You know Middle West and Watershed. Meet the newcomers on the distilling scene.
Much like the local brewing scene, Central Ohio distillers are poised for rapid expansion. In recent years, Watershed Distillery and Middle West Spirits have spearheaded growth by introducing small-batch craft spirits to a wider audience and pushing for legislative changes that loosened restrictions on distilleries' ability to own restaurants and serve directly to customers. As a result, a wave of nascent distillers are crafting traditional spirits and testing original ones, opening tasting rooms and even restaurants. We checked in with the newcomers, both already open and on the way.
Noble Cut Distillery
Noble Cut's unassuming storefront in a southeast Gahanna business park doesn't scream distillery at first. But a step inside reveals a former office space that has been transformed into a tasting room and bottle shop. Head farther back into the space and you'll discover a long, 1,500-square-foot production room with a four-plate still, mash tun and two fermenters lining the walls. A small bottling line sits off to one side, while large glass carboys are filled with clear spirits infused with oranges or lemons: orangecello and limoncello in progress.
Noble Cut Distillery is headed by Ben Vause and Tony Guilfoy; Vause, who works in construction management, handles business development and strategy, while Guilfoy operates the distillery. The two met as neighbors six years ago, and regular conversations led to the idea of opening a distillery. Guilfoy draws on a long family history of bootlegging and moonshining in Missouri; his limoncello recipe comes from his great-grandmother. “Noble cut” refers to the distillation process, when the undesired distillates (the “heads” and “tails”) are cut from the beginning and ending of the run of spirits, respectively. The center of the run (the “hearts”) forms the good stuff—the spirits that get aged and bottled. Deciding where to make those noble cuts relies on the expertise of a distiller.
Vause and Guilfoy (and their two unnamed business partners) source everything from the state, from the barley that grows in southeast Ohio to the white winter rye and corn harvested near Toledo. “The only thing that's not is the glass and cork,” Vause jokes.
So far, Noble Cut has unveiled a smoked cherry whiskey and an apple whiskey; the cherry whiskey balances tart cherries with a bit of rye spiciness, while the apple whiskey draws on sweeter varieties like McIntosh or Honeycrisp. Orangecello and limoncello are on the way, and the duo is testing a lime version, too.
The bottle shop is now open for tours and tastings, and Vause and Guilfoy plan to showcase their spirits at community events like Gahanna's Creekside Live concert series (June–August), Digfest in Grandview (June 16) and Grove City's annual Bourbon Tasting (August 11).
High Bank Distillery Co.
Taking its name from the higher eastern bank of the Scioto River, High Bank Distillery Co. will open in early June as a full-service bar, restaurant and entertainment space.
Owners Adam Hines and Jordan Helman have known each other for eight years; Helman co-owns Zest Juice Co. with his wife, Natalie, and Hines originally joined them to help develop the brand. Four years ago, Hines and Helman were homing in on a brewery, but seeing the explosive growth of the craft beer industry, they pivoted from their love of craft beer to their love of great bourbon. Roughly a year ago they settled on a Goodale Boulevard location across from the burgeoning Grandview Yard development, and in the 17,000-square-foot space they leased, the concept took shape.
High Bank has benefited from a ground-up approach when building its restaurant and bar. Watershed and Middle West both added their in-house dining after the fact, whereas new distilleries can design their spaces with dining in mind from the get-go. The front 9,000 square feet of High Bank will focus on the restaurant, with garage doors opening onto a large patio. Executive chef Todd Goodwin was brought on board to craft an “elevated-casual” menu that draws on Ohio meats, eggs, dairy, honey and maple syrup. Hines will head up the distillery, which will occupy the rear of the building behind glass walls. Another 1,500 square feet will be dedicated to foosball, air hockey, shuffleboard and other games.
At opening, the distillery will feature three spirits in its portfolio: a vodka, a citrus-forward gin and a whiskey. The custom-blended Whiskey War, drawn from whiskeys created in Indiana and Tennessee, will serve as High Bank's dark spirit while its bourbon ages.