Middle West Spirts plans to expand and consolidate

Patrick Cooley
ThisWeek group
Middle West Spirits has bought property on Alum Creek Drive for its offices and barrel storage, but will keep its distillery and Service Bar restaurant, shown here, on Cortland Avenue near Columbus' Short North.

Liquor production requires multiple steps to take the spirits from the drawing board to the store shelf. Liquor is distilled, transferred into barrels to age, bottled and finally shipped to stores and bars.

For years, Middle West Spirits has performed these functions at nearly a half-dozen facilities throughout central Ohio, but now the distillery plans to centralize most of its operations on Alum Creek Drive in Columbus. The property includes several lots and buildings between 1165 and 1221 Alum Creek Drive.

“We are looking to consolidate some of our locations under one roof to make operations a little easier for the company,” Middle West cofounder Ryan Lang said.

Liquor will be barreled, stored and bottled in the Alum Creek facility, and the site will be home to Middle West’s business offices. The property has three buildings, including one more than 35,000 square feet.

Middle West plans to renovate the buildings to serve as space for storage, packaging and office space. Work is scheduled to begin as early as next month.

The 12-year-old company plans to continue distilling its whiskey, vodka and gin off East Fifth Avenue near Columbus' Short North, in a facility that also houses Service Bar, the company’s bar and restaurant. But everything else will take place at the Alum Creek facility, Lang said.

The point is to make the company more streamlined and efficient.

“When you're managing multiple sites and multiple locations, having them under one property is an exceptional benefit,” Lang said.

Middle West is headed in the opposite direction of most distilleries, which tend to spread out as they get bigger, said Greg Lehman, president and CEO of the Ohio Distiller’s Guild.

“As soon as you start to get size as a distillery, you generally have different buildings for barrel storage and for the still house (where the liquor is distilled),” he said.

Middle West has multiple buildings at the Alum Creek location that will serve different functions, such as storage and office space.

Using separate buildings for separate functions is cost-efficient for most liquor producers, Lehman said. A storage warehouse, for example, is kept colder than an office building.

“You don't want employees in there,” he said. “In the middle of winter, you don't want to have to heat it.”

Storage is one of the Middle West's biggest challenges, Lang said.

Unlike beer and some other alcoholic beverages, liquor needs to age before it hits stores or bars. Middle West ages its liquor for as long as 10 years.

“That requires a significant amount of square footage,” Lang said.

Watershed Distillery, which Lehman cofounded, has two buildings. But the distillery is fortunate, he said, because the buildings are right across the street from one another on Chesapeake Avenue near the Lennox Town Center in Columbus.

As for why Middle West decided to move in the middle of a global pandemic, Lang said, the distillery has been looking for a new space for years, and when the Alum Creek property became available, leaders decided they couldn’t wait. The price tag for the expansion is roughly $6.2 million.

“We had properties in the past we were looking at, but because of our inability to close a deal, we lost out on those properties,” he said.

pcooley@dispatch.com

@PatrickACooley