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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    H.L. Mencken's bunker

    Tha American journalist, author and editor, H.L. Mencken, the "Sage of Baltimore", was famously a curmudgeon and iconoclast. Many of his ideas are derisory today (unfortunately he tended to racialism and in general an extreme version of Social Darwinism) but he was a master prose stylist and certainly an individualist, hard to classify by modern terms. He enjoyed responsible drinking and was a fervent anti-Prohibitionist, something here most of us can relate to, at any rate. On the eve of Prohibition he sold his Studebaker and put the money into an extensive liquor and wine cellar, stockpiling hundreds of bottles for the drought. The cellar was in the home on Hollins Street in Baltimore in which he lived most of his life. In a new biography of Mencken by Rosemary Elizabeth Rodgers (available from Oxford University Press, however Rodgers is an American), there is a photo of some of the shelves of the cellar. It is hard to tell when the photo was taken. It shows a bottle of Chivas Regal, a brand created in the early 1950's (Mencken died in 1956) but clearly many of the bottles in the cellar date from the years of the First War. Many of the labels are decipherable or one can tell the brand by their design. Up until a few years ago and maybe still at present, one could tour the Mencken home which was maintained as a musuem of his life and work. I toured the house a few years but did not think to ask to see the cellar; this photo will have to do since I believe the home is no longer maintained as a museum.

    In bourbon, there is pictured Bond & Lilliard, and also Cascade whiskey (ancestor to the current George Dickel), possibly from the time it was made outside of Tennessee. Next to these are other bottles which must be bourbon but they do not bear readable labels.

    There are at least 2 bottles of corn whiskey (odd perhaps for one known to knock the rural South and its folkways).

    There are numerous rye whiskeys including the Maryland stand-bys Roxbury Rye and Melrose Straight Rye, Old Overholt and Seagram V.O. (V.O. was invented in the 30's so like the Chivas clearly added long after the bunker was created).

    In Scotch: Dawson, Haig & Haig, Chivas, Ballantine and Old Ransom I believe.

    There are numerous cognacs and brandies but their labels are harder to read, one bottle's shape suggests Hennessey of the mid-20th century. Also, I am fairly sure a Jameson whiskey is included - at this time it would have been pure pot still, the one Doug found recently is probably quite similar to Mencken's. Oh also the German brandy, Asbach Uralt.

    Numerous liqueurs such as Cointreau and Benedictine are in evidence.

    A few rums, including Myers (Dark, I assume) with a label looking just as it does today.

    On a lower shelf there is vodka (e.g., Relska, famed brand of the Russian "ancien regime"), bottles of Dutch genever and what may be German schnapps. Mencken was famously not an "anglophile" or "anglomaniac" (his favorite words for Americans he viewed as servile to Britain and its authority in matters cultural and political) and perhaps this explains the seeming absence of dry gin from the cellar. Maybe the bottles are there but the labels are too hard to read or obscured by other bottles.

    There are about a dozen beers on the floor, half are clearly Lowenbrau, the bottles looking much as they do today.

    Many wines are on the shelves but the labels cannot be seen: Mencken liked Moselle and other German wines.

    As a native of Baltimore he appreciated the native straight rye whiskeys, and from a quotation in Michael Jackson's 1987 World Guide to Whisky it is clear Mencken knew the difference between a straight and a blend.

    Over the entrance to the cellar is a sign with skull and crossbones warning that unauthorised entry will release, "chlorine gas at under 200 pounds pressure".

    Now that was a bunker. Maybe he invented the first one.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 02-20-2006 at 14:15.

 

 

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