Embracing Hospitality and Innovation With Ryan Lang of Middle West Spirits

by Drew Hendricks
Last updated Mar 16, 2023

Legends Behind the Craft Podcast

Embracing Hospitality and Innovation With Ryan Lang of Middle West Spirits

Last Updated on March 16, 2023 by

Ryan Lang
Embracing Hospitality and Innovation With Ryan Lang of Middle West Spirits 11

Ryan Lang is the Co-founder, CEO, and Master Distiller of Middle West Spirits, an Ohio-based craft distillery. He is a fourth-generation distiller, going back to the early 1900s when distilling was a way for farms to bring in extra money. As a believer in vodka with character, Ryan is also a contributor to the four-part blend of American Liquor Co.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Ryan Lang shares how he got into the distilling business
  • The challenges Ryan faced when Middle West Spirits first started
  • How Ryan scaled Middle West’s sales 
  • The supply chain challenges over the last year
  • What was the inflection point for Middle West Spirits?
  • How hospitality has evolved over the last 12 years

In this episode with Ryan Lang

Wineries and distilleries are ever-changing, so you must be agile and innovative to stay afloat. For one business that’s been operating for over a decade, there have been many challenges to conquer. What does it take to keep thriving?

Today’s guest proudly shares his experiences leading a distillery, Middle West Spirits, which was built on four generations of distilling traditions. Since Middle West opened its doors, it has focused on elevating the distinctive flavors of the Ohio River Valley.

In today’s episode of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast, Drew Thomas Hendricks sits down with Ryan Lang, Co-founder, CEO, and Master Distiller of Middle West Spirits. Ryan shares how he got into the distilling business and the challenges he faced when starting the company. He also talks about Middle West Spirits’ product lines, its focus on hospitality, and how the business evolved from operating in a warehouse to a big facility.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Barrels Ahead.

Barrels Ahead is a wine and craft marketing agency that propels organic growth by using a powerful combination of content development, Search Engine Optimization, and paid search.

At Barrels Ahead, we know that your business is unique. That’s why we work with you to create a one-of-a-kind marketing strategy that highlights your authenticity, tells your story, and makes your business stand out from your competitors.

Our team at Barrels Ahead helps you leverage your knowledge so you can enjoy the results and revenue your business deserves.

So, what are you waiting for? Unlock your results today!

To learn more, visit barrelsahead.com or email us at hello@barrelsahead.com to schedule a strategy call.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:03  

Welcome to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where we feature top leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry with your host Drew Hendricks. Now let’s get started with the show.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  0:19  

Drew Thomas Hendricks here, I’m the host of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast, where I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. Today’s episode is sponsored by Barrels Ahead. At Barrels Ahead, we work with you to implement a one of a kind marketing strategy. One that highlights your authenticity, tells your story and connects you with your ideal customers. In short, we help wineries and craft beverage producers unlock their story to unleash their revenue. Go to barrelsahead.com today to learn more. Today, I’m super excited to talk with Ryan Lang. Ryan is the founder and CEO at Middle West Spirits. Welcome to the show, Ryan.

Ryan Lang  0:55  

Thank you for having me. Glad we finally got it scheduled. Absolutely. Sorry for being difficult.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  1:01  

Oh, no, no, we are on and I am stoked. We have actually have a little bit of a tasting component to our show today. But before we jump into that, how, talk to us about how you how you got into the distilling business.

Ryan Lang  1:14  

Boy, it’s been about 15 years now. I just had moved to Columbus from Charlotte, North Carolina and was at a company was an engineer for a company for some time. And I knew I always wanted to kind of start my own business. And this was prior to really any of the craft segment really growing there was only 40 50 at the time. And you know, the concept behind distilling was intriguing. My family comes from an agricultural background, we own farms in Pennsylvania. So it was it was kind of something that we wanted to get back to personally and was a way to do that without, you know, driving a tractor, so to speak. So we started building the case for a distillery and then made a trip to Alameda, California and went to Hangar one. Oh, yeah. It’s and I met a lot of wonderful people there had a great time. And that was the beginning. And then, you know, a lot of business plan writing later, a lot of begging banks to give us money to get started. We started Midwest in 2008.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  2:23  

That was early in the craft distilling movement.

Ryan Lang  2:25  

It was it was it was only you know, I think we’re in the 50s. As far as licenses go, I think

Drew Thomas Hendricks  2:33  

what brought on the the resurgence and all these kind of micro craft distilleries?

