Do you love where you live? Do you feel a deep connection that you want to nurture through involvement? It seems like the ultra-local drive in the foodie and beverage industry has taken hold all over the world. People not only have pride in their home town, they want to support it with their wallets. The farm-to-table movement is every bit as much about local pride as it is about sustainability, authenticity and healthy living.
I recently visited Columbus, Ohio to attend the wedding of the fabulously talented couple, Alex & Kevin, and was delighted to see that their wedding featured local food, drink and art through-and-through. I was even more delighted when my good friend Quint and his friend Bill took me to sample local vodka and whiskey at an urban distillery, Middle West Spirits, in the Short North. Josh Daily showed us around and poured us a few samples. Hot damn.
Middle West Spirits opened their doors in July 2010 and began selling OYO (pronounced O-Why-O) vodka, honey vanilla bean vodka and whiskey. This is one of the first micro-distillery in the state of Ohio since the death of Prohibition. Founders Brady Konya and Ryan Lang have a passion for creating hand-crafted spirits with local flare. Ryan came by this passion genetically. His grandpappy was a bootlegger. They have gone to great lengths to make the best booze possible from the equipment to the ingredients they use.
Middle West imported a 600 liter Kothe still from Germany, the first of its kind in North America, to produce ultra-pure and smooth liquor. It’s an impressive contraption. They employ an open-air process to allow native yeasts into the fermentation. The vodka and whiskey are made with 100% Ohio-grown soft red winter wheat, with more than a million pounds going into the mash already this year. The artisanal approach pays off in the finished products.
This is the flagship product, which is made without the carbon filters that strip other vodkas of their flavor.
|Look||Unlike the turbid Olentangy River that rolls passed The Ohio State University, this is as crystal clear as the purest water with vivid viscidness.|
|Smell||Cumulonimbus alcohol clouds billow forth like a sake scented thunderstorm over Columbus.|
|Taste||The local wheat and distinctive distillation process give OYO a full flavor profile. It pours forth lush flavors of biscuits, cream and flint. The silky mouth-feel coats the tongue and holds a smooth lingering finish.|
This flavored vodka is made with Ohio wildflower honey and fair-trade Ugandan vanilla beans imported by another local entrepreneur, Jeni of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams fame.
|Look||Soft gold leaf glimmering in the evening sun.|
|Smell||Mellow spirit vapors mingle with floral honey in a jubilant celebration.|
|Taste||Like a stolen kiss with the mayor’s daughter behind the stock barns at the State Fair; dangerously delicious from the moment lips touch, through the honeyed dewiness, until the lingering vanilla tang gently fades. Sweet with a bite.|
This is great served straight, but it’s also excellent in cocktails. Here’s one to try.
Southern Side Car
- 1 oz OYO Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka
- 1 oz Cointreau Noir
- .5 oz fresh lemon juice
Toss all ingredients in shaker, stir well with ice. Strain into chilled martini glass, half rimmed with raw sugar.
This single-cask hooch is just coming out now and I wasn’t even able to buy a bottle yet. Yes, I cried a little. It’s the only whiskey around made from 100% wheat and is aged for 48 months in American oak barrels. While it packs a punch, clocking in at 92 proof, it’s balanced and approachable enough to be enjoyable when served neat at room temperature.
|Look||The frontier medicine bottle amber colored whiskey glistens with playful clarity. Its medium body held the sides of the glass well.|
|Smell||Rich, complex aromatics smelled of cinnamon, honey, dried hay and charred oak with ample alcohol heat.|
|Taste||The taste immediately had an alco-hold on me. The approach is vaguely grapey, like Cognac or tawny port married with a distinctive charcoal bite. The mid-palate is round with a welcome heat heralding the arrival of my dear friend, alcohol. It finishes smooth and honey sweet like a blended Irish Whiskey. This is one to savor neat, or with one cube if you like a bit of a chill in your glass.|
If you are like me, and don’t live in Ohio, you’ll have to rely on your bootlegging friends to send you a bottle or two (I’m still waiting on that whiskey, Quint). OYO is sold in Ohio and in neighboring Kentucky.
Go ahead, drink local with pride. What local spirits, wine or beer have caught your attention?