Meet the Brothers Behind the Midwest’s Best New Bourbon
Illinois’s Blaum Bros. are making quite a stir in the American whiskey industry
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “There are no second acts in American lives” is a great line. But it no longer holds water — if, in fact, it ever did. Everyone, it seems, is ready to reinvent themselves with some disruptive business plan once they find an appropriately credulous investor.
Mike and Matt Blaum didn’t wait. Eager to make their mark making whiskey, they did their homework (Mike spent time in Scotland, while Matt bounced around distilleries in the States), then launched Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. out of a small distillery in Galena, Illinois. Let’s learn a little more about what they’re bottling and how it got there.
InsideHook: The wine, beer, and spirits business is chock-a-block with folks who were eager for a second (or third) career. What’s your story?
The Blaum Bros.: The two of us were beginning to get very nerdy with our whiskey knowledge after our love affair with Scotch and bourbon came to fruition years prior. We had always wanted to do something together, but with very different careers — the National Security Agency and nuclear pharmaceuticals — we struggled with finding an overlap. Whiskey was our overlap. We figured that with all we had learned and with our blossoming palates, we could do something amazing.
But whiskey wasn’t your first bottling …
We needed to have product available when the doors opened. With vodka being a relatively easy product to get on the shelf quickly — two weeks — we began with that. Shortly after, we added gin and moonshine to the roster, all the while aggressively distilling whiskey and filling up barrels. We use 53-gallon barrels and demand a long age time, so we knew we needed to get that aging process started.
Gin has gone premium in recent years, but plenty of folks still seem a bit leery of it. How are you doing with yours?
Ours is comprised of juniper berries, orris root, coriander, fennel and orange peel. The five botanicals are all distilled separately and then married together at the end. It has very quickly become known as the “non-gin drinker’s gin” while also finding a spot on the shelves of serious gin fans.
How did you settle on Galena?
Galena was on our radar, along with a handful of other locations. Galena made the most sense for our two young families. Aside from being an amazing place to live and raise kids, we are right in the heart of Midwestern farmlands, so we have a ready supply of grain. Lastly, while Galena is a town of 3,400 people, it brings in a respectable 1.5 million tourists each calendar year.
While the growth of craft distilling has certainly given consumers a lot of good products to choose from, there comes a point where you think, a rye is a rye is a rye.
It is true to suggest most folks are indeed attempting to reinvent the wheel. What differentiates us is that we are simply two whiskey-loving brothers who set out to make exceptional whiskey the old-fashioned way. When it comes to whiskey, we find that the best way to do it is to follow history and never compromise quality. Without an exceptional whiskey in the bottle, we are nothing.
Where would you recommend starting with Blaum Bros.?
We are most proud of our Blaum Bros. Straight Bourbon [the oldest craft-distilled Illinois Bourbon whiskey readily available in decades] and our Blaum Bros. Straight Rye Whiskey. We opened this business to make whiskey. We love the clear spirits as well, but these two are where our hearts are. These have been in 53-gallon barrels no less than four years and are very representative of our no-nonsense approach — just let the product in the bottle do the talking.
Ready to dip your snifter in the well? Here’s a breakdown of both of Blaum Bros. current whiskey offerings.
Blaum Bros. Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($49.99)
Aged four years. 100 proof. Contains 72% corn, 23% rye, 5% malted barley. GMO corn and rye sourced from a single farm in Illinois.
Nose: Honey, apple, leather, with hint of oak and hay
Palate: Rich and complex, with caramel, roasted peanut, cinnamon, and dried orange.
Finish: Wood spice, nutmeg, rye bread
Blaum Bros. Straight Rye Whiskey ($49.99)
Aged a minimum of four years. 100 proof.
Nose: Toasted caramel, sweet tea, leather
Palate: Wood spice, dried berries, honey, mint
Finish: Maples sweetness, tapering off with hint of mint and perique tobacco
Blaum Bros. Distilling Co., 9380 W. U.S. Highway 20, Galena. For tour reservations, call (815) 777.1000 or visit blaumbros.com. All images vi Blaum Bros.