Ryan Lang  2:37  

Well, I think in the brewing world, I You saw the proliferation starting to grow. And you know, the Sterling was just the next one to take hold, it’s a very different model in that you’re investing capital today that you often don’t see returns for five to seven years. So a little bit of a different path for but, you know, prior to prohibition, there were about 7500 licenses, licenses. In the United States prohibition obviously ended that run. But as the craft brewing where it was taking off, and you saw it go from 2000, to 4000, and so on and so forth, it was only a natural progression for people to start getting into pioneering craft distilling again, outside of the big guys, you would know that, you know, like MGP, or in Kentucky or in Tennessee. So it started small, I would say it started on the West Coast. That’s where a lot of our inspiration came from. And then we ended up meeting a group in Chicago called co vol. And Robert sonnenberger. There, and they started putting workshops on and we went to one and you know, decided this is what we’re going to do and, and started, you know, figuring out how to fail and succeed. And, yeah, it’s been 15 years of a lot of investment and growth. And it’s crazy, you know, if we were in the 50s it’s in the 3000 4000 range now for whoever distilleries out there. So it’s taken off. And it’s been wonderful to watch and see it grow in Ohio. We were one of the first and I think there were up till almost 60 Now in Ohio.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  4:08  

Wow. Wow. Yeah, just locally here and I’m based out of Carlsbad and here in San Diego and one of my favorites is Malahat down in Miramar area. But then just just within the vicinity of where I am there’s there’s there’s a there’s a few there’s henna berries, there’s 117 West so I love to see the resurgence but you’re you’re a little higher level after 15 years going when he just started what what was the first spirit that you started with?

Ryan Lang  4:36  

Much like everybody, we started with vodka.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  4:40  

We gotta sell something Well,

Ryan Lang  4:42  

we had to we had to set so when we first started, like I said our our background was agriculture and so heavily focused on that and tried to find something that Ohio produced well, and then we could turn into our first spirit and that ended up being soft red winter wheat and we tested into asked and tested and we’d still run vodka, which is painstakingly a painstakingly long process for how slowly if the runs still the skills that we had at the time. And we kind of found our niche around that. And at the same time, we also knew that we wanted to turn that into whiskey. So while we were making the vodka, we’re also laying up the whiskey, but honestly, we couldn’t release it for some time. So that’s where we started and then added a ton of dark spirits and in gins and whatnot. That to me,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  5:29  

that’s a that’s a great growth story. So on your on your vodka, what’s the composition so it’s a we did, it’s a wheat podcast. And then you’ve got it. Gin, what sort of botanicals are in the gin?

Ryan Lang  5:40  

So we have the venom peddle gin, that is out right now. And then we have a new one that we’re getting ready to launch this holiday season. And they’re very different. The first of them and pedal is an American dry style gin. It has tremendous amount of botanicals in it, and we actually went more culinary. When we started it. We took our base, Ohio vodka, and then we started to botanical infuse it and we started with 44 botanicals. We ended up at 18. All said and done. And we use things like mace, which is the outside of nutmeg, leprechaun tea. So it’s a very culinary inspired product. Yeah, that’s got a lot going on. It’s very savory as a gin, tonic coriander, but one of the primaries is elderberry, elderberry, flour, elderberry. So these little, amazingly flavored products. And it’s the concentration on it’s exceptionally high. So it’s it’s a pretty unique product. For our second gin, which has not been named yet. It will be out here shortly. We want more London style. So a very traditional London style. And it’s only six botanicals. So but all all made here in house all distilled in house.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  7:02  

Well, it sounds fantastic. How did you go about coming up with these different botanicals, especially that culinary inspired one? I don’t think

Ryan Lang  7:09  

it was. So we had a chef at the time. His name was Adam sharp Rula. And he has since moved on and started his own restaurants. But he was at our restaurant called service bar. And, you know, when we first started, we were struggling to get open because of a lot of different reasons. You know, it was interesting building that place out on the front of the distillery with legalities of it and what

Drew Thomas Hendricks  7:35  

yeah, what challenges did you face when you were first starting out there?

Ryan Lang  7:40  

Well, there weren’t many applications in Ohio, like in a craft brewery, everybody has a roof up to the right theory to the left. In Ohio, the laws were not favorable for having that set up. So we had to get a lot change first. Oh, yeah.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  7:59  

distillery can have a restaurant next to it. We were not.

Ryan Lang  8:02  

We were not allowed. So we ended up lobbying, obviously. And we did get a lot changed, which allowed us to start getting into that. And we had a delay in opening. So in that delay, we already had chef on working with us. So we’re like, hey, why don’t I show you how to run the mini distillery lation unit? Why don’t we come in? And why don’t we have you go and source amazing spices that we can work with. He’s got a very long list of those that we worked with. And we did we distilled everything down often very often. And then we would take them we put them together and see what balanced out and some were steeped. Some were added to the pot right at the top point of distillation. Some were run through a botanical basket, and we found a combination. And even after our third or fourth batch of them, we ended up continually adjusting, we pulled back on the mace and did small things, small adjustments. But we we found something we really liked. That was pretty unique for an American character. Gin. So it was a lot of testing a lot of tasting. And man, we found stuff that we did not like fairly quickly. pretty terrible. But we found a combination. We felt pretty good about

Drew Thomas Hendricks  9:22  

that. That’s it says that testing just I always say I always asked like especially than interviewing a lot of like meaderies and kombucha and there’s just there’s just such an open field on the amount of flavors you can put in there. And probably the only spirit that’s like that other than cordials is gin on the amount of different combinations. What was some of the combinations that were didn’t quite fly?

