Middle West Spirits, the name of the microdistillery brainchild of Brady Konya and Ryan Lang, is housed in a formerly nondescript city building with an industrial feel. Now of course it is a building with an edgy and understated design, and within, the owners/operators perform miracles.
A labor of love and longevity, Middle West Spirits has been in the making for over three years. After moving to Columbus from the West Coast, where microdistilleries have been in vogue for a few years, Brady and Ryan decided to bring artisanal small-batch liquor to the Midwest. It is a fraught business. Draconian liquor production and distribution laws have been in place for years and it is difficult to brave the system’s red tape—fortunately for us, Ryan’s forefathers made a living out of Prohibition-era moonshine and so he is predisposed to do battle when it comes to Alcohol Rights.
It was only May of 2010 when they sold their first bottle of OYO Vodka (pronounced oh-WHY-oh), a long time in the making. The vodka is made from a soft, red winter wheat grown in Northern Ohio and milled locally, and they are working hard at developing a supply chain of local farmers who will produce seasonal products that highlight local agriculture. It takes seven days for the distilling process to finish, and they produce batches of about 600 liters at a time. Extra care is taken throughout the entire process to retain the subtle flavors vodka has.
Mass produced vodkas, even top shelf brands, are made with the idea that vodka is supposed to be a odorless, colorless, and tasteless liquor meant to be mixed. “We’d beg to differ,” says Brady. “There’s an ongoing revival in vodkas, and people who know artisan spirits know that there’s a complexity to the spirit that is under-appreciated. Essentially, there’s a standard filtration process that strips a lot of that flavor out, but you can still make amazing vodkas without filtering out those flavors. Some can be very simple and some can have a lot of character.”
This was when they brought out two bottles of vodka, Grey Goose and their own OYO. This seemed ballsy, I thought at the time, thinking back to college and those vodka-fueled bouts of nighttime mania. Grey Goose was the desirable, the unattainable, at least with my financial aid package. The plastic gallon jug of Popov was the taste I remembered, and an easy one to beat by basically anything you’d ever willingly pour into your mouth. Better a sure win than a close race when trying to impress.
I took a sip of Grey Goose, swished it around in my mouth, played with it, even enjoyed it—more reminiscent of Manhattan clubs and bottle service than college. But the OYO, from the first sniff to the last gasp, was a completely different experience. It was actually quite smooth, slightly sweet, and much more complex than any vodka I had ever tasted, but it was a subtle complexity. The finish was all heat but no burn, and so, so pleasant. I finagled another pouring out of Brady before sipping the Grey Goose again for comparison—and never again! Such acridity and tongue-curling bitterness is fine for cutting grease, but not fit for human consumption. I might give my dog Grey Goose, but please, save the OYO for me.
At the moment, they are focusing on producing a first-class vodka (and they have) though they are working on a gin recipe, and have plans to produce whiskey in the future. I can’t wait.
By: Ben Britz