Paul Tomaszewski dismisses beer and wine production as child’s play. He started running with the big dogs when he decided to open a MB Roland Distillery in Christian County, Kentucky – just a short distance from his former base at Fort Campbell where he was an infantry officer.
“It is true that a DSP (Distilled Spirits Plant) is basically the NFL of alcohol production, both in paperwork and tax-liability’” Tomaszewski said in e-mails we traded recently.
The 30-year-old says his military service prepared him well for all the paperwork and forms he had to file to begin his MB Roland Distillery in Pembroke, Ky. “I spent quite a bit of time filling out federal government paperwork, so much of that came naturally to me,” he said.
Back in 2008, fresh out of the Army he charted a course to open a distillery in a part of Kentucky where you’re more likely to find tobacco barns and country hams curing. He said he worked some odd jobs to keep some cash flowing. He says his wife, a native of the area works a full-time job to keep the bills paid.
He spent some time finding a location and some investment. Then setting up the operation prior to licensing in 2009. He got his license in October of that year and had his first product in November. He didn’t want to talk about the financing and investment in the operation.
The thing is, there’s no legal practicing you can do to learn how to produce distilled spirits. Either it is a legal operation or you’re a moonshiner. “Therefore, you set it all up and stare at it for a few months while your paperwork gets approved,” Tomaszewski said.
The former soldier says he got his knowledge from books, online forums and some folks in the craft distilling network. “Prior to setting things up, I also toured over 20 distilleries in order to get the best ideas for what we wanted to build and how to run things,” he said.
And he seems to have done something right. Joking, he said, “Well I only went blind for a day or two, but my sight did eventually come back.”
More seriously, the “head distiller” says he has improved the product from the first runs through the 100-gallon pot still. He says he’s not going to call himself a “master distiller” until he’s been producing for a few more years.
Like others around the country he calls himself a craft distiller, but there’s no legal distinction in that title. “Our license looks the same on paper as Jim Beam’s or Buffalo Trace’s does,” he said.
He says he has no dreams of competing with “the big boys.” He expects to be producing about 150 gallons of white dog a week.
Generally, the craft distillers are using small charred white-oak barrels for aging. The major distillers use 50-gallon containers. Tomaszewski is using five-or ten-gallon barrels. The smaller barrels are thought to reduce the aging time for the bourbon.
However, unlike other craft distillers who are aging in the small barrels for 4-6 months, his recipe calls for aging for more than a year.
He is also producing unaged products – clear spirits. “I have gained a greater appreciation for them after understanding various differences and intricacies from one to another,” he said.
The 30-year-old distiller says he’s impressed with Wild Turkey’s production method of distilling at a lower proof and bottling at 101 proof. He says, “One of my biggest pet peeves about most of the large-scale bourbon is that it tends to be aged at approximately 120-125 proof, than cut down to 80-100 proof for bottling.”
He enjoys the Turkey, but he’s admitted his real favorite: “As far as flavor goes, I’m a big fan of Four Roses Single Barrel. To me, it has an outstanding overall flavor, with a distinct amount of sweetness that I desire in a bourbon.”
He quickly added that that he advises people that not to let someone influence their bourbon choice. He says to always choose a bourbon based on the tastes you prefer.
And the corn he uses he proudly says comes from Christian County farmers. He says it’s a white corn that contributes to an interesting flavor. “It sure beats putting it in the gas tank,” he said.
The unaged products distributed in Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois and California. He’s hoping to expand to Texas, Missouri and Louisiana in the near future. The aged products are sold only at their gift shop at the distillery.
He offers tours of the operation. You might catch Tom or one of the part-time assistants. Or, you might get a tour from his 13-year-old nephew, who, he says, knows everything about the process and products – except how they taste.
If you’re there on the weekend you might catch one of the monthly “Pickin on the Porch” concerts they’ve been having at the operation. They attract a couple hundred people to the distillery on those days.
Products offered: White dog (shine) and Black Dog, made by toasting the corn and bourbon. They also create some flavored products: Strawberry Kentucky Shine, Apple Pie Kentucky Shine, Blueberry Kentucky Shine, Kentucky Pink Lemonade plus white rum and spiced rum.
Tips from a regular enjoyer of MB Roland:
The Black Dog makes the best Bloody Mary you have ever had. Go spicy. The smoke and sweetness of the white corn balance the drink better than vodka.
If you are lucky enough to get your hands on the Mint Julep liqueur, put it over ice and top with Kentucky bourbon. It iis as good as a fresh mint julep without the muddling.