Review: OYO Vodka

I recently had a chance to tour a brand spanking new distillery right here where I live in Columbus, Ohio. Middle West Spirits has set up in a re-purposed auto service garage and has begun producing fine artisanal liquor. Middle West is a fascinating story in many ways, from their production methods, to the community efforts of their principals, to the challenges and obstacles we as a society present to startup businesses in this industry. I hope to write about all of these subject in coming weeks, but for this post I just want to do a review of the first product they have commercially available, OYO Vodka.

{Welcome Foodista readers! I hope you’ll look around while you are here. In addition to spirits reviews, I also do bar reviews, cocktail recipes, intermittent tikiblogging, and a lot about basement bar design, among other things.}

I’ll talk about the spirit, but first we have to talk about the name. It is not “Oh-Yo”, nor “Oi-oh”, but “O-Why-O”, as in an older pronunciation of Ohio. I like the name, but I foresee future marketing problems with it if (as I expect) this brand takes off outside of the Midwest.

OYO is not anything like your standard, made for the American market, vodka. The common American idea is that vodka needs to be as tasteless as possible. We tend to call this lack of character “smooth”. But drinkers who expand their horizons to liquors beyond vodka soon realize their definition of “smooth” simply means “bland”. Try a high-end Bourbon or Cognac, and you will see that “smooth” can be complex, rich, and flavorful.

The methods used, indeed bragged about, by Vodka makers are designed to hunt down character, kill it, and drag the corpse as far away from their product as they can. They repeatedly distill and repeatedly charcoal filter their spirit (perhaps pouring in some glycerin) until this body dump is complete. And for a huge portion of the drinking public, this just the right thing. If your aim is to look cool whilst jacking up your BAC, then by all means, order your “Martini” or your Triple Cranberry Fandango with Grey Goose.

Middle West goes a different way. OYO is single-distilled. That is, their first-of-its-kind-in-the-US Kothe Vodka Still takes their mash all the way to the required 190 proof in one pass. Further, they do not use any charcoal filtration at all. They run the product through a product that is essentially a coffee filter on steroids, but this only removes visible particulates and performs no chemical filtration. Of course, they discard the first and last cuts, where the bad congeners dwell, but what remains is a spirit that while still definitely vodka, is very distinct from most others you’ll find on shelves.

The first, and to me most noticeable difference is in the texture. I normally avoid phrases like “mouth-feel” as belonging to pretentious foodies and/or wine snobs. But I can’t think of a better phrase to use to describe this difference between OYO and your average, run-of-the-mill $35 Vodka. It simply feels different in your mouth. While viscous isn’t exactly right it coats your tongue and feels thicker in your mouth. I remember Head Distiller Ryan Lang swirling a glass of OYO before handing it to me. It developed big, beautiful legs in the glass, but did so much more slowly than I’m used to.
Beyond the texture, there is also a taste component difference in OYO. I wouldn’t say it has a flavor, Vodka shouldn’t, but there is a depth and breadth to the burn that you don’t usually get. Ryan suggested several hints of flavor that are present in OYO, but I’ll leave those to him. My mind doesn’t process flavors like that, so I very seldom pick up that “hint of Montmorency cherries” people will rave about in some new cabernet either. What I did note was the pleasant fact that more of my tongue was engaged while sipping OYO than I am used to.

The differences are subtle, but quite real. And all to the good (with one odd exception I mention below).

OYO is distilled from 100% whole Ohio-grown red winter wheat, which arrives at the distillery as bags of (custom ground?) flour. I am usually a potato vodka guy, but this works very well.
Wheat and water go in 1230 Courtland Ave., and bottled OYO rolls out. The still I mentioned before dominates the center of the building and is a real beauty. Middle West has a beautiful efficient setup, which has room and is laid out to expand as demand grows.

Now, how do you drink this stuff? Well, it’s Vodka. You can do most anything with it, but I have some suggestions of ways that take most advantage of its different character. Some of this comes from my explorations with a bottle of OYO that they presented me with when I toured the distillery, and some from their brand ambassador, my friend Cris Dehlavi.

First, this is a wonderful Vodka Martini product. It is delicious if you are from the “glass of cold vodka” school, but I think it extends and enlivens the drink even more when you use a measurable amount of vermouth, say 4-1, and some Regan’s Orange Bitters.

I had thought that it would make an interesting Old-Fashioned. But experimentation showed me that subtlety of the OYO is wiped out here. In fact, the sweeter the drink, the less interesting and distinctive the OYO’s effect. Along this same line, do not use OYO in Vodka Gimlets or Kamikazes. Rose’s and OYO do not get along very well at all.

Beyond that caveat, OYO likes regular lime juice. But I think if you want citrus, you are better off starting with lemons.
I’ll offer one of Cris’ recipes she has created to promote OYO, called the Summer Thyme. It works nicely as a counterpart to the Vodka Martini to show how OYO works in a more complex vodka cocktail.

SUMMER THYME

  • 1.5 oz. OYO vodka
  • .5 oz Grand Marnier
  • .5 oz simple syrup*
  • .5 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • .5 oz fresh squeezed orange juice

Muddle fresh thyme lightly in simple syrup. Add all other Ingredients and shake with ice. Double strain into martini glass. Garnish with thyme sprig.

* A more experienced cocktailian is going to want to reduce or even eliminate the simple in this, I think. Try muddling the thyme in the Grand Marnier.

Right now, you can only get OYO in Ohio, but they hope to have that rectified soon. I’ll let you know. They have only been in production for a few months, and I’m told that the response has been very promising.
If you want to see the distillery for yourself (it’s a fascinating facility) they have weekly open houses every Wednesday from 5-7 PM.

The-Liquor-Fairy-ThumbThe Liquor Fairy Was Here!
The following product, OYO Vodka, was recently provided to me as promotional consideration to encourage me to discuss it.
For a complete disclosure of my policies regarding promotional items and all other financial interests, please click this link, or follow the Liquor Fairy link in the header of this page.

About the author

Doug

I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.

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