Happy National Bourbon Heritage Month! It’s been a busy month here, so I’m behind on posts, but in honor of this glorious occasion, I have something fun to share today.
My wife and I just got back from a great long weekend in Galena, Illinois. Among the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Blaum Bros. Distillery (because if I’m visiting a town with a distillery in it, of course I’m going to stop by!).
Blaum Bros. is a young distillery (opened in 2013) founded by two brothers, Matt & Mike Blaum, who clearly have a passion for the distillation industry (as well as a killer sense of humor – it’s noteworthy throughout their whole site, but check out the disclaimer on their “about” page – I won’t weigh in too specifically, but let’s just say I got quite a laugh out of the dig they snuck in there).
Anyway, our visit was an outstanding experience. We had an exceptionally awesome tour, led by the dynamic, animated, and well-informed Dennis!
Don’t worry, there’s absolutely a pot still for distillation! I just couldn’t get a great picture, since it was partly blocked by the crowd of people riveted by Dennis’s presentation. Seriously, the tour was packed!
It says a lot that my wife, who is not at all a whiskey drinker, had a wonderful time on the tour, and said she learned a lot. Dennis was dynamic, informative, and extremely personable. Even as someone pretty well-informed about the process of making whiskey, I was thoroughly engaged! It also didn’t hurt that
It also didn’t hurt that they capped off the tour with some samples of their spirits (their “Hellfyre” vodka, while not my thing, was a spicy spirit that should blow the Fireball crowd away. And would be awesome in a Bloody Mary). And of course, we capped off our visit with a couple of delicious cocktails, made with their house spirits. A riff on an Old Fashioned, made with their house distilled barrel aged gin, took the cake for me. I could easily have gone back several more, if things like “responsibility” and “moderation” weren’t such important words.
But of course, since you’re reading this on my blog, you’re probably most interested in the whiskey that Blaum Bros. is selling. Rest assured, Blaum Bros. wants to produce great whiskies. But of course, those take time to age. Their first house-distilled whiskies will soon be available – a rye is coming later this year, followed by a straight bourbon in the next year or two – but in the the meantime, what’s a distillery to do when they want to sell bourbon, but their own spirit still needs more time in the barrels?
Of course, they source their whiskey! Like many other distilleries, Blaum Bros. purchased barrels of barreled spirits from MGP, and is blending it and releasing batches as they deem it ready.
Their name for this product? Knotter Bourbon. Say it slowly. Really emphasize each syllable. Then read the subtitle at the bottom of the label. Or hey, look at the name closely.
Yup they’re being honest that they didn’t distill this stuff!
Well, the standard, three-year-old Knotter Bourbon certainly is a solid dram. I found it a little rough to sip neat, but it mixes very well (I could easily see it in an Old Fashioned, and I enjoyed it at the distillery mixed with maple syrup and sasparilla).
However, the bottle I took home is in a different league from their standard offering. It’s a nine-year-old bourbon, and those extra six years make a huge difference. The whiskey is far mellower, but at the same time, way richer. More than that, it’s bottled at cask strength (56.25%)! That extra strength translates to more flavor in the glass, and it’s definitely packed with tasty aromas and flavors.
A Glencairn is my typical go-to whisk(e)y glass, but I actually like this more from a glass with a wider opening. The alcohol blast is so intense out of the narrower Glencairn that it hides a lot of the best notes from the nose and taste. Of course, your own preferences and results may vary.
Nose: Spicy! Cinnamon, clove, ginger, and vanilla. Lots of alcohol burn! Wood sap, a little milk chocolate. Something a bit vegetal deep in there – some dill? (Suggests a rye-heavy mash bill).
With some water (about four small spoonfuls), the burn softens, but is still there. I also get more woody notes, with pine, toasted oak, and some coconut. Some toasted spices emerge, with cardamom, allspice, and a bit of caraway.
Taste: This is a thick, viscous whiskey. It arrives heavy and sweet, with tons of vanilla and cinnamon. There’s also a substantial amount of caramel and butterscotch, blended with some ripe red apples. The Alcohol burns away the finish quickly, leaving a dry, astringent tingle, with a hint of ginger and spice.
Adding some water mutes the burn a bit, allowing more of the spice to emerge. The cinnamon takes a turn toward red hot candies (which I rather enjoy), and it’s joined by other warm baking spices, like cardamom, clove, and allspice. There’s a light sourness to it, coupled with a mild herbal bitterness. It almost reminds me of chewing on a fresh basil leaf. Without the extra burn, the finish lengthens, but isn’t nearly as sweet as I’d expect from the arrival. Instead, it lingers with warm cinnamon, tannic oak, a hint of vanilla, and a slight charcoal bitterness at the very end.
Crucially, this bourbon earned my cat’s seal of approval. In fact, he was reticent to let me take the glass away for a sip!
This cask strength bourbon is drinkable neat, but the initial boozy punch masks a lot of the flavors. This is a dram I absolutely prefer with a little water, which removes the slight sour bite from the finish, allowing the whiskey’s natural, spicy sweetness to shine all the way from the arrival to the finish. In fact, it can take a substantial amount of water and still deliver a ton of flavor.
Based on their other spirits (their gin is an easy sipper, and the barrel aged version is delicious), I’m excited to try Blaum Bros. house-distilled whiskies in the near future. For now, I’m quite happy with this bottle! I think I’ll try it out in some cocktails soon, too. I bet it makes a great whiskey sour.
Question of the Day: Have you tried any of Blaum Bros. spirits?