Ryan Lang  9:45  

Um, well, we tried different styles of peppercorn different types of grass blades. Oh, and it just, I mean, it was wretched. It would come out just you could smell it what’s gonna go wrong? So, and then we blend them. So we take, you know, certain portion by volume and we blend them together. And sometimes they worked. And a lot of times they did not. And the good news on that side is obviously with avatars background, he knew the combinations already that he was already using in the culinary world that can work well together. And that kind of led us down a couple of different paths. And we learned a lot. We learned a lot from

Drew Thomas Hendricks  10:25  

that. And then thing it’s like, you almost learn more from what didn’t work than what did sometimes, because then you really just helps you navigate the that kind of flavor profile. Yeah, I

Ryan Lang  10:35  

don’t think people realize how much effort goes into balancing that stuff, percentages, volumes, distillation times and temperatures. Everything affects the finished product. Yeah, it’s a lot of a lot of decisions to be made. And it took us on that one. I want to say it took about seven to eight months to perfect them before ever went from the lab to the larger stills. So it took some time.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  11:01  

And then scaling. It’s a whole nother whole nother situation. You can get a great on the micro still. But the flavors don’t always just scale up. Exactly.

Ryan Lang  11:09  

No, they did not. That’s where the adjustments came in. Yeah, we had a product that was in the basket that we wanted to cut out because it’s very powerful. And the first run when we did that the oils really stripped out of it. Well, the oils happened to be exceptionally yellow. When they carry through the condenser, and it came out I’m like, oh my god, it looks like you’re like, we got to cut back on this next time. So yeah, we learned

Drew Thomas Hendricks  11:39  

Oh, yeah. So as far as scaling, so how did you go about C produced it? How did how did you go about scaling your sales, it’s one thing to make. So it,

Ryan Lang  11:49  

it’s tough. You know, fortunately, we’re in a controlled state in Ohio. So it is a very different thing to understand an app to states, where you’re trying to go to the state and then sell through their distribution channels, whether they’re owning it, or they’re farming it out. And in Ohio, in particular, in the States, when we first started, they gave us a certain amount of stores, okay, and we had to support those stores. And over time, we found out what worked and what didn’t work. And we then found out what the state support needed to be by city. So we went here in Columbus, obviously, and go into Cleveland and Cincinnati and Dayton, in the outlying towns to cities, and understanding what everybody needed. It just took a lot of years, we were with a couple of different distribution partners for a while while they were technically brokers, but you know him as big distribution partners like Republic, national and whatnot. And we ended up going direct ourselves, we ended up managing it ourselves, because the state allows us to do that. And we learned a lot of that. From that for years. We toyed with more regional distribution. So pushing to New York, trying out new jersey, Washington, DC and you know, learned a lot from the challenges there. And we retooled over the last probably four years brought on a different director of sales. He’s been doing a wonderful job. And we’ve just expanded our distribution. We just recently announced a partnership with IBM. So what was going on 14 states? That’s an independent distributor network. That just was announced, I think two weeks ago. And we’re in total work 41 states,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  13:31  

I was gonna ask that 41 states that’s amazing. Now talking about IBM, I’m not familiar with that.

Ryan Lang  13:36  

Yeah, the independent distributor network. Much like you have southern wine.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  13:41  

Is this like, a live demo type of thing? Now? No,

Ryan Lang  13:45  

no, it’s a distribution network of independence by state. Managed Yeah, so you can you can look them up online, actually, you may be able to find her our last press releases probably held somewhere. And they, they took over distribution and a lot of our states and are doing really well with it. And you know, they’re they’re not as large as I would say, they’re not as large as Southern and or Republic national. But they’re, they’re the perfect fit for us. And we decided to go we were only with him, and I believe in Victor is probably gonna yell at me. Because I’m probably gonna get this wrong, but two or three states, and then it was it’s grown quickly to 14.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  14:24  

That’s it. That’s a good channel for other other micro distilleries that may be listening or craft distillers, just so that they know that there’s other things out there. I know we’ve kind of talked a little bit with through speakeasy and some of the stuff with wood dip. But it’s good to know that there’s other other channels out there.

Ryan Lang  14:42  

Yeah, yeah. And we work with speakeasy live dip as well. So we’re, we if we do DTC, which is you know, hopefully going to continue to grow in the United States or our segment. Then we’ve got that channel already set up and I believe they’re doing quite well. So yeah, it’s to hold a whole new distribution, we’re all there for the last well, since COVID really flipped the script and had the people had to get creative, and it opened up a lot of opportunities.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  15:10  

Oh, yeah. So let’s, um, you see, we have some sample bottles here that we’ve set over, I want you to kind of talk to me about your whiskey. Your whiskies? Yes. Hopefully your sherry cask bourbon

Ryan Lang  15:22  

in the Rye. Yep. So we were pretty big, like I said, on the agricultural side and trying to hone in on things that we we enjoy working with. And over the last, you know, I would say last 10 years, we really pushed that narrative really hard internally. And we focused on a very specific type of a corn food grade, non GMO, open pollinated corn, a pumpernickel rye, very, which is very different than a spoon or rye, which is traditionally used in large scale distillates. And then obviously the software that will lead and then you know, obviously, we throw in barley malt. So we’ve got two different barley malts we work with whoever the two row and a six row, but they became the basis for all of our whiskies. And my category obviously has to be bourbon, you have to be 51% Corn if you want to be rye whiskey to website right. So we worked with those four items. And then we took their their percentages up and down. So So are you trying to write right one first?

