Vodka is something I’ve always taken for granted. No matter what brand I happen to purchase, it tastes pretty much the same. It is, after all, a neutral spirit. Buying vodka is a no-brainer: I refuse to pay premium price for designer vodkas; I don’t need to impress anyone that much. If I happen to find myself with expendable income earmarked for premium alcohol, it’s going toward a Scotch or small-batch rye—alcohol where the price is justified. I will never spend more than $20 on a bottle of something I can’t sip, neat. I never thought I’d spend more than that on a vodka.
But Middle West Spirits OYO (pronounced “O-Why-O”) vodka is like no other vodka and one you definitely don’t want to take for granted; in fact, it won’t let you. OYO’s character and body are more reminiscent of a whiskey than a vodka. It has a full, round flavor that carries subtle fruity notes and finishes well. OYO is anything but a neutral spirit. Its complex character makes it not only a good sipping vodka, but blends well even in ice cream, as evidenced by Jeni’s latest flavor, Oakvale Young Gouda with OYO Vodka-Plumped Cranberries.
The success of OYO is due to owner/operators Brady Konya’s and Ryan Lang’s due diligence and thinking outside of traditional production methods. They’ve invested much research and thought into all aspects of their distillery: from sourcing local soft, red winter wheat to smart production practices, greatly reducing fossil fuel usage. Partnering with businesses like Jeni’s and local farmers, as well as with institutions like OSU for green initiatives, Middle West Spirits is not only investing in the local economy and environment, but taking an active role in the Columbus community-at-large. And their methods are not only responsible, they’re successful. They’ve managed to produce a vodka that’s not just locally produced, but a world-class spirit, recently placing 7 out of 140 vodkas by the Beverage Tasting Institute.
The heart of Middle West Spirits, however, lies in the passion and respect Konya and Lang have for their craft. OYO is a product built from the ground up using quality, local ingredients and artisan-like attention to detail. OYO isn’t made in a factory with computer-controlled tanks and stills. Human interaction is required at every step, tweaking and compensating, ensuring consistency through taste, touch, and smell. Even the packaging, which includes a wax-dipped bottle top and hand-lettered batch number, is indicative of Konya’s and Lang’s dedication to creating hand-crafted, small-batch vodka.
Middle West Spirits’ next release is a honey and vanilla bean infused OYO Vodka. Following that, they will be launching their OYO Whiskey (also based on soft, red winter wheat) in early 2011. I was fortunate enough to get a taste of this whiskey and look forward to the final product. If they can make a complex-tasting vodka, imagine what they can do with a whiskey. But don’t take that for granted.