Sunday, May 13, 2012

You Say Midwest Ohio, I Say Middle West OYO

Middle West Spirits

Most phrases including the word “middle” have a negative connotation or make you feel as if you are making some type of compromise (middle aged, middle class, middle child syndrome, the middle man). This doesn’t hold true when it comes to downtown Columbus’ first micro-distillery; Middle West Spirits. In this case, the word explains how the founders met geographically while simultaneously paying respect to the region that contains our great state.

This tale begins with Abercrombie & Fitch. Yes, you read correctly. The significant others of founders Ryan Lang and Brady Konya were brought to Central Ohio from the East and West coasts through their affiliation with the local fashion retailer headquartered here. Ryan explained during A&F events, amidst talks of “tweed and buttons” from their partners, an idea began to emerge between him and Brady. Ryan had always known he wanted to do something to follow in his family’s roots. His grandfather was an accomplished farmer and wine maker. Brady, on the other hand, had lived in an area awash with micro trends and saw the opportunity to bring it to the Midwest. He also came from a media and marketing background, which is an advantage for any new start up company. They discovered one partner’s strengths turned out to be the others weakness and joining forces could be an interesting endeavor. The business savvy duo started pulling trending reports in 2007 and realized a trend that hadn’t yet made it to Central Ohio was micro-distilling. They planned for months, kicking around numerous ideas and from the beginning they knew they wanted to make an impact on local farmers using local ingredients. It became obvious that what was demanded in this area was locally sourced, locally produced world class vodka and whiskey.

In order to spread the word about their new spirits, Ryan and Brady knew that marketing would be a key factor. The entrepreneurs hired someone to help develop a unique brand identity. Although neither of them knew anything about the area before moving, they fell in love with Columbus and all it had to offer. They wanted to give relevance to their new company name and show their pride in the area without being blatantly obvious. By digging deep into some Ohio history they discovered that Middle West (commonly referred to as the Midwest) is a term given to the region in the north-central and north-eastern United States containing Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. They also learned that the English translation of Ohio came from the Iroquois Indians who had dubbed the Ohio River OYO (pronounced Oh-Why-Oh) meaning “the great river”. Middle West and OYO became an ideal match for their new company and product brand names.

The first bottles of OYO spirits were ready to sell in July of 2010 and the future looks even brighter for this young company. Ryan made it clear that Middle West Spirits will not just be about alcohol. They are working on many different product lines all under the Middle West umbrella that will all be based on the same principles and philosophy as OYO – a social enterprise that is sustainable and locally responsible. Also, soon to come will be more spirits added under the OYO brand. Currently, Middle West hosts public tours and tastings at their distillery located in the Short North. I was lucky enough to attend a Whiskey Workshop where a small group learned much about this historic spirit and even assisted in the making of a batch. It is not hard finding OYO spirits popping up at many Central Ohio retailers and restaurants, but I urge you to plan a visit to the distillery and help yourself to a tour and tasting. I think you will discover that the products produced by Middle West Spirits are anything but middle-of-the-road.


The Middle West Spirits OYO Whiskey (pictured left) traveled 0 miles to Columbus. The whiskey (pictured right) traveled from Lynchburg, Tennessee which is roughly 450 miles from Columbus.

Most whiskeys are made by following a common series of steps:

  • Mashing - The grain of choice (OYO Whiskey made of 100% Ohio Soft Red Winter Wheat) is ground into a grist or coarse flour and water is added. The mash is stirred to convert the starches into a sugary liquid known as wort
  • Fermenting – The wort is cooled and yeast is added. The yeast feeds on the sugars, creating alcohol
  • Distilling – The alcohol is transferred to a pot still and heated to separate the alcohol from water and other substances
  • Maturing – The whiskey is transferred to oak casks or barrels and aged depending on type
  • Bottling - At Middle West Spirits they produce single batch (thousands of bottles per batch) hand-bottled and hand-labeled Whiskey


Tax Break Would Help Small Distilleries
Making Whiskey

Whiskey Carrot Cake

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