Middle West Spirits is city's first micro-distillery

The 'great experiment'

What's actually in a Middle West bottle might surprise you.

A far cry from the rubbing-alcohol mixer you toss back at a bachelor party, Oyo is built to be enjoyed neat or to highlight the flavors of fresh cocktail ingredients. It has a distinctly round and pleasant smell, and when you swirl it, the legs run down the glass.

"Most people drink stuff that they dump in orange juice or they dump in a Red Bull," Lang said. "I could pour [Oyo] in a snifter, and I could drink that all afternoon."

Its delicate character comes from special wheat sourced from Northeast Ohio, water run through a five-part filtration system and a distillation with numerous points of contact. Each stage of the process affects the drink's smell, taste and finish, the keys to quality booze.

"Right now, for a bartender in Ohio to get their hands on a really great craft spirit, they would have to illegally source it," Konya said. "They would either have to drive a truck and bring it back or they'd have to order it in a way that right now is classified as illegal."

Middle West hopes to change that climate. But even on a local level, the company faces an uphill battle to bring Oyo into the public eye.

Different vodkas lines the shelves of bars, restaurants and grocery stores, and multinational brands spend about a third of gross revenue on marketing. The industry is enormous, crowded and scary.

Rather than try to beat the big guys at their game, Middle West will attempt a grassroots push, talking to bartenders and preaching craft-spirit potential one drinker at a time.

Gradually, Lang and Konya hope to change the perception that artisan vodka is a contradiction.

"Middle West is a proof of concept as a commercially viable micro-distillery for the state - it's kind of the great experiment for the category," Konya said. "If we could be in one out of every 400 vodka cocktails in Ohio in five years, the business was worth getting into."