Tag Archive for distillery

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.

Dig: Local Bourbon

Ever since I tried their Young Buck Bourbon, I’ve been wanting to visit the JK Williams distillery, a craft distiller out of nearby East Peoria, Illinois. Schedule conflicts and inclement weather made it tough, and the JK Williams line continued to grow. Finally, the Rugrats were out of town this past Sunday, and the Wife and I were looking for something to do.

Perfect time for a visit. We called another couple and the four of us made the trip.

The distillery is a small place, easy to miss on a frontage road in a row of small businesses and offices. They offer hourly tours on weekends, and though it was 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, their lobby (and bar counter) was fairly crowded with a group who just finished a tour and another group waiting to take one.

Kassi Williams started our tour with a history lesson of both the company and the whiskey business in Peoria. I knew Peoria was once the whiskey capital of the world prior to Prohibition, but the JK Williams crew, particularly the ladies, put together a nice timeline of historic photos and filled in some details I wasn’t aware of.

Then it was on to the still. I knew they were a small operation, but I didn’t realize they only had the one still. We got to see where they cooked up their mash, we smelled the results of the distillation process every step of the way, and Kassi explained the different mixes and mashes that make up their various products.

Something I really respect about them as a craft distiller is they source as much as they can locally. Their corn is local, and the fruit they use in their fruited liquors are picked by adults with special needs who work with the Tazewell County Resource Center. Way cool.

Then we got to see the aging room.

This room and the barrels were a lot smaller than I expected, too, but their output is still quite high for a four-person operation with only one full-time employee.

JK Williams called their first bourbon Young Buck because it was too young to be legally called a bourbon (bourbon must be aged at least two years). One of the owners, Jon, told me at a tasting that they used special barrels to “age the bourbon faster,” and we got to see one of those barrels: they simply drill several holes on the inside of the barrel staves to increase the surface area the whiskey is exposed to. I liked the Young Buck, but I remember finding it a bit strong to drink neat.

After seeing the aging room, we returned to the lobby bar and were invited to try a quarter ounce of up to four different products, free of charge. (Score! Cocktails were available for purchase, too.) I was eager to finally try their fully-matured bourbon and rye. Unfortunately their High Rye wasn’t available just yet; it’s due this Fall.

The ladies went straight for the fruit drinks: the Peach Whiskey, the Blackberry Whiskey, Smitty’s Apple Pie, and the new Pineapple Whiskey. A bottle of the Pineapple Whiskey came home with my wife.

I went for two of their unaged products, JK’s Corn Whiskey and JK’s Naked Rye, the Straight bourbon, and one I wasn’t aware of, JK’s Select Bourbon.

The Corn Whiskey was sweet as promised, and the Naked Rye had a spicy burn. Jesse and Kassi served up the drinks and advised mixers for both, but I’m kinda dumb and wanted to see what the whiskeys were like solo. It doesn’t make a lot of business sense to have barrels and barrels of product sitting in a warehouse doing nothing, so these products, as well as the Young Buck, give them something to market while the rest of the line matures.

The Bourbon Select, if I understood correctly, comes from a barrel chosen by the distiller, Jesse, and this one was aged 17 months. The Straight had a full two years in the barrel. I rather liked both, though it was hard to get a full sense of the flavors with just a quarter ounce sip. Just the same, I found them both pleasant, with a bit more of a burn on the Select’s finish.

In the end I opted for a bottle of JK’s Straight Bourbon and a shiny new JK Williams whiskey glass (about time I added one of those to my collection). When I got home later that night, I didn’t waste time getting it onto some ice and then mixing up an Old Fashioned.

Let me tell you, this is good stuff. I found it smooth and sweet on ice, with those wonderful, subtle hints of caramel and vanilla. Maybe I finally nailed my Old Fashioned recipe, but I was very pleased with that, too. I’m hoping to set up a tasting for myself soon to compare it to the Woodford Reserve and Four Roses Small Batch that I have on hand.

JK’s stock is appearing in several local stores, and the Young Buck is in Costco. It’s probably worth talking to your liquor store to see if they can get their hands on it. Myself, I’ll just stop on back to the distillery for another tour when the High Rye is released.

Looking for something to do in Peoria? Passing through on I-74, or willing to take a small side trip from I-39? Drop on in and check it out. The tours are open on the weekend and they’re free. If you’re at all interested in whiskey, it’s well worth the trip.

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.