Drew Thomas Hendricks  16:23  

Well, right, that was actually trying the bourbon. I didn’t know. Okay, I can go with. I’ve got a class here for the rye so I can compare and contrast there. Yeah,

Ryan Lang  16:31  

they’re gonna be very different, even though

Drew Thomas Hendricks  16:35  

Yep, there we go. Just so the people on YouTube can see what’s going on here.

Ryan Lang  16:39  

Oh, yeah. You got the you got the heavy one to 128 Yeah, this

Drew Thomas Hendricks  16:43  

this one packs a packs a punch here. Yeah, so the water there.

Ryan Lang  16:52  

The basis for the whiskies obviously, is to produce everything in house and really focus on the agriculture yeast cells, traditional stuff, what what Kentucky has done for decades, Tennessee has done for decades, just trying to do that in our own way. And we’ve been fortunate enough to work directly with a lot of the farms, we contract direct, we actually have our own farm now, where we’ve got, you know, grain growing, that we’re going to pay attention to. And we we basically alter the percentages based on what we enjoy coming off still and and try to come up with some products that are unique. So for the for the bourbon, that is a 63% Corn 19% we 13% Right. And the remaining balance is the barley malt that’s split between the six and the two row and comes up to what is a weeded bourbon technically, because we did the higher green after corn than anything else, but it’s really a four grain bourbon. And then the one you have in particular as we age it for four years in regular casks. And then we flip it into sherry casks for two years and that’s that’s on the bottle listed. And we brought it I’m going to sherry casks from Spain for this and we continue to do that and that one is a currently it’s a seasonal release. We’re working on getting it into full scale production just because the volumes are obviously a little bit lower on that. It is the basis of what is our our four grain or weeded bourbon which is the mic let reserve so that you don’t have there but then we take that microphone and turn it into that okay. It’s got a cherry nose to it little chocolate on top of the bourbon and it’s been doing quite well for us.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  18:51  

It’s a very elegant drink. It’s very very smooth, very round you can definitely feel the the sherry the sherry head on it is there. Talk to me about the Ohio River Valley and what the water because water plays a lot of importance to whiskey and Oh absolutely.

Ryan Lang  19:07  

Absolutely. Yeah, I mean we’re on a pretty big water table between Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, it’s a very large water table that we have obviously accessed. And then we obviously have to work with that quite a bit where we are so we’ve got specific filtration systems that we use to get the water where we want it to be before it goes into wash before we turn it into a mash and distill it out and then also also the water for application to the whiskey after its age. So yeah, very high minerality content water and for us high calcium high magnesium. It works quite well for for fermentation and then also for cutting the product but yeah, water is ridiculously important component outside of the east and then the greens so

Drew Thomas Hendricks  20:00  

One of the things I like about your site is you talk about all of your kind of partnerships. And like the Speyside bourbon cooperage in Jackson, Ohio, is that where you source your all your white oak barrels?

Ryan Lang  20:13  

It is. Yeah, they we sourced a lot of them, majority of them from them, currently. And yeah, they’ve been wonderful. We as caught talking about serendipity. As we were growing, and we were expanding and adding capacity and, you know, changing technologies, we flipped the continuous many, many years ago. And obviously, the volume that comes out of continuous is much higher than pots. You know, we needed somewhere to put it, you need the oak on the other end. And but at the same time, we decided to ramp up production, we found out that in Ohio, there’s a group called Jobs Ohio, that takes liquor tax revenue, and then puts it to good use to try and bring economic development to the state of Ohio. And they’ve done a very good job of that the recent success on that you probably heard was the Intel plant going in near Columbus, OH, you know, God like jobs, Ohio helps with that kind of stuff that bring those people to the area for jobs and growth. They did that for a cooperage. So they brought Speyside in which is a very old historic recouping company, based out of France, but has recouping capacity over in Scotland and Ireland. And they put a brand new plant for them for freshmen burials in Jackson, Ohio, where, ironically, a lot of opens. So it’s, if you’re looking at the map of Ohio, it’d be south, south east. And we ended up going down when they were starting. And we met Darren Whitmer, who’s the head guy there. And I said, Hey, you know, we want to really dive into some unique stuff. Would you be willing to work with us on on barrels, and that’s from the sherry barrel that you’re trying? We got that from them. Because they have a recouping business, they’re also pulling barrels back in from Europe. Okay. And then on the freshman side, they allowed us to work with them on some, some custom things with our barrels. And we did we tailored barrel changes, heating, cooling, char times, things like that, we, we customize that to the to the individual whiskey. So they’ve been a great partner of ours for many, many years since they started. And we do a fair amount of business with them now. And all of those barrels that come up, they’re all very customized for us. It’s real nice.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  22:37  

Yeah, that’s the part that I when I’ve read it on your site is it’s so key when you get water, which is a huge component. But if you’re aging something six, seven years, four years and in Oak that’s going to install a lot of flavor, a lot of audit nuances. What do you look for in your barrels and imparting that type of flavor?

