The first time I tasted OYO Vodka, it changed my conceptual understanding of what vodka is. It raised my standards, and my eyebrows, and made me want to drink OYO exclusively. My initial taste of OYO Honey Vanilla Bean was the beginning of a long love affair that turned into a three-way with a splash of ginger beer. Their whiskey is incredibly flavorful and well worth the money. Their latest vodka, OYO Stone Fruit, is a well-crafted complement to the rest of their lineup. I am in love with everything they make.
As for the $10 tour and tasting they offer? Not so much.
MWS has a pretty neat facility located in the heart of the Short North. It’s well furnished, not overly done, and captures the industry vibe so you know you’re definitely in a distillery. There’s a feel of Ohio in the warehouse, which used to be a garage for cabs. It’s stripped down but somehow manages to feel classy, and all of the action takes place right next to the tasting area. Me likey.
Their copper still is huge and certainly a point of interest in the room. The tour began in the front of the warehouse (not the storefront, which functions as a small lobby/purchasing area), where customers perched on stools and listened to the story of MWS’ early beginnings. The short amount of time spent talking about the distilling process was the most interesting, and to me should have been the meat of the tour. The tasting included all of their products, and a splash of Grey Goose to compare OYO to. We were lucky to take the tour just before the release of the Stone Fruit Vodka, which was pretty awesome.
I like the idea for the flow of the tour: give background/history, talk about the definition of vodka, receive tour of distilling facility, taste liquor, leave happy.
Although the concept is good, execution matters just as much and unfortunately the tour I received of MWS was, quite simply, disappointing.
What motivates a consumer to purchase a product? Many people argue Apple is so successful because of their branding, yet others point out that the reason iPhones win over Droids is due to user interface design- it’s clean, easy to learn, and functions beautifully. Their intuitive user interface is second to none and although some are along for the joy of the bandwagon ride, most Mac users realize this.
This is what I thought about as we heard a 45 minute soliloquy about why OYO Vodka is superior to all others.
Sure, there was mention of taste and mouthfeel, of why the vodka tastes that way, but for the most part the tour was one big advertisement: an advertisement which spent much of the time discussing how other vodka companies use only advertising to sell a, more often than not, inferior product. If you didn’t already know that OYO Vodka is handcrafted, artisanal, and made from local products, they won’t let you leave without beating it into your skull at MWS.
Have you ever gotten a headache from hearing someone say local 28 times in a matter of 11 minutes? I didn’t know it was possible. As a true locavore and proponent of Ohio small business, I felt like a traitor as I squirmed and griped in the corner. I was hungry, bored, and interested in distilling, not why people choose Grey Goose over Stoli, or why the maker of Tito’s is a big fat liar because they don’t mash their own grain. The thing was, I could not have cared less. I didn’t come to MWS to hear about how crappy Tito’s is, or how Watershed has a tiny still, I came to hear about the products, how they’re made, and how distilling works.
OYO Vodka is clearly different from most other vodkas. It makes sense that it’s award winning. It is an outlier, a stand-alone all-star amongst overpriced, watery alternatives that lack flavor and depth. That is why we buy it. Not because we’re angry at Kamchatka for existing, or even because it’s made from Ohio red winter wheat from a micro climate near Toledo (in case you didn’t realize, Ohio apparently has “micro climates”). It’s just good. It has value – inherent, independent worth that is derived solely from its mere existence.
We left at 8:45 pm, 75 minutes past the time we were told the tour would end and the tasting was still going on when we stepped out. The irony was not lost on my boyfriend either. He was just as baffled as I was about how such an incredibly high quality product was accompanied by such a “smoke and mirrors” presentation. The product speaks for itself, adornments are unnecessary, especially adornments that cost us an hour of time and our dinner reservations on a Friday night.
It’s really easy to sing the praises of all Columbus local favorites – we are a lucky bunch to be privy to so many successful and creative small businesses which produce high quality products that are more often than not worth every penny they cost. Middle West Spirits definitely falls into this category, and it goes without saying. I have yet to meet a Columbus-native, or even an out-of-towner, who has tasted MWS liquors and been disappointed.
I wanted to ask for my ten dollars and three hours of my life back so I could just buy a bottle of OYO Whiskey, take it home, and sip on it while I read the How Stuff Works article on distilling. At least then I could have made it to my dinner reservation.