I generally like to stay in Texas. I travel our highways and back roads, looking for for that elusive Weiss whiskey I’ve already told you about. Nothing new to report on that quest, but I do have a couple of leads I’m currently exploring. More on that soon.
But sometimes I stray outside our borders. Last week found me tooling along highway 20 through Illinois. Just outside of Galena I came upon a little distillery right there on the highway. Blaum Bros. Hmm. Never heard of it. I can’t resist the chance to try a new whiskey, so I eased into their parking lot and went inside to see what these bearded hipster brothers are up to.
Now it’s a new distillery, so they’re in that awkward stage where they’re waiting for their own whiskey to properly age. Meanwhile they sell whiskey blends to pay the bills. I get that. I got no problem with blended whiskeys. As long as a whiskey has a good story and some personality, that’s all I ask. Shock me; surprise me; slap me around; offend me. Whatever. Just don’t fuckin’ bore me; you know what I’m sayin?
Nice looking distillery. Very friendly staff. Beautiful tasting room. Jeezus, might be the nicest tasting room I’ve ever been in. I was kind of suspicious, frankly, because you wonder if the hip decor isn’t compensating for a lack of quality. Then I went into the men’s room and found it was a shrine to Coen brothers movies. Posters and memorabilia all over the walls.
That’s when I knew I was among friends.
Took a little tour and discovered that their still has – I shit you not – a flux capacitor attached to it. Just like in the movie. Lights blinking and the whole nine yards.
Okay. I fuckin’ love these guys. But that doesn’t mean they make good whiskey. I still had to try some.
I spoke with Chris “Beardy” Ritenour, Chief Distiller and Johnny “Manbun McGee” Stevenson, the General Manager. Nice fellas. And I can verify that these boys are aging a warehouse full of barrels in the back. This is a real distillery. Not some mix, match, and market bullshit. At some point soon we’ll get to see what they can do. Until that day they blend whiskeys. But they don’t hide that fact. Hell, their main whiskey – Knotter Bourbon – says it right on the bottle. “The finest straight bourbon whiskey we never distilled.”
That’s ballsy right there. And shows a good sense of humor. Kind of thing you’d expect from fellas running a flux capacitor still and playing Coen brothers movies on a big screen in their tasting room.
I ordered up a flight of whiskey and sat on a leather couch to taste it. I had a rye, the Knotter, Knotter cask strength, and Knotter finished in some other kind of cask. Sherry maybe. I don’t remember. I don’t typically like whiskeys finished in other casks. I find it tends to tame them. Mute them a little. And you know me. I’m more interested in a whiskey that kicks my ass.
So let’s just talk about the Knotter bourbon.
First of all, I don’t expect a lot from standard bourbons. Corn’s kind of a one-note grain, so you’re typically not going to get a lot of surprises. I sniffed it. Nothing new there. Lots of vanilla of course. It’s a bourbon. But here’s the thing. I drank it, and dammit there is something different going on with this little blended whiskey. Something spicy I think. I wondered if there might be a good bit of rye in the mashbill. Then when you swallow it, the transition to the burn is very very very light and smooth. I liked swallowing it a lot. And then you’re left with…..
Shit, I don’t know how to describe it. Spicy, lingering, just something. Something a little different. It’s like when you look at a woman and she’s beautiful because there is something unusual about her. You can’t even say exactly what that difference is, but you know that difference is what sets her apart.
I tried grilling Manbun McGee to see if I could get him to tell me exactly what they put into this blend. But ole Manbun would not give up the company secrets, short of torture. Now I’m not above torturing a man to get his whiskey secrets. God knows I’ve done it before. But I was on the road and all my equipment was at home in Texas. So Manbun got off easy this time.
Anywho, I liked this bourbon. I liked it a lot. Enough to buy a bottle, wrap it in my socks, and take it back to Texas in my suitcase. Cause I don’t think you can get this stuff in Texas right now.
Look, it’s a blended bourbon. It’s not going to win any international awards. But they blended it with care and good humor. And they took the time to work a little something into it that’s unique.
I got respect for the beardy hipster brothers and their team. Well done, boys.
I’ll tell you somethin’ else. When these fellas crack open that whiskey they’ve distilled and aged themselves, well, I think we’re in for something special.