Ryan Lang  22:57  

Yeah, it’s a good question. Um, well, the yolk in Ohio, obviously, it’s what we want to be as Ohio as much as possible. So from an agricultural standpoint, obviously, our water our glass, is is about as close as we can be. It’s a Manasa PA, which is Stoessel, now, it was anchor Hocking. But they run that plant there. So bringing the supply chain local is also helped us not run into a lot of the challenges of supply chain doesn’t mean our prices haven’t gone up.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  23:30  

They’ve gone up everywhere. But that supply chain challenge of the last year on this podcast, it’s been the biggest topic that no one wants to talk about.

Ryan Lang  23:37  

Yeah, we got we’re fortunate that we’re in the breadbasket of what we need to operate, just have to plan a little better some days. But, you know, with the OIC that we’re working with, obviously wanted to be Ohio. And then they took different characteristics of what they knew. So Darren is a former Brown Forman, gentleman, he was at their Cooper’s there, a couple of their other employees have a lot of wine experience. So we were able to work with them on unlocking some of the sugars in a different way. And think of it this way, this simplest way. And you may know this, or maybe some people don’t know this, but you know that that wood before it’s dried down 4% Before we constitute a barrel is full of water sugar. So then if you’re taking that, and then you’re reforming into a barrel, and putting it into an oven, and then turning it on fire, you’re gonna take that sugar, just like the sugar on your stove and turn it into karma. Right. And if you leave it on the stove, for two minutes under low heat, it’s going to be a light yellow color, and the caramel is not going to be as rich. If you turn it up too much. It’s going to turn dark really quick and it’s going to taste burnt. Or you can find your happy medium in the middle where it’s like a caramel. So if you’re doing the same thing, whether using it from direct heat, indirect heat, you’re doing doing that to those with sugars. So we were able to play with a little bit where our lighter boiled whiskey so like wheat whiskey, or our rye whiskey where the oil content coming off the still is not quite as high as our bourbons where we were able to, you know, make some adjustments to partner and try to find balance within them. And we found the things that we liked. And we were able to to see that happen. Unfortunately, it takes a long time. So we did tests, we make it much disk, let’s put them in a barrel on we’d say we’d see in two and a half years, that’s kind of our litmus test, you’d like to get to about two and a half years to see if it’s going down the right path. And, you know, a lot of those changes aren’t even market yet. We’re not even out with them yet. We’re starting to they’re starting to come up with age when those changes are made many, many, many years ago. So yeah, it’s

Drew Thomas Hendricks  25:56  

sort of the evolution or the style that you’re anticipating that’s going to come to market over the next few years. Yeah. They don’t want their old whiskey to go away.

Ryan Lang  26:05  

No, I think it’s just going to be a development of of the age. You know, the statements are, our goal is to get the statement up to a nice level for us. In our world, in the craft world, obviously, that can be difficult, because it’s a lot of waiting and a lot of capital in

Drew Thomas Hendricks  26:24  

the statement, like the amount of age,

Ryan Lang  26:27  

yeah, the age statement. So that, yeah, that’ll be a pretty big change for us over the next, you know, four or five years, we’re making some adjustments there. And then you’re just gonna see just a greater maturation, we really focus on making the whiskies super soft office still, things we like to do. So you can take it right off it still and consume it, or you don’t need much oxidation to do that, which is what’s happening in barrel, chemical changes in oxidation. And if we can do that, then we started somewhere, right? And then we just let it sit. Now we’ve done that with some of our tests, and they’ve not gone well. And then we let them sit, and then you know, year or two later, they’ll come right back in line. So it’s been a fun evolution for us. And we’re really excited about our next you know, we’re 15 years in now. We’re really excited about our next 50 That’s a we that’s what we tell everybody. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks  27:18  

do you have some 15 year CAS aging?

Ryan Lang  27:21  

I wish? I wish I probably would have sold them three years ago.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  27:27  

The biggest myth is that, like older is always better. I mean, what, what do you think the sweet spot is for the type of Spirit coming off of your still?

Ryan Lang  27:35  

Um, I would say, we would like to get everything to base anywhere from six to eight, all the way up to about 17. Okay. Yeah, that’s that’s kind of where I think that is, I think rye whiskey at eight to 10 years old. Phenomenal. I mean, I like where you are now. We just we’re gonna build up to that. We like to order bourbon. So are we did bourbon, I think as far as the treatment for that, I think it needs to be at a much more elevated age. And we’ll work on that over time. So yeah, that’s where we’re going. It’s just obviously going to take years. So, but we’re happy with where we are now. So if we’re happy now, hopefully, we’re gonna be happy down the road. And these

Drew Thomas Hendricks  28:16  

have the aroma of like a, a well aged, bourbon, like a lot of a lot of craft distilleries. I don’t want to say they cheap, but they just put it in a really small barrel for a short amount of time. And it picks up all the barrel flavor, but it still doesn’t taste old.

