BY JANET MANDELSTAM
American brandy is making a comeback, and a made-in-Bloomington brandy has just joined the renaissance. Oliver Winery and Cardinal Spirits have partnered to create Creekbend Brandy, which is being released this fall.
“Brandy is coming back as a spirit,” says Cardinal Spirits co-founder Jeff Wuslich. “It was one of the first spirits made in America, and it’s getting new followers.”
Brandy is fermented, distilled fruit juice, and varieties like pear, peach, and apple brandy were popular before Prohibition. With its resurgence, The New York Times calls it “the quiet giant of the liquor industry.”
The local process begins in the vineyards at Oliver Winery where Catawba grapes are harvested and crushed. “Catawba was the first wine grape in North America,” says Oliver CEO Bill Oliver. “It’s perfume-y and aromatic.”
Wuslich is a Catawba grape fan. “They are beautiful grapes to work with,” he says. “We took [Oliver’s] grape juice, fermented it here, and put it in barrels for two-and-a-half years.”
There aren’t many brandy producers in the Midwest, says Wuslich. He and business partner Adam Quick opened Cardinal Spirits in January 2015. The distillery was less than a year old when the partnership with Oliver Winery began.
Oliver Winery has been around since 1972, and Wuslich says it has been very supportive of the newer distillery. “We were two producers wanting to do something fun together,” he says.
“There was not much of a debate, no economic analysis,” adds Oliver. “We just said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We’re generally quick to want to partner with and help local businesses. That’s the Bloomington culture; it’s a strongly supportive community.”
Creekbend Brandy is available at Cardinal Spirits and other local retailers. State law prohibits it being sold at the winery, but, says Bill Oliver: “When I taste it, I imagine myself with a brandy and a big cigar on my own patio.”