While growing up, brothers Mike and Matt Blaum fought, wrestled and generally tested their parent’s patience as most siblings do. As adults, they became business partners.
Before joining forces, Mike worked for the Department of Defense stationed in England, and Matt earned an MBA and operated a nuclear pharmacy in the Chicagoland area. Just like their early years, their careers didn’t really mix. But then they discovered a common interest – their love of Scotch whiskey.
“That was one thing Matt and I had in common,” Mike says. That interest, tourism and desire to find a friendly community where they could raise their families led them to opening Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. in Galena in 2013. After growing up in the Chicago suburbs and living in and around big cities, the brothers chose Galena not only because of tourism, but also because of the quality of life in a small town.
“In the later part of my career with the government, I was overseas in northern England,” Mike says. “I spent a lot of time in Scotland, started a whiskey society and really started nerding out about it.”
“Matt and I started to appreciate really good whiskey, whether Scotch or single malt. You find out what region it’s from, how they make it, what yeast they use,” he says. “We started reading books and going to distilleries. When we decided to do this, we both left our careers and jumped in headfirst. I guess you could say our wives were a little on edge.”
“That’s what you call a risk,” Matt adds. “But knock on wood, we’re here.”
The brothers read research papers, books and visited other distilleries all the while asking themselves why they liked one but not another. Mike spent a week learning at a distillery in Scotland. While both are involved in all aspects of the business, with his time overseas, Mike is the chief distiller handling production and the team. With Matt’s MBA, it made sense for him to focus on sales and marketing, the business side of things.
Matt moved to Galena almost a year before Mike returned from England and searched for a building. It quickly became evident that the business they had in mind wouldn’t fit on Main Street. He eventually heard about the location on historic U.S. 20 and purchased the 10,000-square-foot building on the eastern edge of Galena in Jo-Carroll Energy territory. Seventy-five percent is used for production and storing some of their barrels.
When Blaum Bros. opened its doors, they only had vodka on the shelves and four cocktails on the menu. “When we get the raw grain in, we can have vodka on the shelf in about two weeks because you don’t have to age it,” Mike explains. “It took a while to have our whiskey come to fruition. … We are happy with that product; it’s what we set out to do.”
It is important to the brothers to support Illinois businesses and they only use locally grown Illinois grain. Other than malted barley, all grain comes from Byron, Ill. Unlike many other small distilleries, Blaum Bros. uses full size barrels and age it five to seven years. They source their charred white oak barrels from one of the biggest coopers in the U.S. To be considered bourbon, it must be aged in white oak charred barrels.
While mainly interested in whiskey – straight bourbon whiskey is the biggest seller – the brothers also make a rye whiskey and distill spirits like gin, vodka and a hot pepper vodka called Hellfyre made with fresh jalapenos, habaneros and black peppercorns.
“It was just for fun because we like Bloody Marys, and we love a spicy Bloody Mary,” Matt notes.
“It caught on,” Mike adds. “We never really planned on it, but it’s been a giant success. It definitely has a cult following.”
Blaum Bros. has other limited time specialties that bring in crowds. A recent event featured bourbon finished in cognac casks from France, attracting visitors from around the state and across the country. Other collaborations have been done with Galena Cellars, finishing off Blaum Bros. whiskeys in Galena Cellars wine barrels and giving their barrels to the local breweries in the area.
The business has two components – distribution and tourism. Currently, Blaum Bros. products can be purchased in seven states, and the bar at the Galena headquarters offers tours and tastings. TripAdvisor rates the distillery as the No. 1 attraction in the area.
Visitors to the distillery can take an in depth look at the art of making bourbon by taking a tour with Dennis Leonard, chief tour guide. Leonard has been with the distillery since its beginning and enjoys explaining the process.
“People really enjoy our tours because Dennis really breaks the process down,” says Matt. “They are interactive, and visitors are encouraged to ask questions.”
The tours start with a brief history of Blaum Bros. and how it came to fruition. It then proceeds into the production area where visitors learn the distillation process, move on to the barrel room and learn about the warehouse, and finish in the bar for a tasting.
Tours typically take around 45 minutes and culminate with a tasting. A tour can be booked at blaumbros.com/book-a-tour.
Whether or not you partake in a tour, customers are encouraged to kick up their feet and enjoy the relaxing leather couches and dartboards. Be sure to visit the bar for a whiskey flight or one of their handcrafted cocktails. Mike and Matt design most of them but employees also come up with drink ideas that are added to the menu.
“There’s a lot of focus on the cocktails and making them unique. They’re not quickly thrown together,” explains Mike. “Being this close to Wisconsin, an old-fashioned has a different meaning for people in this area. We use the historical version of it, which is a lot simpler.”
“We aren’t just trying to turn things over quickly,” adds Matt. “We have elaborate cocktails and may be smashing ice in an ice bag and crushing fresh fruit. For the most part, people get that and enjoy watching our bartenders construct the cocktail instead of throwing two things together and handing them a glass.”
The brothers put just as much care in their products as they do their community. Both brothers serve on local boards, donate to community organizations and help sponsor local sports teams.
“This is our home and we wanted to set up roots here,” Matt says. “The best way to do that is to be part of the community.”
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the brothers quickly realized they had the capability to make hand sanitizer. “We decided if we can, we had to,” Mike says. After registering with the FDA, the distillery switched to hand sanitizer production, and made 500 to 1,000 gallons that were donated locally and places in Chicago. The effort also allowed them to keep all their employees working.
While it served its purpose, Mike says, “I’m happy to be making whiskey again!”
For the future, the brothers are excited to release their first Scottish style malt whiskey this winter – which has been aging for eight years. They will also release seven new products in 2022 and another four in 2023. This includes rum and several Tiki drinks to add to the cocktail menu. Also watch for the annual whiskey festival to return in March 2023.
While nothing is set in stone, the brothers are looking for the right location to open a distillery pub to catch the foot traffic on Main Street in downtown Galena. “We want to do it right the first time,” says Matt, “so finding the right place is important.”
Are they the best spirits in the area? Visit to find out and you be the judge.
As the brothers say, “Drink better, drink responsibly, and take your spirits, not yourselves, seriously.”
Blaum Bros. Distilling Co.
9380 W US Highway 20, Galena