At first glance, the report was nothing more than graphs, pie charts, economic forecasts. Most people wouldn't have gotten past page one. But to a pair of eager Columbus businessmen - one relocated from Charlotte, one from Seattle - the trend report on what's known as the micro-spirits industry was something more.
At first glance, the report was nothing more than graphs, pie charts, economic forecasts. Most people wouldn't have gotten past page one.
But to a pair of eager Columbus businessmen - one relocated from Charlotte, one from Seattle - the trend report on what's known as the micro-spirits industry was something more. It was proof they might be at the right place at the right time, and the butterflies started immediately.
Brady Konya and Ryan Lang, recent friends who started tossing around start-up ideas in summer 2007, finally knew what their great idea would be: They would make vodka.
They would call the company Middle West Spirits and hype Ohio with a buckeye tree logo. They would set up shop in Columbus, a test market but also a city with loyal consumers eager to support local business. They'd put craft first, commerce second.
"It was that moment when all roads are pointing to the same direction, and we felt this opportunity really deserves a chance of coming to life," said Konya, who previously worked in global marketing in Seattle. "We've kind of referred to it as serendipity."
Starting July 1, Columbus will get its first sip of this happy accident with the release of Oyo. It's the flagship vodka from the Middle West distillery that began to take shape in November at 1230 Courtland Ave. - a legal, functional liquor operation a block east of High Street and Fifth Avenue.
"We've been working on this project for over two years," Konya said. "It was kind of like the girlfriend that no one ever sees."
Pronounced "oh-WHY-oh," the small-batch spirit will be available in local bars and restaurants and will retail at stores for $34. Because of a special license issued by the Ohio Division of Liquor Control, Middle West will be able to sell bottles from their lobby.
"Vodka is something that we wanted to try and teach people about," said Lang, a fourth-generation distiller whose family practiced the proud tradition of Pennsylvania rum-running. "What you traditionally know of as vodka is not what we're trying to do."
To raise the bar, Lang and Konya hashed out special formulas. They waded through state liquor control's frustrating legal code. They pitched roughly two dozen banks their plan to make vodka.
In relatively small batches. In Ohio. During a recession.
Now, beneath the shadow of their gleaming copper still, two eager entrepreneurs are prepared to introduce local drinkers to the world of micro-spirits - to bring an infant trend to Columbus and hawk hand-crafted liquor built to celebrate the Buckeye State.
"[Middle West] is an Ohio story," Konya said. "It's a Columbus story. It's about agriculture and manufacturing. It's about small business."