Proto Craft Beer in America
The Culinary Institute of America, the famed teaching and vocational school based in Hyde Park, NY maintains a historic menu archive.
Today let’s consider the 1930s beer list of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The notation states date of the menu is unknown but various indices point to 1935.
Budweis beer labelled Nazdar was imported with that designation in the middle Thirties. Confirmation is available from a judicial source no less, Anheuser-Busch v. Du Bois Brewing, heard in 1947:
18. With the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic at the conclusion of World War I, the name of the City of Budweis was changed to Budejovice.
19. For a short time after Repeal, during the years of 1934 and 1935, imported beer from Budejovice was sold in small quantities in this country along the Eastern seaboard under the name “Nazdar”.
20. Subsequently, the importers changed the label to “Imported Budweiser” and small amounts of imported beer so labeled, which plaintiff contended violated the 1911 contracts, were sold in this country during the years 1936-1938.
The Waldorf-Astoria hotel is currently closed for a long-term condominium conversion. It was, needless to say, one of America’s premier hotels and internationally known. Sited in New York, a vibrant brewing region into the 1950s despite the toll of Prohibition, one would expect local heros of brewing to be represented, and many were.
Trommer was notable in particular. As the last important New York all-malt beer before craft, it had a “European” aura the Waldorf would appreciate. Other local/regional names of repute included Schaefer, Piel’s, and Rheingold.
Horton Brewing was a new entrant, with Repeal it bought an old plant, originally a branch of still-extant Yuengling in Pennsylvania, and produced a pilsener. In 1997 the New York Times answered a reader’s question on the beer:
No Microbrewery This
Q. I have a clear 12-ounce bottle I found years ago in my backyard in Brooklyn Heights. On the bottom it says ”Horton Pilsener Brewing Co. 460 W. 128th St., New York.” Can you tell me about this brewery?
A. The brewery was built by the Yuengling Brewing Company in 1876, in the village that was then known as Manhattanville — a dense, industrial enclave in the deep valley between Morningside and Hamilton Heights near the Hudson River. Nearby were the D. F. Tiemann pigment factory (from which Tiemann Place takes its name), a worsted mill and the first buildings of Manhattan College. The giant red-brick brewery included a swimming pool and opulent parlors for entertaining dignitaries, who included King Edward VII of England.
More buildings and equipment were added after the brewery was purchased by the Bernheimer & Schwartz Brewing Company in 1903, and a 1911 advertisement for the beer depicts a brewing complex stretching from 127th to 129th Streets along Amsterdam Avenue. Prohibition closed up the brewery in 1920, and the sprawling parcel was purchased by the Horton Pilsener Brewing Company, which resumed production after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Though the plant closed long ago many of its buildings remain in commercial use. DANIEL B. SCHNEIDER
The separation of “beer” (lager, in America) and “ale” (ale and stout) was a pre-Prohibition practice. The terms survived in this sense in American brewing into in 1950s, probably later too here and there.
The Waldorf’s beer selection was carefully made covering notable pre-Prohibition names and some newcomers.
The imports represented ale, lager and a stout, Guinness, from Germany, U.K., Holland, and Czechoslovakia. Canada was represented in a manner of speaking as well, discussed further below.
Of all the imports, the Czech Budweis would have been a rarity in New York, and Heineken. The famed Dutch lager was re-introduced with a bang to U.S. markets after Prohibition by an enterprising Dutchman Leo Van Munching.
Allsopp’s Pale Ale, rrenowned as a Victorian pale beer, still had cachet in export markets. Two bottlings of Bass were offered, thus continuing a pre-Prohibition practice to offer it from different bottlers. One was Burke, the Guinness bottling and distribution agency in Long Island, NY that also brewed its own brands.
New Jersey’s venerated Ballantine India Pale Ale was not carried but probably hadn’t yet been re-launched yet. The Ballantine flagship XXX Ale was on the menu, indeed it was the draft selection for ale.
Kent Ale was an IPA made by Krueger Brewing in Newark, NJ, it’s regular ale was listed as well.
The list comprised some 45 beers. That was unusual in New York not just immediately after Prohibition but until the 1960s. The breadth of selection was significant because the Waldorf was not an ethnic establishment a la Janssen Hofbrau Haus,* and not a showcase for a foreign country’s beery specialties as, say, the 1939 World’s Fair featured.
Canada was, rather oddly, absent except in the form of Carling Red Cap ale. The beer was newly available in the U.S. in the post-Repeal 1930s but brewed under license in Cleveland. See details in this website devoted to Carling U.S. history, whence this 1960s-era image is drawn:
It is no surprise, in all this light, the Wine and Food Society of New York held elaborate beer and food tastings at the Waldorf Hotel, some of which I have described here.
The hotel applied unusual detail to its beer offerings, reflecting the European perspective of its kitchen and bar service. A gastronomic group such as as mentioned would appreciate this.
The market here was not hipster. The cool crowd was still gestating downtown in Greenwich Village and (frankly) trying to survive the Depression. Rather, the market was an upscale demographic and an informed international circle.
Note re images: The extracts from the Waldorf-Astoria’s wine and spirits list, and Carling label, were sourced from the links identified and given in the text. The Allsopp’s ad is from the Coaster-Beerdekel collection on Pinterest, here. All intellectual property in the sources used belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*See my earlier post on this great Manhattan establishment.