Tag Archive for blaum bros

Galena Whiskey Weekend

When I tallied up the whiskies I tried at the tasting last weekend, I expected 20, maybe 25.

I hit 39.

The Galena Whiskey Weekend was a blast. As soon as I’d heard the guys behind Blaum Bros Distilling were putting it together, I grabbed two tickets for access to the 15-year-old Pappy Van Winkle for a friend and I. It made a good excuse to revisit Galena and see a little more of the historic town, as well as a good time to get away for a weekend with the wife and some friends. The ladies were able to attend the tasting with designated driver tickets.

The doors opened early for the Pappy tasting, so we knocked that out pretty quick and got the lay of the land. There were almost 30 tables laden with some variety of whiskey, but I spotted a tequila and a couple rums hidden here and there. We were able to chat with vendors about their offerings for a bit before the bottles were opened up for tasting.

The Blaum Bros had a table set up, of course, but I was happy to see one of my go-to labels, Four Roses, had one as well.

I generally have one of the Four Roses selections on hand at any given time, but I circled back to their table near the end of the event to try the hot apple cider they’d mixed with one of their bourbons. That’s when I bumped into an older douch—er, gentleman—in a blue blazer and bowtie who chatted me up and called their yellow label “piss.”

I’ll admit it’s better for cocktails and mixing than drinking straight, but piss? Come on. I pointed him to the Four Roses Small Batch, told him it runs a little sweeter and is much better. He tried it, talked about notes of fruit and vanilla, called it “pretty good” and generally made nice. So hey, I didn’t have to punch him.

Another fun part of the show was spotting the spendy bottles. The program book listed the retail and event prices of everything in the room. While the Pappy bourbons were the stars of the show, we enjoyed hunting down expensive bottles we’d probably never taste otherwise.

The Woodford Reserve hid at the Jack Daniel’s table, and they had both the Double Oaked (a favorite of mine) and the Cherry Wood Smoked Barley for tasting. The Cherry Wood runs about $100 a bottle, so yeah, not something I’ll be owning anytime soon. It was quite good.

In contrast, we also tried a sample from a $150 bottle of Midleton Irish whiskey. Meh. The bottle sitting right next to it, The Green Spot, clocked in at less than half the price and had a lot more flavor and character.

Lesson learned: try before you buy.

Another lesson learned: Scotch just isn’t for me. I kinda liked the Monkey Shoulder I’d had in the past, and I remember liking an aged Glenlivet. The peat smoke that permeates most Scotches just isn’t for me, though. I even tried High West’s Campfire, a blend of bourbon, rye, and Scotch, but the peat overpowered it all.

One of the highlights of the show, however, was High West’s A Midwinter Night’s Dram, a rye finished in port barrels. Oh my. Right up there with it? Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye, which is straight-up mixed with port. Fantastic.

I stopped by the Window Jane table, too. The woman behind the table assured me the applewood aging for one of their whiskeys really did make a difference, and she wasn’t wrong. Gave it a nice flavor profile.

The same vendor was hawking Brenne, a single malt out of France. I don’t usually think of France when I think of whiskey, so I gave it a shot. It has enough of a fruit taste that I wonder if it might be a whiskey even my wife could enjoy.

All in all, a great event I would definitely do again. There were a few bourbons I’m glad I hadn’t purchased in the past, and a few more that I wouldn’t turn down but probably wouldn’t go out of the way to pick up. The ryes really impressed, though, and my friend left with a bottle of A Midwinter Night’s Dram and confidence that he’s a rye guy.

I brought home a bottle of rye, too.

The Blaum Bros home-grown bourbon isn’t ready yet, but I like their Knotter Bourbon and Knotter Rye so I was looking forward to trying their new Fever River Rye release. I had a sample at the table and liked it well enough that we hit the distillery afterward for a bottle.

My next step will be to dump all my notes into Evernote so I remember what else I liked and didn’t like. After all, things tended to get a bit fuzzy after that 39th sip.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Distillery Tour: Blaum Bros

I dig distillery tours.

I’ve been on two now, and while they were very similar, I enjoyed seeing their processes and comparing their business plans, as well as sampling their products. If you pay close attention, it’s an educational opportunity, too. There’s a science lesson in the chemistry and physics of the fermentation, distillation, and aging, yet there’s also a strong sense of craftsmanship in the final product. You learn about their marketing and advertising, from the business plan through the branding and the design of the labels. There’s even a bit of career education as you’re touring an actual workplace and seeing the labor involved.