Ryan Lang  28:32  

You know, and we were guilty of that for a while. We didn’t go below 30 gallons. We did 30 and 50 threes and then hog cents. And yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Often too much. And it does work. Smaller barrels will get more color, they’ll get more extraction. But there it’s missing. The oxidation. It’s missing that age that knows the field and often I think it’s it’s pretty hot. And they just the heat does not go away. So yeah, we we flipped the 50 threes many years ago and we still work with 30s for some of our clients. But yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Because we had the

Drew Thomas Hendricks  29:22  

I see it in wine to where they put the oak staves in or the chips and you can just tell that they kind of cheated. cheated the the aging of the wine a bit. I mean, it’s not bad. It’s just not it’s not the same as laying it down for a couple of years.

Ryan Lang  29:36  

If you if you work with it, you pick it out real quick. You can see what was was done. Not that it’s you know, it’s it’s somebody’s business model right. If that’s what you need to do, then all pack more power to you. There’s a bottle for every pallet. You know, there is in we we’ve played with a lot of those things and we we know what our true north is, and we’re just running towards it. Yeah,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  29:59  

you mentioned Um, for some of your clients, you still use them. The 30 gallons, do you do some private production?

Ryan Lang  30:05  

We do. Yeah, we do we do private label. So we work with a handful of customers on Barkingside whiskey side, you know, a couple different products that are out there. I don’t know that I’m allowed to say

Drew Thomas Hendricks  30:21  

that it is a percentage of your business. And that makes sense. If you’ve got the production facilities,

Ryan Lang  30:26  

yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think the thing that we we often say is it, we have strategic partnerships. So we work with companies and we, we work with them on barrels, sourcing them, blending them bottling them, we, we like to see their brands thrive, because if they’re thriving, then that means we’re doing our job for them, which is what we always want to do. And we’ve had some good successes with that. And we’re really proud of those guys and seeing what they’re doing. So yeah, it’s it’s helped us a lot to, in turn, understand how to communicate better, and to, you know, be the backbone of some of the the brands that need that it’s helped our internal team grow. Because we’ve had to, we’ve had to be very nimble, and bringing on new technology, and invest in that. And we’ve done that. And what

Drew Thomas Hendricks  31:23  

sort of technology have you invested in

Ryan Lang  31:27  

different filtration systems, more tanks, blending, better dumping machine, like, everything that needs for speed, volume, higher production capacity? And then, you know, just learning quickly, you know, the challenge you get into I honestly believe is with craft, and there’s no school for this, by the way, like you go to a brewing school, right. So what you’re trying to take is a standard that is exceptionally high. Think about that. Kentucky, Tennessee, serums, di, their standards are very, very high. They’ve been running for very, very long. I mean, most of those brands are pre prohibition, in some way, shape, or form. They may have changed hands, but that technology, the yeast development, and the equipment that they’ve been working with, which works forever, launch, maintain it. That’s institutional knowledge that is exceptionally deep and backboned. And you got a craft guy coming along, and you’re like, Wow, I’m going to get into this, I’m going to figure this out. Well, that is a steep mountain. And if you’re trying to not tarnish the category, and if you’re trying to put something on the shelf that somebody’s going to buy, not once but hopefully 234 Or five continuing, then it’s it’s a deep challenge. So as as we’ve grown, and we’ve watched our brands and and our partner brands grow, you know, we’ve all risen together, I would say, and it is forced a lot of other things through that. Maybe we wouldn’t have looked at. Yeah. So and the other thing is we’ve been fortunate that when we did ask the question, and we needed somebody to, you know, for us to bend in Iran, most people listened, and most people responded.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  33:18  

So, like talking about, like scaling and the inflection point, I mean, I visit a lot of these craft distilleries that are basically just the warehouse and is still and see a couple barrels behind them. How What’s that inflection point where, between like that warehouse to where you are now. Like, there was a there was a big shift. If you look at your website, you have a fantastic looking facility. Oh, thank you.

Ryan Lang  33:41  

Yeah. For us, it was 2011. We had gone down the path of blending a product, putting somebody else’s product in hours and seeing how new in the market and you know, it’s, it’s an easier way to get product in and out. And we’re going to give it a shot because we recognize that infrastructure is capital intensive. Your output is very little, especially if you have 1000 gallon fermenter in the wine world, you’re keeping the majority of that and the distilling world you’re dumping the majority of it right? You’re giving 8% So ain’t half percent. So you know, back then when money was very difficult to come by, we’re, we’re still family and independently owns.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  34:34  

So in 2010, there was not a lot of free money going on there. Now it

Ryan Lang  34:39  

was tough. And we went in to get a lot of barrels that we we had secured. And we went to get them and they were gone. So yeah. So that kind of shifted our plan quickly. Which was fine. It wasn’t that many but it was eye opening. It was very eye opening and we have a background and manufacturing engineering. So we’re like, hey, that’s what we do. Why don’t we focus on infrastructure, develop it, and then continually develop it. And that was a big year. And it took a couple years to figure out how to get that running. From a capital standpoint, and from a space standpoint, lots of lots of work there. But yeah, it was the inflection point for us and saying, Hey, we’re gonna go into this, this is not going to be a little bit where our anticipation is gonna be a lot. And we focused on that, put the plant in, and then added some more stuff. And we continually add every year, and more warehouses, more storage. We opened service bar to bring more people in. We’re in Columbus, which she’s a lot of people on an annual basis, but we 10x Star visitors when it opened. So when did when did service part come online? 2017 2000.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  36:00  

Okay, so that’s that that’s, that’s some good timing is, you know, pre pandemic where you can build a base. Yeah. Talk to so many people. They came online in 2020.

