Something Special for Those Interested in History and Food: A Recreation on August 5, 2015 in Toronto of an Upscale NYC 1944 Beer and Food Tasting
In September, 1944, The Wine and Food Society, Inc. in New York held a “Tasting of Beers, Ales & Stouts” at the gilded Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue, New York City. As accompaniment to the beer, a variety of foods were offered: smoked fish, marinated herring, smoked hams, a brandy-flavoured blue cheese, authentic Swiss cheese, different kinds of “Devonsheer” (a type of dried bread or cracker), and bar snacks such as popcorn and nuts. The provenance and quality of the food were carefully noted, as one would expect of a gastronomic society. The menu was discovered amongst the historic menu archives of the New York Public Library recently.
The Society’s main focus, as one would expect from its name, pertained to wine but occasionally beers and other drinks were explored. Thus, on September 28, 1944, Society members with an interest in or curiosity about beer strolled into a Waldorf salon to sample the malt. Their organizing committee – three ladies – did excellent work. They selected 18 beers, although some were in both draft and bottled form, no doubt so the guests could decide on any differences. Almost all the then-current styles were represented with a few modern-sounding notes appended such as “sparkling old-time”, “all-malt”, and “full-bodied”.
On August 5, Dora Keogh Irish Pub will present a recreation of that event. The Program is here: Beer Tasting – August 5, 2015
The 1944 tasting is nothing less than fascinating. First, it was held during the war, which may explain the all-domestic choices save Guinness, which was probably prewar stock. It was almost surely Foreign Extra Stout, unpasteurized and with residual yeast, so any extra time in the cellar was benign or a boon.
The vibrant, post-Pro New York/New Jersey beer scene provided numerous lagers, ales and stout for the tasting, famous names such as Ruppert, Rheingold and Trommer. The Committee also reached farther afield, to Maryland, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, for beers clearly regarded as having cachet. Both Prior Light, a pilsner-style, and Prior Double Dark, a famed pre-craft Czech-style or Bavarian dunkel type, were on the roster.
The tasting, if one allows for a bit (not much) period language, could easily be given today, such was the foresight and independence of mind of those who organized it 40 years before it became common to do such things. Independence of mind they certainly had because not only would some members have objected to the idea of “tasting” beer, society at large tended to view beer as something not worthy of prolonged musings, an attitude some would say endures to this day. The Society cast aside all such irrelevancies and forged ahead to do beer.
The event at Dora Keogh Irish Pub on August 5 is intended to recreate and imagine how the original guests enjoyed a gastronomic adventure of a different kind, and to honour a very early foray into a reflective beer appreciation. Mostly Ontario beers will be used, and the food will be similar in type or spirit. Beers were selected from breweries of different sizes although the preponderance are craft beers. As different-size breweries were represented at the Waldorf tasting, we wanted to follow suit.
The event will include a short talk by Gary Gillman, one of the principals of ProfTalks Lectures, on the historical and other aspects of the 1944 tasting, such as the influence of the wartime context, and a more elaborate beer event the Society held a few years earlier – one whose taste notes read just like those of a top beer or wine writer of today.
Meanwhile, history and beer or wine fans in the Toronto area should consider buying a ticket for August 5 – it is expected to sell out.
ProfTalks Lectures is a proud supporter of the event.