And of course there are souvenirs

A local friend has visited Galena, Illinois several times, and when he heard I was planning a short trip to the area, he told me about the Blaum Bros distillery. My family had no problem indulging my curiosity, so I hit the Blaum Bros website and snapped up some tickets. (Some distillery tours are free, some charge a modest fee. Blaum Bros will set you back $10 per ticket. It’s worth it.)

The distillery’s on the main drag on the way into town from the south, a small building with a white spire reminiscent of an old, rural city hall. You enter into the gift shop, but they have a nice lounge and bar area with some huge leather chairs and a gorgeous bar.

We were a good twenty minutes early, and I’m not exactly known for my patience, so I ordered an Old Fashioned and chatted up the bartender. I watched him closely as he put it together, as I’m still getting a feel for mixing up my own Old Fashioned cocktails. He served it up with fresh-peeled orange zest, something I may have to add to my Old Fashioned game.

Also, he nailed it. I’d only had a few Old Fashioneds at average bars, but his was easily the best I’d tasted so far. That sold me on a bottle right there.

The tour started in the lounge with a brief history of the company, and the guide confirmed some of the things the bartender already told me: the distillery had been there about three-and-a-half years, so their own bourbon was not quite mature enough for release. However, they blended their initial offerings with spirits distilled in Indiana and they dubbed them Knotter Bourbon and Knotter Rye. Say it quick and you’ll hear it as “not our bourbon.” Once their home-grown product is ready to go, it’ll be released as Galena Bourbon. I look forward to trying it.

The still

We moved into main distillery, where we learned they’d imported the still from Germany. This one was much bigger than the other I’d seen, with extra columns for distilling vodka, and they had juniper and coriander on hand for making gin. As with my last distillery tour, they discussed their mash bills and manufacturing process, and we got to see all of their equipment.

I’m not a vodka or gin guy, but I enjoyed learning how they’re made. Those tall columns in the photo above are used for the vodka distilling, where it’s refined down to a much lower proof and then mixed up to its bottle proof. I half expected there to be sacks of potatoes around for the vodka, but it turns out vodka is mostly distilled from wheat and other grains these days.

Next we moved on to their barrel house, which has more of a simple warehouse feel. Barrel houses are not climate controlled, as the seasonal fluctuation in temperature helps with the aging process. Fortunately we were there on a relatively cool day.

Here we also got to see the distillery is working on some experimental barrels and blends in addition to their planned releases.

A Bloody Butcher barrel

They dubbed one of those blends “Bloody Butcher” and stamped the barrels with a small haunted house logo. Bourbon must have at least 50% corn in its mash bill, and for this one the brothers decided to try red Indian corn. I have to admit, I’m curious if it will turn out to taste any different from regular bourbon.

The tour ended back in the bar with samples. They served up three of their products: the Knotter Bourbon, their gin, and their Hellfyre vodka. As I said, I’m not a gin fan, but I could taste and smell the hint of orange in it. The Hellfyre is made with peppers for easy mixing in a Bloody Mary (or, as the tour guide suggested, in hot chocolate), and I picked up a strong taste of jalapeño. This stuff is hot enough that it has its own dedicated machine for bottling to prevent the peppers from contaminating other products.

I would have chosen to try the rye if given an option, but I decided to take my chances and buy a small bottle of rye. I brought home both the Knotter Bourbon and the Knotter Rye, and my first impressions of both are good. I’ll try to write up some separate reviews in the near future. The Knotter Rye neat is excellent.

I found it interesting to compare the Blaum Bros business plan with that of our local East Peoria distiller, JK Williams. Because bourbon must, by law, be aged for at least two years, it takes some time before a new operation has something to sell. If a business is going to pay the bills and keep the lights on, they need product.

JK Williams solved this problem by releasing some unaged product for mixing, as well as some fruited whiskeys. They also released their “Young Buck Bourbon” which is made the same but simply isn’t aged as long and thus isn’t officially bourbon.

Blaum Bros, on the other hand, expanded into vodka and gin in addition to the Knotter Bourbon and Rye made with someone else’s spirits. I thought that was a good approach, as it gives a sense of the taste the brothers might be looking for in their own product.

Overall, it was well worth the hour or so we spent there. Whether you’re a whiskey enthusiast or are just looking for something to do in the area, drop in and check it out.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.