Bourbons across the Buckeye State

Written by on June 12, 2015 in Liquor - 3 Comments

watershed-bourbonWhen my family moved from the east coast to the midwest years ago, I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea. Our Maryland friends took to calling us “squirrel hunters” and seemed to be under the impression that corn farming was now a serious career path for us kids. Fourteen years later, while sipping on a OYO bourbon mule at the Drink Up Columbus Anniversary party, I found myself grinning smugly to myself in squirrel-less glory.

Ohio distilleries have been working to establish themselves as a legitimate presence in the bourbon community. Being neighbors with the bourbon capital of the U.S. can offer a little stiff competition but also a nurturing atmosphere. Many distillers have heard the doubts that “you can’t call it bourbon if it’s made in Ohio” but it doesn’t seem to be stopping them, probably because it’s not true – to be called a bourbon, a spirit just needs to be 1) made in the US 2) at least 51% corn and 3) aged in new, charred oak barrels.

Watershed Distillery double-distills small batches of corn, wheat, rye and spelt in American oak barrels to produce a relatively young bourbon. Spelt is an ancient grain (sounds fancy, right?) with a nutty flavor.The unique characteristics as a result of the addition of spelt landed Watershed Bourbon on Time Out‘s Ten best bourbon list in 2013. Available in Ohio, Kentucky, New York and Illinois, Watershed bourbon seems to be clearly identified as new-wave bourbon, but that’s exactly what makes people take notice.

The folks at Middle West Spirits are also working to get Ohio bourbon on the map with a different signature style. Middle West uses corn, wheat, rye and barley in their whiskey, blending their OYO wheat whiskey with rye bourbon form Kentucky. A few weeks back, co-owner Brady Konya said something to me about going local for the reason that local is actually better, not just simply for the sake of buying local. While loosely paraphrased, I believe this mantra is part of what makes their bourbon so special. The use of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey with their own locally-sourced and produced wheat whiskey pays homage to the big dogs while still representing its home town—and it’s delicious.

Up north, Red Eagle Spirits is operating a small microdistillery where it sells its bourbon only premise. The first legal distillery north of Cleveland since prohibition, Red Eagle Distillery opened in 2012. It is hyper-local, made with Ashtabula county gown corn and rye from owner Gene Steigl’s farm. The distillery is located near South River Vineyard, owned and operated by Steigl and his wife. From the sound of it, Steigl likes to experiment with each batch of bourbon so no two batches are the same. It might be worth a trip to this couple’s boozy businesses if you’re headed up north.

Equally “micro” is Woodstone Creek Distillery near Cincinnati. Woodstone Creek proudly holds the title of Ohio’s first and oldest licensed microdistillery. Don Outterson and his wife Linda founded Woodstone Creek in 1999 and recently re-opened the distillery in a new locations in St. Bernard. A certified brewmaster, distiller and winemaker, Don certainly has his hands full. They produce their bourbon “as it sells,” he said and is currently aged to 8 years and 10 years. They’ll make anywhere between three-five barrels a year using traditional aging techniques and a 238 gallon potstill. Their spirits are sold at the distillery and select retailers. The Ohio Liquor Control’s website has a list of where you can find Woodstone Creek products.

Other Ohio-made Bourbons:
Tom Foolery Distillery’s Ohio Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Apparently known for their applejack brandy, Tom Foolery Distillery in Chagrin Falls started making its sour mash bourbon in 2014, a mix of rye, corn and barley that’s aged in charred oak barrels for about two-four years.

Flat Rock Spirits’ StillWright’s Bourbon. Flat Rock Spirits is a family owned distillery that produced moonshines, rum and bourbon. It is a wheated bourbon that’s been barrel aged for about two years. For what it’s worth, it took home a gold metal from the American Craft Spirits Association this year.

June 14 is National Bourbon Day – pick up an Ohio bourbon to celebrate!

About the Author

Interests include beers, bikes, elderflower in everything and maybe bourbon on the rocks - if she's feeling fancy. @AbigailLHoff on Twitter, @ahofri on Instagram.

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