Ryan Lang  36:10  

They talk about a shutdown. Oh, my gosh, it was it was an immediate shutdown. I mean, it was a discussion on a Friday and work done on Tuesday. It was crazy. We had 22 people we had to furlough. So we had to figure out how to take care of as many people as we could. So we’ve flipped to a takeout model. And I think three or four weeks, and I will say this, we didn’t make money. During that period. On Tape. We kept people employed as many as we could. It’s been so important. Yeah. So the 17, we opened, it wasn’t for a full year. 18 was our first full year then 19. And then 20. And we went to the takeout model until the summer when things started opening back up. It didn’t make sense for us to remain open. And we shut down. We did renovations. We’re actually getting ready to reopen in a few weeks here. Oh, cool. Yeah, I think I’m excited to have a burger and a bourbon.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  37:14  

Yeah, it would be too exciting. I can’t even visit right now. But that leads me right into the question I have about hospitality, because you had the you had kind of a hospitality component from the start changing the laws around? How has how has that hospitality helped you evolved over the last, you know, 12 years?

Ryan Lang  37:32  

Yeah. I think the benefit to us and how it has evolved is disability impressions, right? craft distilleries back, you know, in 2010 2012. When you go to a distributor, talk to them about hey, I got all this product, I’d like for you to sell it. Okay? How are you going to get it was a pure push as opposed to a pool, there is no way to get you or the regular consumer to recognize that that industry was growing craft beer was obviously taken off. But that segment was difficult to deal with to try and get into that distribution. We had seen a lot of our peers in Chicago and Pennsylvania and other places where they had tasting rooms, which we could still do a tasting room. But then when you saw people open up to actually adding in when I would call the group up there, their foot traffic changes, and then the brand changes and then it just takes time. It’s nothing you can expect to blow up overnight. My personal opinion to go from x amount of followers to x, you know Y amount of followers online and people talking about you it just takes diligence, hard work and time. I will say that the hospitality portion and opening that up accelerated that had we not had that, that time would have taken even longer to get the impressions that we have to put the brand out there in a way that we could reinvest in it and continue to grow it. So it was a great thing for us. We’re really excited to reopen it, we’re adding some other places for us in the future. So I think for us rolling forward, it’s going to be a good touch point for us. We believe in having good food, good drink, and having you know, a decent time. That’s that’s really the mantra of the business and it’s an on our website and whatnot. But we really believe in that. So we’re pretty passionate about what we try to put into that bottle. And it extends to the restaurant. So we’re very careful about our food menu. Who the chefs are and what they’re doing. And you know, we don’t we don’t have the turns of big restaurants because people kind of camp out. We hope they leave with an experience. And that’s the idea in mind some of us so the idea

Drew Thomas Hendricks  39:49  

that experience because you have a whiskey the whiskey is a brand positioning and you want to you want to kind of by having the hot by controlling the hospitality experience you get to kind of show the Higher brand vision, with the food, the environment, and even the cocktails, the whole craft cocktail movement, which I think, really, I think the pandemic really helped accelerate the fancy cocktails because people are at home, they had time to be their own mixologist. And you’ve got some fantastic cocktails on your site right now, who comes up with these sorts of new mixes?

Ryan Lang  40:23  

We have. We’ve had over the years, several head bartenders that that do lead that pack to creating our cocktails and what you see online. And then we have other guys that also are part of that we have a whole team that comes up with them. And, you know, I think my big thing is really take the classics, and make them uniquely ours, you know, Manhattan, old fashion, we have a barely agile fashion. Oh my gosh, it’s so good.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  40:53  

All the good old fashioned,

Ryan Lang  40:54  

oh, it’s my go to anywhere. And, you know, we’ve given the bar a lot of creative freedom with that. But that’s all we ask is that when you’re putting out b classic, we’re going in with our twist, and then play around if you want.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  41:10  

What style twist is for middle west? I’m sorry, what would be your house style twist of the what the should be short fashioned,

Ryan Lang  41:19  

right? Just what we don’t want that. So it’s not a regular core, we re barely barrel aged fashion. And then we do not use Murciano cherries. We don’t use cherry juice. It’s primarily liquor in orange driven. Oh, it’s got bitters, and then lots of oranges. So you get something pretty spectacular in that glass.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  41:43  

What type of bitters are you using? Well, you’re asking criteria.

Ryan Lang  41:49  

I know it tastes good. But yeah, it’s it’s pretty fun to watch what they come up with. And over the years, I mean, we’ve had things burning oak, we’ve had barrel aging, pretty creative stuff, egg washers, you name it. But it’s pretty nice for our staff to be able to take what is made behind that wall right there, and then convert it into something at that bar that people get to experience. And it tells our brand story. So you’re right. That is absolutely what it is. And we’re just going to continue that. And it’s a model that works for us. And we hope to continue to add to that our hope is our hospitality grows over the next 15 years as well. With that,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  42:35  

I think it probably I think but probably I definitely think it will, because I think it’s the missing link that a lot of these distilleries are not embracing it. And we’re seeing it a lot. I mean, I’ve had a few Kentucky bourbon producers on the show, and what they’re doing like in Bardstown and some of their facilities is just next level. It’s like, it’s like, embodying What’s with what’s going on some of the wineries? Is that whole towards towards the experience in the hospitality?

