By Bull Garlington
Galena is a magical town. It has historic Bed and Breakfasts, historic churches, historic parks, and a historic history museum. There are a couple of golf courses, a ski lodge, the Dowling House and a blacksmith shop. It’s lined wall-to-wall with antique stores, book shoppes, and quaintish establishments that quaint their quaint into the luminous extremes of the quaintosphere and none of that matters as much as Galena’s worthy distinction of being the place where Blaum Bros Distillery makes one of the greatest bourbons on the face of God’s green earth.
Blaum Bros hasn’t been distilling for long, but in the short six years since they opened their doors, the booze they brew has become legendary. Just try to buy a bottle of Oldfangled Knotter Bourbon. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Oh, are you done already? Couldn’t get it? THAT’S BECAUSE BOURBON NERDS SNATCH IT UP AT EVERY RELEASE THEN SELL IT ONLINE FOR A $300 DOLLARS A BOTTLE!
The problem with getting Blaum Bros new releases is they’re only sold at the distillery. So, you know, just hop in a car and pop on over three and a half hours to Galena and–crap are they sold out already? That’s ok, someone’s selling their brand new bottle right there in the parking lot–oh, man did that guy just sell his brand new bottle for $200 more than what he paid for it three minutes ago? What is this, Pappy Van Winkle?
No, pilgrim. This is better. Yes, I said it. I’m calling it. Let Alabama glower in the unfaltering beam of my regard for their pet whisky. Blaum Bros is better than Pappy Van Winkle. They source everything–ev ver ree thing–that goes into every bottle from Illinois. The corn is Illinois corn even though they could reach out their back window and pick all the Iowa corn they want for half the price. Also, they do everything by hand, the hard way, the slow way, the ancient and venerable way and–AND–the people they’re named after are still alive, right there in the distillery, working their rears off to bring you some of the finest whisky in the world. Where’s Pappy, huh? WHERE IS PAPPY? Dead, that’s where.
So you should go to Galena. You should go there soon. You should buy all the Oldfangled Knotter Bourbon you can (which is a single bottle per person) and then don’t resell it but, instead, start a fire in the den and light a pipe and crack open your signed first edition of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and pet the dog curled at your feet and DRINK YOUR BOURBON AS GOD INTENDED!
Therefore, as a service to you, dear reader, I will assist you in getting to Galena and suggest which Blaum Bros spirit you should consume during the trip.
- Method: Walking
- Duration: Six days
- Spirit: Blaum Bros Hellfyre Vodka
Start in Chicago and follow Route 70 to The Old Stage Coach Trail then take that to Galena then fall down and die because in order to get there that fast, you’d have to walk in your sleep and along a highway used mainly by menacing trucks and rabid coyotes. But that’s ok, you’ll make it because you’ll be drinking Blaum Bros Hellfyre, a vodka infused with jalapeños which the staff chops by hand. You can whup a coyote as easy as you kick over that 1983 Chevy El Camino that tried to run you into a ditch. No regrets.
- Method: Velocipede
- Duration: Two days
- Spirit: Blaum Bros Oak Reserve Gin
Take the forest preserve bike trails out to Rock Grove Road (I don’t know if these are actually connected, I’m not your travel agent. You have Google. Stop bothering me, I’m drinking Bourbon). Then cycle on over to the Great Western Trail and try, I mean really try, to avoid bears. I’m not warning you away from the bears because they’re prone to maiming (nor am I claiming there are bears along those trails), I’m just saying bears are notorious drunks and you’ll be drinking Blaum Bros Oak Reserve Gin which gives you courage. I’m saying you might fight a bear. You will definitely fight a bear.
- Method: A 1983 Chevrolet El Camino
- Duration: 24 years
- Spirit: Blaum Bros Galena Reserve
Your dad gave you this car when you graduated college in 1995 right before he joined the merchant marines then mysteriously disappeared off the coast of Madagascar. You’ve been driving it ever since, a sun-bleached plastic Hawaiian hula dancer bouncing on the dash, the back bumper obscured by stickers from every state. But it’s driving like an old boat now. It leaks all the time. The rusted doors are held shut by duct tape and pure willpower. It stalls more than it runs. The windshield has a starburst crack from that time you were tailgating a gravel truck in Nevada. When you set out to drive it to Blaum Bros Distillery you decide to take it easy; you think that maybe it’s time to put her down. As you drift onto Main Street Galena, she coughs and sputters and you barely make it the last desperate stretch into the parking lot of the distillery where she shuffles off her mortal mechanical coil. As you get out, a tear in your eye, a hitch in your heart, a miraculous dust devil whips across the parking lot. It’s rooted in place for half a second like it’s looking back, then you hear your dad’s sonorous Mid Western brogue when he told you, as he handed you the keys: El Camino means the wind. You crack open the Galena Reserve, pour a respectable dram out for your dad, then ask the bartender if they know where you can buy a car.
- Method: Bus
- Duration: Not long enough
- Spirit: Blaum Bros Straight Bourbon
The bus station manager tells you it’s only four and a half hours but you get stuck in a windowless seat near the bathrooms next to an itinerant street preacher who turned his life around selling essential oils and he will. Not. Stop. Talking. Against all posted signs and the hairy eyeball of someone’s grandmother across the aisle and Reverend Wontshutup, you open your bottle of Blaum Bros Straight Bourbon. By the time the meniscus of spirit finds the middle of the label, you and the Reverend are old friends and you’ve started the Greyhound Rolling Universal Back of the Bus Gospel Choir with Grandma and nine other melodic passengers. In the middle of the second verse of “I’ll Fly Away,” you disappear into a moment of undiluted, unexpected, and absolute joy that seems to stretch to the bright edges of the universe.
- Method: Train
- Duration: Infinity
- Spirit: Blaum Bros Absinthe Verte
Amtrak’s Black Hawk line doesn’t stop in Galena, it goes through to Dubuque because the historic train station in Galena hasn’t been retrofitted for contemporary platforms. Whatever. You don’t care because you and your friend picked up a bottle of Blaum Bros Absinthe Verte and now you’re both crawling around the train car looking for your monkey. The other passengers and the conductor and Toulouse Lautrec keep trying to reassure you that you never had a monkey. But you know they’re all insane, LOOK AT THEM. Then you lose your monocle and Lautrec rolls his eyes and paints blurry ballerinas on the ceiling.
- Method: Private Jet
- Duration: Less than an hour
- Spirit: Blaum Bros Oldfangled Knotter Bourbon
You have exactly enough time in the air to pour two fingers of Blaum Bros Oldfangled Knotter Bourbon. You drink it in perfect silence, alone, in your Hugo Boss single-breasted suit and your hand-made Oxfords. You think about your portfolio and your new bio-pharm patents. You chuckle when Elon Musk texts a dad joke and James Hetfield sends everyone a poop emoji then your jet lands and you get into your limo, head over to Blaum’s and live your truth, like a Rockstar, like a legend, like a boss.
Bull Garlington is an award winning author from Chicago. Learn more at bullgarlington.com