended at the Swiss Chalet Tap-room to taste the just issued bock beer, brewed as the menu stated in the winter of 1940.

Such winter brewing, for aging and release in March, was traditional for many breweries in Germany and the U.S.

The beer utilized “caramelized malts” and evidently was prized by connoisseurs: it won numerous annual awards for best non-wine beverage, as Dr. Marcus Crahan recorded in his 1957 history of the Society I have mentioned.

We can take it that Frank Vitale of Bohemian Distributing Company, with great experience in brewing matters, instructed the group well on bock attributes and history. Of course too personnel of Acme were present to assist, including Karl Schuster, its President.

Food at Bock Beer Festival Dinner

The menu (food) is fascinating, with German or north European preparations like Braunschweiger sausage, smoked goose, and smoked eel to precede, but also dishes from other traditions.

This page from the municipal site of Braunschweig (Brunswick, in north Germany) has good background on the town’s famous product.

Much Braunschweiger, originally a spiced raw minced pork sausage, was canned and internationally exported earlier. Blockade and an export ban enforced by the Royal Navy made it doubtful any was sent to the U.S. since start of the war, or any other German goods.

Also, I doubt a gastronomic group such as this Society would have used a canned food, apart perhaps caviar. Probably it was prepared in the U.S., where some sausage of this type assumed more a liverwurst cast, but at this stage we cannot know.

One way or another, I doubt it was anything other than prima.

A lentil purée follows, perhaps there was a vegan or two in the house. Red cabbage timbales followed, perhaps stuffed with mushroom, which reinforces this inference I think.

Also we see veal wursts, presumably a white weisswurst, which sounds a good pairing with bock, among other beers.

Sillsalad, or herring salad, is served after the char-broiled New York steak. Cheese fondue to end with water chestnuts.

The herring served after the main course of steak, almost recalls the savoury of the Edwardian British table, a salty whet to revive the appetite.

Here we see a kind of early trans-national menu with German, Swedish, French/Swiss, vegetarian, American, Asian influences – fusion before the word was known in culinary matters.

And no other drinks. Bock beer is the beginning, middle, and end – a perfectly constructed beer production if high quality, which I’m sure it was!

The international flavour was likely due, or in part, to the onset of war in Europe, so as not to focus too much on German tradition. The name Swiss Chalet Tap-room would suggest something similar, as our research suggests the Sequoia Lodge was erected in 1941.

In any case, the West Coast kitchen would become increasingly variegated in years to come. Events like this beer dinner made their contribution to that process.

Part VII follows, on an English Dinner in 1942.

Note re copyright: menu extract is 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. Source of the other image is identified and linked in text, with all intellectual property therein belonging solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes, all feedback welcomed.







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