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The Spirits of Galena Country
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The Spirits of Galena Country

From libations to ghostly experiences, there’s plenty to experience

By Danny Lee

Northwest Illinois is filled with the spirit of adventure—from the high bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River to the rolling countryside painted with the oranges, yellows, deep purples and blazing scarlets brought on by crisp autumn weather. It’s no wonder that visitors flock to Jo Daviess County to savor its distilled whiskey, complex wines, savory craft beer and—for a fun twist—the otherworldly presences of haunted Galena. We chatted with some of the area’s most spirited proprietors.

Blaum Brothers Distilling Co. Matt Blaum, Co-founder, CEO, Distiller
A wooden sign welcomes visitors to Blaum Brothers Distilling Co. in Galena, IL
Blaum Brothers Distilling Co. came from a love of good craft whiskey
A man lines up a flight of three whiskeys at Blaum Brothers Distilling Co. in Galena, IL
Taste a whiskey flight to find a new favorite
Q:
How did you decide to open a distillery?
MB:

My brother, Mike, and I always wanted to do something together, but we kind of went down different career paths. I was in nuclear medicine and Mike was with the Department of Defense. One interest we had in common was good craft whiskey and good whiskey in general. We decided that was something we could do together, since we both had a passion for it.

Q:
How do you fit into Galena’s distilling history?
MB:

There was a distillery here in Galena called the Jo Daviess County Distillery, but it closed when Prohibition started. In that era, they served a different kind of consumer. Now we’ve got a lot of aficionados, people who appreciate a well-crafted whiskey. We age our whiskeys three to four years; back during those early times, it was three to four months.

Q:
What are your priorities in the distilling business?
MB:

There are a lot of craft distilleries opening up these days. It’s a booming industry, and we see a lot of people opening things up and just trying to make a bunch of money. We do this to make a great product that will stand the test of time. We wouldn’t put something in a bottle that isn’t great. If you look at the label on our bottles, you’ll see pictures of me and my brother, Mike; we’re part of the logo.

Moonshine is an unaged bourbon with a higher proof. It’s kind of a fun thing; we sell it in mason jars.
A man leads a distillery tour at Blaum Brothers Distilling Co. in Galena, IL
Learn about distilling from the experts
A pink cocktail with a black straw sits on a wooden bar in the foreground while bar patrons socialize in the blurred background at Blaum Brothers Distilling Co. in Galena, IL
Pull up a chair and try a cocktail with friends
Q:
You offer a full line of spirits; how did you decide to expand beyond whiskey?
MB:

We opened the distillery to make whiskey; that’s where our hearts are. But we’ve got a still here, so why not use it to make other good quality products? Whiskey takes on its darker color by aging in barrels, but we can have clear products like our vodkas and gins and moonshine in the bottle in two or three weeks.

Q:
For the curious, what is “moonshine”?
MB:

Moonshine is an unaged bourbon with a higher proof. It’s kind of a fun thing; we sell it in mason jars. If you want, you can get a small barrel from us, pour our moonshine in there and keep it in there. In four or five weeks, you’ll have your own dark whiskey.

Q:
Are you offering anything new for autumn?
MB:

This fall and winter, we’re going to be releasing a brand-new bourbon, Galena Bourbon, which will be kind of a nod to the early distilleries. We’re using pretty much the original label. We’re bringing that brand back, but it’s a much better bourbon.

Pecatonica Beer Company Tim Quinn, owner of Pecatonica Beer Compan
A glass bottle of Pecatonica Alphorn ale sits on a wooden bar next to a pint glass filled with beer at Pecatonica Beer Company in Warren, IL
Pour a pint at Pecatonica
If it’s over-hoppy, it’s like you’re chewing on a pork chop
Q:
What does artisanal handcrafted beer offer beer fans?
TQ:

Using ingredients that are locally sourced is something that lets us bring a lot more variety to the beers we produce. The big bottlers offer your pilsners; they don’t add the different types of yeast or different hops that give you all sorts of flavors.

