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Galena distillery looking to help change law that halted sales last year

GALENA, Illinois-- The holidays are one of the busiest times of the year for Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. in Galena with people stopping in to buy Christmas presents. But with only three weeks left in 2018, the distillery had to stop selling its whiskey, bourbon, and vodka in-store. The shelves in the gift shop were practically bare.

That's because Illinois has a law limiting how much craft distilleries can sell out of their own stores. The limit is 2,500 gallons a year. The rest has to be sold to distributors who then sell to other stores.

"It hurt honestly at the end of the year when people were coming in trying to buy Christmas gifts," says Matthew Blaum, co-owner of Blaum Bros. and president of the Illinois Craft Distillers Association.

He says Blaum Bros. was the first craft distillery in the state to reach the limit.

"We make one product here and it's one product we can't sell at the end of the year," he says. "Every bottle that I can't sell here is lost tax revenue for the state."

Employees had to turn customers away when they tried to buy any liquor after a tour or visit.

"People seem to kind of generally not like it as well," says Chet Parson, who bartends and helps bottle. "They seem to understand (the law) but not understand why."

Blaum worries it could stifle business.

"(Business has) been taking off every year since we've been open," he says. "At the end of the day, it just doesn't make sense."

So Blaum is working with the Illinois Craft Distillers Association to change the law. Last year, the organization introduced a bill to the Illinois General Assembly to double the yearly limit. The bill didn't make it through, but Blaum says they'll try again this year.

"We're hoping to make a little bit more noise," he says. "We're just trying to be the squeaky wheel."

For now, he's able to take bottles out of storage and restock the shelves in his gift shop now that his gallon count has been reset.

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