Ryan Lang  43:01  

Yeah, that’s absolutely what we’ve been working on for, you know, the past probably, I would say, eight years. As far as the vision and now we’re with the addition of the new staff and the new places that we’re adding, we’re going to just continue to accelerate that I think that experience in Bardstown does such a nice job. It’s phenomenal. So, you know, why not? And that is part of the whole thing. The wineries in California and Italy, France have done that for a long time. It’s that experiential piece, even the Scottish and Irish distilleries, there’s a huge component to that, where they want you to hit the pause button. Stick around, go look at the place, but stay, and then you know, that’s, that’s brand value. It’s hard to put a price tag on that. But if you can create an experience for people, you know, they may not be forever. Yeah. Everybody over, but you can win some. Yeah, I

Drew Thomas Hendricks  43:56  

did my Ireland distillery tour one week before the country was shut down for COVID Oh, no. We had the last pre COVID Just hoopla was fun.

Ryan Lang  44:05  

Nice thing go to see. You gotta Kilbeggan we didn’t go to

Drew Thomas Hendricks  44:09  

Kilbeggan we yeah, we did. Yeah, I didn’t go and then Jameson, middle Jameson. Middle Redbreast. It was, it was it was a good experience. And it was it was something where he had to be there. And I think just coming to your place Middle West, by just experiencing it, you get so much more insight into the into the spirit. We’re kind of wrapping down here. I have to ask you, how do you stay motivated? 15 or 12 years into this?

Ryan Lang  44:37  

I mean, we it’s a really funny week to ask you that a little bit longer to get in the office this week. Long country drives, um, I guess it’s staying motivated is our staff and seeing what they’re doing and seeing when we succeed for something that they’ve done. You know, we’ve got some guys that are getting through the plant, their products that they started to produce, you know, five, six years ago is now starting to come out and seeing that work for them. And honestly, with the long term vision of what we’ve tried to do, which is, you know, to be, hopefully respected for what we do, and to be a national brand, which we’re working on, you know, we’re not there yet. So there’s a drive to get to that level, are some of the days harder than others. It is still a it’s a dog eat dog world in the category. It’s a volume business, don’t limit it, kitchen. It’s, it’s a very, it’s true, truly a volume business. So we take our lumps, and we move and we have our successes as well. So that’s it, you just dig in. And I’ll tell you that the staff is really helped my family also really helps my wife and my kids are pretty forgiving for how much work you have to put into this. But yeah, if you see them every day, man, they drive. They come in, they know what they’re doing. They execute and it’s working. So we just need more time.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  46:06  

Oh, I can’t wait to see how these whiskies evolve. I mean, the the six year is any indication, and you think that reaches a peak up to the 17.

Ryan Lang  46:16  

People Yeah, right. Well, yeah, that’s that’s the motivation. I mean, we do our barrel selects, we taste every barrel before we put it into a bottle. At least we know that we get make sure it’s correct, and, you know, rate and whatnot. And you’ll get those unicorns every once in a while, man when they’re right. It’s immediately take it out, put it over in the single barrel room, don’t touch it. So yeah, I would like for more of our barrels to be as good as a single barrel. And that’s really what we’re trying to do.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  46:43  

That’s That’s enough to keep I will keep me motivated. For sure. So as we’re kind of wrapping up, is there anything we haven’t talked about you want to bring up? Or?

Ryan Lang  46:51  

No, no, I just appreciate you letting us come on the show and introduce us to maybe some new customers. And, you know, spending time with us and invite you out? I know. Yes. A sunny west coast. But if you ever find yourself in the Midwest doors open. No, I need

Drew Thomas Hendricks  47:07  

to make a trip. I every every thing on the show every of these bike. I haven’t had really a need to go to Columbus, but now I’m kind of dying to go.

Ryan Lang  47:16  

One out. A great city.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  47:19  

Yeah, no, it sounds fantastic. And getting a hamburger and this bourbon would be fantastic. Well, gosh, thank thank you so much for joining us. Where can people find out more about you and Middle West?

Ryan Lang  47:29  

Yeah, you can go to our website, middlewestspirits.com. It has our links to our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. A lot of our material releases run there. And on our LinkedIn, you’ll see a lot of our press releases there as well. So you can connect us there. Were there’s an order form on there on our middlewestspirits.com that actually takes you to speakeasies site. Oh, yeah. That’s in the cards, but it’s there. So some of the states in the United States can ship and then over. Over time, if you ask your your state stores or your liquor stores for it. We’re slowly creeping into the states. We may be at a door near you soon.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  48:07  

Yeah, I can’t wait to see your continued success. Ryan, thank you so much for joining us.

Ryan Lang  48:12  

I appreciate it. You have a wonderful weekend weekend.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  48:15  

Oh, you too. Thank you. We’ll see you.

Outro  48:24  

Thanks for listening to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.