Fort McHenry

The subtitle of this post is: The Important and Extremely Underrated Role of Booze in our Nation’s History. I’m thinking of writing a thesis about it. Am I going to school, you ask? No. The University of Maryland is going to be very surprised – and I have to assume, very delighted – when they receive my submission out of the blue. Much like the daydream sequence in holiday classic A Christmas Story, I shall receive an A + + + + + + +. Except it will be real. I’m probably going to get an honorary degree out of this, you guys.

Anyway, I have mentioned several times that we used to have a house and we used to have house guests. One great thing about having house guests, in addition to delightful conversation, is that it inspires you to take advantage of historic and noteworthy sites in your city that you may not frequent otherwise.

For example, Robert and I used to live within walking distance of one of the most historic of all historic sites in our United States: Fort McHenry. Fort McHenry is the fort that defended Baltimore against British invasion in the War of 1812 and the birthplace of the National Anthem. You know the one. O! Say can you see? Just another reason Baltimore is the greatest city in America? The defense of Baltimore marked the end of what is known as the Chesapeake Campaign. The importance of the battle in the larger war effort was acknowledged by a British peace commissioner, who wrote, “If we had either burnt Baltimore, or held Plattsburg, I believe we could have had peace on our own terms.” For you history buffs out there, more information is available here.

As you can see, Fort McHenry is beautiful. It is also full of interesting facts. Here are the booze-related facts I found most interesting of all, when we took our house guests to the Fort four weeks ago:

1. The original flag measured 30 x 42 feet. It was so large it had to be assembled on the floor of a nearby brewery.
2. When the poem was penned by Francis Scott Key, it was common to put new words to existing tunes to create songs. The tune used for our National Anthem was originally written by two Englishmen for a gentlemen’s social club. Yes, you heard me. Our National Anthem is sung to the tune of a British drinking song.
3. Wine was an extremely popular import to the United States in 1812. Much of it came from Spain and Portugal, and the wine ports of Oporto, Xerez, and Madeira gave their names to the beverages we know today as port, sherry, and madeira, respectively.
4. Enlisted men were issued a quarter pint of whiskey as part of their food ration. I’m not going to glamorize the life of a solider in 1812, but…yes I am. That sounds amazing. Name ten jobs today that will pay you in booze! You can’t*!

I soaked in all of this information and knew a post was forming. But then, tragedy struck, and it fell by the wayside. But you’ll never guess what! WE ARE TOTALLY STAYING AT THE BREWERY WHERE THE FLAG WAS ORIGINALLY MADE. The previous sentence is in all caps because I AM SHOUTING AT YOU RIGHT NOW.

I am not kidding! As you can read via the following link: “The Fairfield Inn & Suites…is located on a historically rich site in historic Jonestown, on the Lombard Street corner of South President Street just a block from Little Italy’s front door. In 1787, during an era when beer brewing was Jonestown’s biggest industry, Claggett’s Brewery was built on the site. Twenty-seven years later, next-door neighbor and seamstress Mary Pickersgill sat in the brewery’s malt room to put the final stitches on a flag that inspired Francis Scott Key’s famous poem, Defence of Fort McHenry.” In fact, the grain silo and a brewing tank are still on site at our hotel and are being used today to collect rainwater for irrigation. I ask you: what are the odds? We did not do this intentionally!

We must drink a historic cocktail to celebrate the bizarre, coincidental nature of life! Where to go for inspiration? Last spring, Robert and I had dinner at America Eats Tavern, a super pop-up restaurant led by family favorite José Andrés. The premise of the menu was “the history of our nation one plate at a time”. The dishes were re-imagined versions of 100% grade-A historic American classics ranging from Oysters Rockefeller to Lobster Newberg to Waldorf Salad. I looked up their cocktail menu and selected the Port Wine Sangaree, which is described as “a long forgotten category of drink.” I especially liked it because it uses port, which as I discussed above, was all the rage in 1812. This recipe makes two drinks.

Fort McHenry
1 cup** of tawny port
Fresh juice of one lemon
Two sugar packets stolen from your hotel lobby***
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Put ice in your cocktail shaker. Add the port, lemon juice, and sugar. Shake well. If you do not live in a hotel in Baltimore, strain into two chilled martini glasses. If you do live in a hotel in Baltimore, strain into two plastic wine glasses that you bought down the street at Bin 604. Sprinkle nutmeg equally on top (1/4 teaspoon each). Serve with a lemon twist if you are feeling fanciful and/or have a knife. Which we do not. I thought about trying to make a lemon twists using my corkscrew, but then remembered that every second I spent trying to make a lemon twist was one less second I could spend enjoying my delicious cocktail. You might be wondering how I cut into the lemon to juice it, without a knife? I used a tiny tool from a travel kit. I think it’s something for ladies’ nails? I am McGyvering the heck out of life right now!

*Can you? If you can, please contact me immediately. I will apply. I am a very hard worker!
**You might have noticed by now that I unconventionally make my cocktail recipes in cups, not ounces. For the home bartender, mixing drinks in large quantities, it just makes more sense. Don’t judge me.
Don’t live in a hotel? Substitute 1 tablespoon sugar.


  1. I’m pretty much in awe at your McGyver skills, especially how you managed to somehow juice a lemon with a nail thingamajig. Also, you STILL live near Fort Mchenry in spirit, and soon again in body.

  2. Tawny Port, you have sparked my interest. I may use my swiss army knife and pour it in a tin cup.

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