- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. (AP) - It’s been nearly a year since Paul Tomaszewski and Jim Bravard started their first batch of Christian County brandy, and although there’s another year before it will be mature and ready to sell, they decided to give it a try.

Along with tasting the immature brandy recently at MB Roland Distillery, they started their second batch, which was significantly larger.

“Last year we did 14 to 15 gallons and had 1,500 pounds of grapes,” said Bravard, owner of Bravard Vineyards and Winery. “This year we did 6,000 pounds of grapes, and we expect to get 425 gallons after the heads and tails are taken out.”

Things went a lot smoother this time around. They used two grape presses versus stomping the fruit with their feet when the crusher wouldn’t work last fall, and the old, 100-gallon still has retired as a fountain outside the entrance.

Tomaszewski, owner of MB Roland, installed two new stills - a 600-gallon stripping still and a 300-gallon spirit still, which was hard at work pumping out the clear liquid.

Once it’s finished, they will bottle some fresh off-the-still and sell “Jim and Paul’s Eau de Vie,” which means water of life in French, starting next month. It will be cut down to 80 proof and only sold at the distillery.

Tomaszewski expects there will be close to 100 bottles available -some in pints and some in fifths.

“We’re guessing there’s going to be a mass fury,” he said. “It’s going to be like a bourbon bottling probably because it is going to be a small amount.”

The rest of the brandy will be barreled, like the first batch, and aged for at least two years.

“Last year was just a trial and error to figure out what it was going to take to do this,” Bravard said. “This year, I told them to just pick it all, and we picked the vine clean.”

Tomaszewski said they knew exactly what they were doing this time, and they realized just how many people were excited about it being a local product. The men were sure to include “ground to glass” on their information label.

“We are using a truly American grape variety and all American oak barrels,” Bravard said. “This is done in the same county, in the same state, all ground to bottle.”

They can’t call it cognac because it’s not made in France, but Bravard - a cognac connoisseur - believes the quality of their Christian County brandy is going to be neck-and-neck with the international product.

Using a copper thief, Tomaszewski extracted a few swallows from two barrels - one version came from a new, charred oak barrel and the other, a second run barrel that previously held bourbon.

Swishing their glasses, each owner took a whiff and sipped. After passing the glasses, they swished, whiffed and sipped again.

“I am very, very impressed with both styles of it .,” Bravard said after tasting the two. “I think it is an exemplary brandy, and I’m not saying that just because we made it. It’s just really good.”

To get a few more opinions, Bravard and Tomaszewski took the glasses to the MB Roland staff who were watching the still.

Senior distiller David Spottiswood, a Christian County native, favored the brandy from the new, charred oak barrel.

“It reeked of more flavor - more of the oakiness and more of the vanilla in that barrel,” he said.

Caleb Plyler, assistant distiller, liked the used barrel brandy better.

“It has a nice malty finish to it,” he said. “That’s probably because it had bourbon in there before.”

No matter which flavor the customers prefer next fall, Tomaszewski simply asks that they buy it with the intent to drink it.

“Some people want it for a memento - that’s great, that’s wonderful,” he said. “But, don’t set it on the shelf and let it stay there forever.”

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