Gary Gillman is a lawyer by day, amateur historian and beer enthusiast by night. Occasionally his two hobbies intersect, like when he was recently searching menus on the New York Public Library’s archive. Entering the keyword “beer” Gillman found a menu from New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel from 1944. The Wine and Food Society, it appeared, once held a beer tasting at the hotel.
Gillman says it was a sophisticated approach to the tasting menu at the time. The menu lists all the beers by categories of style—“beer” meant an American lager, ales and stouts also appeared on the list in separate categories. Gillman, who lives in Toronto, knew he had to take the menu to his friend John Maxwell, a principal at Dora Keogh Irish Pub and Allen’s on the Danforth in Toronto. Although it may seem odd to recreate a New York menu in Toronto, both Gillman and Maxwell’s experience with hosting beer dinners made this seem like the right fit.
Together, they decided to recreate the menu for a modern audience.
The original depends more on snacks than Maxwell and Gillman’s rendition, but they are going to be serving a nut and crisp section with a flute of citrus flavored wheat beer. The other parts of the food menu are more of a modernization inspired by the 1944 menu.
They looked at the beers and picked modern offerings that would have been similar in taste or character to the beers available in 1944. They will be serving some of the beers that were served then, like Guinness.
“Ale to ale, stout to stout,” Gillman said.
The goal, they said, is trying to envision the way people did beer tastings in the 1940s. Gillman says no one was looking at beer in the way they do today, so it’s interesting to take the perspective that they had, which was strongly gastronomic, and do it now.
While people were looking at wines, they took the perspective of looking at flavor profiles of wine and translated it to beer, he says. It seems commonplace today, but then it was unusual.
“It’s a good time to pause and reflect about how we got where we are,” Maxwell said. “Part of my point is that beer has always been a part of the gastronomic scene. Beer was never as minor a player as many people seem to think–beer was always appreciated and always important and we’re reminding people of that.”
Elizabeth Atkinson is an intern at All About Beer Magazine.