In Good Spirits at Middle West

From the July/August 2014 issue of Capital Style
  • “Always taste (a spirit) by itself,” says Brady, at left, with Ryan. “You should always taste it at the strength the distiller bottled it at. Because they are making a statement.”

Brady Konya and Ryan Lang sit at a large farmhouse-style table under a sparkling chandelier that softens the industrial warehouse feel at Middle West Spirits in the Short North. Large copper machinery clangs to life 30 feet away as the distillery founders confess it’s been years since they’ve sat down together, just to chat. Konya, a former advertising exec, and Lang, an engineer by trade, have been moving at light speed since they opened in 2008.

They’ve grown from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet with products ranging from vodka to bourbon to barrel-aged vinegar. Middle West Spirits are sold in 15 markets around the country. They’ll add another five this year as accolades continue to pour in from national pubs like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The growth of Middle West Spirits is the result of a perfectly timed meet-cute, community support and the ability to stay true to one great story. 

Here are six things you should know about Middle West Spirits.

1. They met by chance—AT AN A&F DINNER.

Brady: Our spouses work for Abercrombie. The community out there is fairly intense and insular. Being a plus-one can be difficult. I think that’s where you saw the genesis of the creative guy and the engineer making nice.

2. They’re in the family business.

Ryan: It just so happens my family has been in this industry a long time, illegally. My great grandmother did go to jail for moonshining. When I met [Brady], I said, “I know how to make this stuff.”

3. It was a concept that almost wasn’t.

Brady: We had to go to banks for gap financing. We had 16 or 17 “no’s” before we had a “yes.” Then the small business association declined our application. A band of independent Columbus restaurant owners (who hadn’t tried a drop of Middle West’s spirits) said if Brady and Ryan build it, we will come. The vote of confidence was the reason we got the financing.

4. It took some trial and error.

Ryan: We threw away a lot of product when we started. It’s like giving a 15-year-old a Ferrari. The equipment that we bought from Germany is some very, very nice equipment. You don’t know what you are doing to a certain degree. But it led us to where we are today.

5. Middle West is Ohio in a bottle. 

Brady: We always say (we’re) culinary spirits. (It’s) always back to this idea of a wine story in the liquor bottle capturing that sense of terroir. That gives us relevance in every market outside of Ohio—local sourcing not for the sake of just being a good steward of the environment, but for flavor. The flavors of grains and ingredients change based on where you harvest them from.

6. There’s more to come. 

Ryan: We have a lot more oaked products that people don’t know about. We have a couple of whiskeys we’ll be releasing this year. We have a collaboration project (a brandy) that will come out at the end of the year. (We have) a new style of bourbon we’ve been barrel aging. We’re giving it a unique Ohio twist. It’s gone from a three to a four to now a five-grain product, and it’s got a couple of spins on it.