Joseph Wechsberg, a Brief Appreciation

Pilsner Urquell? Fah!

That Mittel-European par excellence, Joseph Wechsberg, oddly depreciates the renowned Pilsner Urquell in this passage from one of his food essay collections.  See from pg. 91.

By claiming many Czechs disliked its intense bitter taste, he seems really to express his own opinion; but that it was shared by many Bohemians can’t be doubted, given Wechsberg’s fame as a reporter and writer. (See Chicagoan Bruce Hatton Boyer’s fine tribute, here, I posted it on Twitter today as well).

I suppose it’s always like that. Not every English male adored bitter ale in its heyday, only 90%, probably. Not every Frenchman loves wine (92%?).  Etc.

Urquell made a great export because those hops helped preserve it, but Wechsberg makes clear it wasn’t the only game in die Stadt. And Wechsberg says Czech connoisseurs deprecated all bottled beer in the old days. Probably because it was, i) more expensive, ii) pasteurized, often.

He names a passel of alternate brands many liked better: one wonders if they still exist. A pint for your thoughts.

Too bad Weschberg isn’t with us today. Everything you want we got it right here in the U.S.A. (or Canada), and Joe helped make it so with his literate, kindly, sunny meditations on wine, food, and life – a disposition at odds seemingly with the fact that part of his family was extinguished in German concentration camps.

Yet, as Bruce Boyer noted, Wechsberg chose to accentuate the positive, to look at better things, at the future not the past.

Joe Wechsberg is up there in the heavens smiling indulgently at the modern culinary scene he helped fashion in his New Yorker essays of the 1950s. The fashion for super-bitter beer might amaze him, yet he was the kind of person for whom life probably held few surprises, when you think of it.

In L.A. where he landed from Nazi fury in ’39 American culinary style was in its infancy but the ingredients were there: luxuriant fruit and veg markets, resurgent wine districts, the seafood from the west coast, and the Spanish element that soon would add élan and meld California eating to something new.

Even in glitzy loony late 30s L.A. he probably saw all the potential, even while cultivating contacts to sell film scripts and magazine essays. Soon he succeeded very well: as Boyer noted, he became a proficient stylist in his adopted country using his fourth language.

He died in his 70s but, oddly to my thinking, not in America, but in Vienna, home of the old Hapsburg world he evoked in his writing in myriad ways. The tug was too strong I guess, he had to go home.