Brown Stout and Brook Trout
May 7, 1942 was five months to the day after Pearl Harbor triggered American entry into the Second World War.
On that evening, the Wine and Food Society of New York gathered for a programme at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, a luxury beer and food tasting. The epicureans held two other beer events that I know of in the 1940s, one in 1941 before Pearl Harbor, and one in September 1944.
The 1942 and 1944 tastings were held during wartime, when some tastings were still being conducted by the New York branch.
I discussed the 1944 menu earlier, and below address the more elaborate 1942 event. (All menu extracts are via The New York Public Library’s digital menu archive at www.nypl.org).
A sophisticated beer-tasting of this type, with foods supplied by top city caterers, was groundbreaking. The detailed product notes, and range and (evident) quality of the foods, reveal an avant la lettre modernity.
The notes on the beers, including for porter and India Pale Ale, reflect lore handed down for generations, and offer good interest. The “tang” noted in IPA may have been an effect of Brettanomyces yeast, perhaps the selfsame “Bass stink” I discussed recently in connection with American “musty ale”.
The source stated for Heineken beer in mid-1942 is interesting. It wasn’t the Netherlands, but rather its brewery in East Java. Either it was shipping to the United States post-Pearl Harbour, or the beer was stock sent prior to the attack.
42 beers are listed, about twice the number for the 1944 tasting. The foods too are more abundant and interesting, featuring an alluring range of smoked and pickled fish, and different cheeses. Since German or Czech pale or dark lagers were not served other beers in these styles were tabled, Prior for example from Pennsylvania.
The notes on fish, hams, and cheese suggest high gastronomical values in selection and quality. The beers are treated as wines in this respect, deserving of being paired with premium foods from small-scale producers.
Some tems of more popular image were also tabled, e.g., the frankly American-named Heluva cheese. All food and beer were contributed by the makers, and perhaps organizers were loath to decline offers not “gourmet” as such, or wanted to make a democratic gesture.
Perhaps too the intent was to allow processed cheese to be compared to more naturally-produced types.
A harbinger of today’s whole foods movement may be seen in the Pepperidge Farm stone-ground, whole wheat loaf. Factory, sliced white loaf, still a novelty for some Americans in 1942, palled early for epicureans. Whole grain bread, evoking both traditional and health values, was an early star of the green/natural foods movement.
(The story of Pepperidge Farm is absorbing in itself. Its origins are in America’s stockbroker belt, not, as one might expect, a hipster, communitarian, or smallholder circle).
Despite the war little in the menu suggests restraint or economy. If anyone on the committee had qualms about fielding such an event in a war economy, evidently the consensus was to go ahead. Probably the event was planned well before Pearl Harbor. Given the efforts of all concerned perhaps it was felt impractical to cancel or modify the plan.
The 1944 beer tasting, for its part, was toned down considerably. One can see this from its programme, absorbing as it is.
From our standpoint today these events show that serious, tutored beer tasting is not new and well precedes the craft beer era. At the same time the concept was novel for the time. Indeed if a similar event predates it, other than similar tastings held by the New York branch of the International Wine and Food Society since its creation (in London) in 1934, I am not aware of it.
A type of precedent is the beer and food menu for a special dinner held at the Pabst brewery hotel in 1898, I discussed that event here. The 1942 event is rather more accomplished though, with a didactic element absent from the former.
These 1940s tastings represent milestones in the cultural and social history of beer. Much the same can be said for the International Wine and Food Society’s early American wine tastings, viewed in toto.*
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.
*Wine was always the main focusing point of the IWFS but its branches occasionally tasted beer, spirits, and cocktails.