Q:
How small is a small batch?
TQ:

The smallest that we make is three barrels, so you’re talking roughly 100 gallons at a time. That’s one of the smallest you’re going to find in the craft beer industry. Typically, the smaller brewers offer more products because the small batches let us try so many different things.

Q:
What does “well-balanced” mean in the taste of beer?
TQ:

When people talk about balance in beer, they’re usually talking about the hops to malt ratio. If it’s over-hoppy, it’s like you’re chewing on a pork chop. Our beer is malt-forward, but it’s still balanced.

Q:
Can you describe the kind of craft beer enthusiast you cater to?
TQ:

Typically the craft-beer enthusiast is younger, well-educated, willing to try something new and different. There’s also another crowd out there who enjoys the pre-Prohibition darker beers that came over from Europe.

Q:
What taste elements are you going for in an autumnal beer such as Oktoberfest?
TQ:

The Oktoberfest is a true German Marzen beer. First poured at the wedding of a German king, it’s truly a beer in the classic German tradition. It’s lagered for a long time, and is sort of complicated. It’s not easy to make. In that long lagering process, there are changes going on in the brew that go beyond just creating the alcohol content.

Q:
Another seasonal beer is your Nightfall Lager; what is it like?
TQ:

Nightfall is really interesting. It starts out with a dark chocolate taste. It has a caramel center and finishes, some people say, like a malt burned to a crisp. There are people out there who don’t always drink craft beer, but they try this and they say, “This is the only dark beer that I like.”

Rocky Waters Vineyard & Winery Jared Spahn, CEO of Rocky Waters Vineyard & Winery
A large group of wine medals clustered on top of a wooden barrel at Rocky Waters Vineyard & Winery in Hanover, IL
Discover award-winning Rocky Waters Vineyard & Winery
Bottles of red wine are displayed on a shelf at Rocky Waters Vineyard & Winery in Hanover, IL
Pick up a new, delicious wine to try
Q:
What creates the distinctive flavor of your wines?
JS:

The grape varietals we use—Marechal Foch, Leon Millot, Lacrosse, St. Pepin and others—have a totally unique appearance and flavor due to our exceptional soil and climate, which we explain in detail during our tastings. We do raise 100 percent of our grapes here on our property in the popular Mississippi River Bluffs area, which has some highly distinctive attributes not found in any of the other wineries in the area.

Q:
What do visitors enjoy about your location besides the great wines?
JS:

The beauty of this location is hard to believe without seeing it firsthand. The comfortable log lodge where we host our tastings must be seen to be appreciated. Weather permitting, visitors enjoy walking our trails or touring the facility by hay-rack wagon. A deck overlooking the vineyard and lake and the rolling countryside is the perfect spot to settle in with a glass of wine.

Q:
Are there on-site accommodations?
JS:

We have a full log home overlooking a quiet five-acre lake where guests can relax and unwind in the beautiful natural setting. Visitors enjoy the private master bedroom, spacious deck, full kitchen, rustic log-cabin decor (with plenty of comfortable amenities), and room for up to 10 for family or group getaways.

On busy weekends, we make sure to have plenty of meat and cheese snack-packs on hand for our guests who find that the fresh air, views and great wine have stimulated their appetite.
Lush greenery at Rocky Waters Vineyard & Winery in Hanover, IL
The beauty of the area has to be seen to be believed
Q:
Can visitors enjoy food with their wine?
JS:

We have pizza made for us by the best pizzerias in Galena and then cooked to perfection here to individual order. On busy weekends, we make sure to have plenty of meat and cheese snack-packs on hand for our guests who find that the fresh air, views and great wine have stimulated their appetite.

Q:
What is autumn like at Rocky Waters?
JS:

The fall is a time of tremendous displays of color in the trees on our property and spread across the miles of woodsy hillsides where we are located. Guests tell us they enjoy the drive out to the winery almost as much as the time they spend here. Autumn is the season that shows off the landscape best, some people believe. As the weather cools and the air begins to have that snap that fall is known for, guests seem to find our winery a great place to warm their spirits.

