Middle West Spirits Tour

On the heels of the local craft beer boom, area distilleries are following suit.  In fact, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, supplier sales were up 4.5 percent to $25.2 billion in 2016, which was the seventh straight year of market share gains relative to beer.

     The American Craft Spirits association reports that the number of active craft distilleries in the U.S. has grown to more than 1,589 to date.

     Employment in the craft spirits industry is also climbing right along with the business -- by 47.8 percent in 2016, with nearly 6,000 new full-time jobs. As of August 2017, the industry employed almost 19,600 full-time employees, an average of 10.5 employees per distillery.

   Industry investments were expected to double in 2017 with continued growth into 2018.

   So, in order to get an up-close-and-personal look at this booming industry, the Central Ohio Chapter of the International Facility Management Association brought some two dozen of its members and guests to tour Middle West Spirits in the Short North April 11, 2018 – and they were not disappointed. 

    Inspired by four generations of distilling traditions in the Middle West family, the small enterprise built its foundation on the belief that authenticity in the world of artisan spirits meant handcrafting products from scratch, while celebrating the distinctive flavors of the Ohio River Valley.

     Co-founders Brady Konya and Ryan Lang established Middle West Spirits in 2008 and opened their local distillery for commercial production in 2010. “With deep experience in marketing and manufacturing, Konya and Lang focused on championing Ohio’s world-class agriculture, small business innovation, and culinary inspiration to produce a line of artisan spirits that reflect their originality as creators, their integrity as producers, and their passion for the craft of producing spirits from scratch,” according to their website. “At the core of their efforts, they commit to equal parts inspiration and education, working to challenge the palate while honoring Ohio’s unique role in the history of America’s distilling traditions.”

     Central to the distillery’s identity is the belief that craft spirits should be made with care, by hand and by creators who originally distill their own products. “In today’s growing micro community, marketers often use words like ‘artisanal’ to disguise the industrial sources of many distilleries’ core products—which are neither artisan nor handcrafted, and seldom deserve the premium they command. Middle West Spirits practices the time-honored craft of producing spirits from grain to bottle, and supports the farms, craftsmen, trade partners, and retail customers who desire an authentic expression of world-class, American-made craft spirits.”

     Their efforts have peaked interest and received notice.  In fact, Middle West Spirits was named one of the top five best distillery restaurants in the United States by the publication Supercall last year. 

     And more recently, Middle West Spirits announced a Gold Medal and Best in Category win for their OYO Double Cask Sherry-Finished Bourbon at the 2018 American Distilling Institute’s Judging of Craft Spirits. The Columbus-based distillery received a total of six medal recognitions for its OYO branded spirits, including a second gold medal for its OYO Dark Pumpernickel Rye Whiskey, a silver medal for its flagship OYO Vodka, and three bronze medals for its OYO Wheat Whiskey, OYO Michelone Reserve Bourbon, and OYO Stone Fruit Vodka.

      “The entire craft industry is fixated on the meteoric growth of the whiskey market,” said Konya. “To take home top honors in the Bourbon category is humbling to say the least.”

     In the heart of the Short North, the 16,000-square-foot, open-air distillery serves as a brand showcase, spirits shop, educational venue, and tasting room.  Its breathtaking bar and natural-light facility evoke warmth and encourages casual conversations, allowing Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members to linger long after their April tour was complete. 

     The large group of Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members were split into two to tour the facility.  Each also enjoyed a history lesson as to the origin of the cocktail from Beverage Director Jared Goody, then were treated to a mixology lesson where an Old Fashioned was the drink of choice. 

     The distillery’s best seller?  Their OYO Vodka made with Ohio’s soft red winter wheat, giving their vodka a distinct color and flavor.  Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members were treated to a taste during their tour – and the chance to compare it to a mass-produced vodka popular in the U.S. made with a French soft winter wheat. 

    While Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members snacked on light fare, a full-service menu stood at the ready.  Executive Chef Avishar Barua’s creations combine his Midwestern upbringing and Bangladeshi roots. His fresh interpretation of familiar flavors is the culmination of an impressive career, with roles at New York’s Mission Chinese and WD-50, and locally at 1808 American Bistro and Veritas.

     Middle West Spirits is located at 1230 Courtland Avenue, Columbus, Ohio.