Rare pre-Prohibition whiskeys offer a taste of American history

When Jean-Baptiste (J.B.) Leonis, the early 20th-century builder, banker, and wine and liquor merchant who founded the town of Vernon, California, spotted Prohibition on the horizon, he was not about to take any chances with his beloved whiskey.

At both his home in tony Hancock Park and his weekend retreat in Little Tujunga Canyon (where his neighbor was Cecil B. DeMille), Leonis commissioned the construction of secret vaults. Lurking behind trick bookcases and secured by heavy metal doors and combination locks — the kind of high-test armor that Leonis, as a banker, was able to procure — his stockpiled booze remained virtually untouched until the 2017 death of Leonis’ grandson, Leonis C. Malburg, a one-time mayor of Vernon.

On Dec. 7,