Craft distilling is the biggest thing to happen in the spirits industry since prohibition. In 2005 there were 50 licensed distilleries operating in the United States and in 2012 that number had climbed to 250. At first glance Middle West Spirits in Columbus Ohio looks a lot like many of the other micro distilleries that have opened in that time frame. Owned by a small group of dedicated young professionals who left (presumably) lucrative jobs in other fields to start a distillery, Middle West has the slick marketing, steep prices, and even the obligatory connection to moonshining that I’ve seen at a lot of other craft distilleries.
Once you get a little deeper into the distillery, you begin to notice the things that make Middle West different. Full sized barrels of their own whiskey aging in the corner. Sacks of grain from Ohio farms. Craft vinegar bottles ready for sampling.
Charlie and I visited with one of the owners, Brady Konya, to talk about what makes them different and recorded a great interview. We had a very interesting discussion and were even able to get a few samples of their products for review. So, here are my thoughts after being able to sit down with the Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka, an infusion made with local wildflower honey and fair trade vanilla beans.
OYO Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka
OYO’s traditional vodka is made with 100% soft red winter wheat and is the flagship bottle of Middle West Spirits. They do two seasonal infusion with the vodka, a stone fruit and the honey vanilla bean. The base spirit is really important to the overall taste of the infusion so let me speak a little bit about what makes OYO vodka different. Most American vodka is very focused right now on being as pure and tasteless as possible which is one of the reasons I don’t really get that excited about vodka. But in direct contrast to this trend, OYO Vodka is very minimally filtered. The flavor of the grain, yeast, and natural sugars come through and it actually makes a vodka that not only has flavor, it is a really complex and pleasurable flavor. So when making infusions with OYO vodka you are not starting with a blank slate. Middle West has clearly been very thoughtful about which flavors to pair with the vodka and it shows.
And now for honey vanilla vodka itself. It has a nice body with a creamy mouth feel. The nose is sweet and floral with a clear vanilla scent. On the first taste the honey and vanilla flavors are there but they mingle nicely with more delicate notes of grass and almond. At 80 proof this is a true vodka infusion and the alcohol content is strong enough to stand up to the sweetness. The result is a peppery finish the leaves heat in the mouth but is nicely smooth going down. I really enjoyed sipping this vodka neat but the flavors would also lend themselves to mixing with citrus, pear, or coffee flavors in a cocktail.
If you want to try the Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka, I will be featuring OYO vodka and bourbon at the Local Beers and Spirits class I am teaching February 4th at Gorman Farms. I’d love to see you there and get your opinion of the Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka as well.
Cincinnati’s own Triple Digit Brewing Company is releasing a new beer. Known for their triple digit original gravity beers all clocking in upwards of 10% they are adding to that lineup with Cranium. A bourbon barrel aged imperial oatmeal stout with coffee and vanilla. Suffice to say this beer has a lot going on and a lot going for it! I stopped by Dutch’s Bar, Bottle Shop, and Larder tonight for the draft release party. If you weren’t able to make it then hit up Listermann’s Brewery this Friday (11/8) for the bottle release.
One of the great things about making cocktails is the almost endless number of ways you can combine spirits and mixers to create new taste profiles. With the rainbow of flavored vodkas and liqueurs on the market this is more true now than ever. But I am here today to let you know that there is an easier and cheaper way to get new and interesting flavors in your cocktails. You could create your own infused spirits, liqueurs, and even bitters from ingredients you have at home but the easiest way to start to really customize your cocktails is with homemade syrups.
The simplest recipe is of course for simple syrup. A huge number of cocktails call for additional sugar and simple syrup is the easiest way to get a smooth mix. Simply boil equal parts sugar and water until they are dissolved and there you have it. It will keep in the fridge for up to six months but to extend the shelf life even longer add a little vodka; I usually use about 1/2 a teaspoon per cup of syrup. To this basic recipe you can add just about any flavor you want during the boiling phase: herbs, fruit, and tea all work well. Or you can replace the water with juice and go from there. The possibilities are endless. Also these syrups can be mixed with club soda to make your own sodas and virgin cocktails for non-drinkers.
To get you started here is one I have come up with recently that I really liked but I encourage you to experiment freely because there is not a lot you can do to mess this up.
Vanilla Violet Syrup
1 cup fresh violets
1 cup boiling water
1 cut vanilla bean
1 cup sugar
Fresh lemon juice
First pick the violets growing profusely this time of year in your front yard or better yet, have a small child pick them for you. Put the violets in a mason jar and cover with one cup of boiling water. Let the mixture sit over night or up to 24 hours to steep.
Strain the mixture and press out all of the liquid. It will be kind of blue grey at this point. That is ok. Put the violet water in a pan, add the sugar and the vanilla bean and bring to a low boil for 10 minutes. Strain the syrup through a nice thick cheesecloth because the vanilla will leave specks. Next add the lemon juice to adjust the color. It doesn’t take much so add just about 1/4 teaspoon to start and add more until you get the color you want. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator. This syrup makes a delicious cocktail that is a variation on the aviator cocktail so I called it:
Shake well over ice and serve in a cocktail glass.
I realize that violets are a little fiddly and obscure as an ingredient but since I’ve really been getting into the idea of local drinks I couldn’t resist using something that was literally growing right outside my front door. Check out Episode 10 of Bottoms Up for recipes for Mandarin Orange Syrup and Rosemary Mint Syrup if you want recipes that don’t involve foraging.
So far my excursion into dark beers has been less than stunning especially this week with cans of Guinness Draught and Murphy’s. I expect this beer to radically change all that, at the very least in terms of getting me drunk since this is more than double the ABV of either of those two.
I stopped by Rivertown earlier today to grab a pint of the Winter Ale (review here) while I was there I got my growler filled with their Roebling Imperial Porter off of the nitro tap. I did this because I’ve had a few Roeblings over the year and never given them a full review but also as part of the winter of my of dark content. I also scored 2 bottles of Gueuze, but more on that another day.
There are a number of bridges crossing the Ohio river in Cincinnati (or Covington/Newport if you wanna be a Kentuckian about it), one of which is a big yellow arch (the big mac), another purple one for people (cleverly named the purple people bridge), and another old fashioned looking one with 2 big towers and suspension cables. That last one is the John A. Roebling suspension bridge. Most notable for being the precursor to the Brooklyn bridge it’s also the oldest bridge in Cinci, and is a damn fine piece of construction that has been carrying traffic for almost 140 years! Ok.. honestly I never new any of that before having 2 pints of this beer and doing some Googling, it’s a pretty cool story and I suggest everyone check it out knowing being half the battle and all that. But you’re not here for history, so on to the beer!