Middle West Spirits is city's first micro-distillery

Micro management

Micro-spirits are just that on the surface - booze made in smaller quantities.

But like their counterparts in beer and wine, artisan distillers often take the definition deeper. They evangelize a buy-local, community-first ethic and sacrifice scale for attention to detail. The belief is that drinkers get a better product when the guys making it get their hands dirty every step of the way.

"It's not just about your technology and having the best production facility," Konya said. "It's really the sensory side and focusing on your recipe and the human aspect of distillation."

Commonplace throughout Europe and other parts of the world, micro-distilleries started booming stateside in the mid 1990s in the Pacific Northwest, California and Colorado. The American Distilling Institute pegs the total number at around 206, up from 60 just seven years ago.

Institute president Bill Owens said that increased information and demand for quality liquor has boosted the industry, which constantly battles dated city codes and competition from global brands.

"You've got to spend the money," Owens said of getting started. "Planning could take a year, and getting the equipment in the building could take a year. The only thing more difficult would be to open a nuclear reactor."

Even so, micro-distilleries are on the rise.

During the past few decades, big liquor began releasing ultra-premium spirits, which created the higher price point smaller distilleries needed to turn a profit. Popular craft breweries like Rogue began to cook harder stuff. And makers of small-scale spirits hopped on the locavore bandwagon, the idea that you could follow your products from plot to plate.

Today, operations from California to Maine craft everything from applejack and grappa to high-end bourbon and gin. Middle West joins two others in Ohio - Tom's Foolery in Chagrin Falls and Woodstone Creek in Cincinnati - but will be the first in the state to be scaled commercially.

Down the road, Middle West plans to release gin and whiskey. Vodka, though, is often among a distillery's first runs because it can be made quickly, doesn't need to age and has a wider appeal than niche nips like, say, pomegranate schnapps.

"Vodka is the most widely used liquor in the world, so the market for it's large," Lang said. "It's the easiest product to get out in the shortest amount of time. From grain to bottle can be as short as eight days."