The Haunted Galena Tour Company Ted Williams and Robyn Davis, owners/performers with Ghost Tour—The Haunted Galena Tour Company
A man in an old-fashioned black suit speaks to a ghost tour with The Haunted Galena Tour Company in Galena, IL
Welcome to the spooky side of Galena
A woman in a long black and purple gown performs for a group during a ghost tour with The Haunted Galena Tour Company in Galena, IL
Listen closely for a spirited experience unlike any other
Q:
What about autumn makes it a good season to go ghost touring?
TW & RD:

Autumn is a time when the days get shorter, the sun falls low and darkness descends early in the evening. There is a crisp chill in the air and friends and family huddle together around the hearth and tell tales of loved ones from long ago—those spirits who may have never left us, who watch over us or maybe even have returned to haunt us. It is a time to encounter the darkness and to listen to the whispers of the spirits who walk among us.

Q:
Galena has a long and interesting history; how does that history figure in your ghost tours? Is there anything touching on the Ulysses S. Grant connection?
TW & RD:

Galena’s long history provides many stories and events that are believed to have led to our ghostly hauntings. Our Haunted Galena Ghost Walk not only describes the hauntings our city has experienced, but also the historical back stories of why these ghosts remain here to this day. Most of our stories come from the newspapers and court records of 1800s Galena. Some of our ghost stories are folklore that has been handed down from generation to generation. We also share the stories of current hauntings told to us by those who have experienced them in Galena. We do tell of a very famous ghost who has haunted Galena for 150 years. We believe this ghost may have a connection to Ulysses S. Grant and his call to arms of our Galena boys and men to enlist in the Civil War!

Q:
You offer both walking tours and theatrical/salon-style events; what is the theatrical offering like? Where do they occur?
TW & RD:

We offer a 90 minute, half-mile walking tour through the heart of Galena from April through October. The tour is an easy walk that can be done by all ages. We take people to the sites of some of our most famous hauntings! Our production, “Murder and Mayhem in a Mining Town—the Ghostly Tales of Old Galena” is an expanded version of our tour, done as a theatrical salon-style, sit down event.  We will be performing this event on select Saturday nights in January, February and March 2018 in the historic DeSoto House Hotel.

We want to do both—provide an historic context with paranormal/ghostly content. The result is a fun tour that is both moving and scary, historic and romantic, adventurous and educational.
A photo of a man taking a cell phone picture of a man performing during a ghost tour with The Haunted Galena Tour Company in Galena, IL
Try to capture a ghostly orb in a photo
Adults gather outside a red brick building to listen to a ghost tour with The Haunted Galena Tour Company in Galena, IL
Gather ‘round for tales of history, romance and adventure
Q:
What are the shows like?
TW & RD:

In both shows, the most popular element is having two presenters. One (Robyn) portrays an ethereal spirit that was a historic contemporary in our stories and history and offers a first-person narrative. Ted presents as a modern researcher, covering the present-day manifestation of ghosts and spirits.

Q:
What sort of research goes into creating a ghost tour or event in Galena?
TW & RD:

We put in a lot of library time and do many interviews. History without romance and adventure is boring, and ghostly stories without a historical background just don’t work. We want to do both—provide an historic context with paranormal/ghostly content. The result is a fun tour that is both moving and scary, historic and romantic, adventurous and educational.

Q:
Any metaphysical events in your own experience that you'd like to share with potential guests?
TW & RD:

Our tour is not a ghost-hunting tour. We do not use ghost-hunting devices, but instead walk along the streets of Old Galena with the ghosts beside us. We encourage our guests to take a lot of pictures with their cameras. Our guests have found profound images of ghostly figures on our tour: a man dressed in a black frock coat and pants that were popular in the 1830s, a woman on a second–floor balcony who is dressed in a beautiful shirtwaist, her hair up in a bun, looking down at something in her hands, to name just a couple. One night the candle in our lantern (candles that usually last through two to three 90-minute tours) melted down to nothing in a matter of minutes as we told the story of a famous murder in Galena. It has never happened before or since.

Spirits of all kinds thrive in Galena, both in the autumn and all year round. Explore the area anytime for delicious beverages and ghostly experiences that are sure to leave you with the desire to experience it again and again.

Take a spirited getaway to Galena, IL and the beauty beyond.