Bourbon. In Ohio.


Kentucky will always supply the legacy, but it’s no longer the only state making great bourbon.

By Francine Maroukian
Photos by Levi Brown

Just as barbecue and the blues arrived in the Midwest after the Civil War when newly emancipated workers came up the Mississippi, bourbon made its way up the Ohio River to the pre-Prohibition distilleries of Columbus and Cincinnati. "Our 200-mile proximity to Louisville creates a geographical spillover," says Ryan Lang, a former engineer and the cofounder of Middle West Spirits in Columbus, Ohio. "It's a unique prairie southern region. We share many resources, including grain varieties, distinctive limestone-filtered water, and weather patterns that affect the aging process." But even with those similarities, Middle West Spirits' bourbon is truly a product of Ohio. "With the exception of specialty malted barley, which no one in Ohio has the facilities to process," Lang says, "our grains are sourced from a 40-mile radius of our plant."

Founded in 2008, Middle West occupied a small portion of a 1920s-era warehouse in the Weinland Park neighborhood of Columbus. As the company grew, instead of finding a new, larger facility, Middle West Spirits developed vertically, adding to the single-story building it already occupied by constructing a five-story exoskeleton above its original 10,000-square-foot footprint.

The exoskeleton was created to house larger-scale equipment including a new column still, created by Vendome Copper & Brass in Louisville, to allow Middle West to use continuous-distillation technology. Because the column couldn't be brought into the warehouse through the front door, the still was dropped in by crane before the roof of the new addition was added. "What once took several weeks to produce batch-by-batch in a pot still now takes six hours," Lang says. Not that it brings them even with the big liquor producers. With the new automated distilling process, Middle West is "still just a blip on the screen compared to legacy brands," Lang says. "They can produce a barrel in seven to 30 seconds."

What they can't produce is Middle West's OYO (pronounced oh-why-oh, from the Iroquois for "the great river") Bourbon Whiskey, Michelone Reserve, a double gold winner at the 2016 Berlin International Spirits Competition, where Middle West was named the U.S. Distillery of the Year. We asked Lang to explain how Michelone Reserve meets the United States Code of Federal Regulations' three main bourbon requirements while still reflecting Middle West's signature.