MEDINA, Ohio - When BKO Distillery opens its doors Saturday, owners Ken Obloy and Brad Kochmit will enjoy a toast of the Voudoux Vodka they have crafted and are now able to sell.
That toast will be the culmination of more than two years of paperwork, construction, waiting periods, a petition drive, scientific research and, well, more paperwork and waiting.
Located in an industrial park on the south side of Medina Road about three miles west of the Summit-Medina County line, the distillery started the way many ideas start: Over drinks between buddies.
"We've been friends for a really long time," Obloy said. "We're both - the nice way to put it is - entrepreneurial. The not nice way to put it is insane."
In 2017, Obloy had thrown a Christmas party and sipped drinks with Kochmit. They got to talking.
They remember their exact words: "Wouldn't it be cool if we had our own Whiskey?" Kochmit recalled.
"Those were the exact words," Obloy said.
"It kind of destroyed my life," Kochmit chimed in as they laughed.
The timing was right. Kochmit was a professional musician who had tired of the road. Obloy was a part-time musician who works for his family's metal-finishing business.
They had no formal distilling experience but had a willingness to learn.
"Twenty-five years of being in a band, I've been around some alcohol," Kochmit said.
"For the next several months it was literally all day, every day, research," Obloy said.
"We don't have grandpa's family recipe; we are grandpa," Kochmit said. "We have to make the recipe."
They wanted to start with Vodka and taste-tested every brand they could get their hands on. They bought a small still - "our model toy," Obloy said. They signed a lease and figured, OK, time to make Vodka.
What followed was a series of governmental requirements, paperwork, tasks and chores that, over two-plus years, could be bound only by a very long stretch of red tape.
Sharon Township zoning-board approval was required. They obtained the lease to an empty 1,000-square foot facility. They applied for a federal permit through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and then the government shut down. They sought an A3A license to have a small tasting room, and then they received a shock: The area where they are located turned out to be deemed dry.
So they started with a different license while they went to the Medina County Board of Elections to amend the designation. They were told they needed 400 signatures on a petition. With only 700 registered voters in the precinct, that struck the two as odd.
"Why do I have to win this election before I am even in this election?" Obloy said.
So they drove neighborhoods, knocked on doors, and asked for signatures.
Election brought good news: About 86% voted in their favor. Then they were told they had to wait a month for election results to be certified. Then the holidays hit. Then they had to relinquish their first, original license.
They stayed the course and created the company, the name a mashup of their initials.
"We don't make Vodka for the connoisseurs of craft perfection Vodka," Obloy said. "We make Vodka that is good and smooth and everybody's going to want to drink. The normal drinker is going to pick that. We designed it to look good, be competitively priced, and be the best quality we could figure out how to make."
A bottle is $25. They are bottling by hand but have ordered a machine. They also wax-dip the bottle necks themselves.
Nothing is imported. Everything is made from scratch in their Medina facility. Only the bottles are ordered, and they are local, too, made by Cleveland-based Kaufman Container.
It was a good thing the two have an affinity for chemistry. Before any sipping could be done, they had to learn the craft. Vodka is made from grain or, as Obloy said, "anything you can make sugar out of." They researched everything from "coagulating impurities" to calcium and niacin content - anything that could feed yeast to make ethanol. Vodka is made in stages in what amounts to a repetitive process to remove sediment and yeast.
They also created a way to reuse cooling water to limit usage for both sustainability purposes and financial savings. They designed their own water-reusage-filtration method.
They took "a 21st century approach to a really old industry," Obloy said.
Obloy is from North Royalton, Kochmit from Strongsville. They rolled up their sleeves and created everything in the space. They repurposed flooring to make a matching bar top. Discarded material was converted into Ohio-shaped signs. They did the lighting themselves.
Kochmit - "the visual-arts guy," Obloy said - created the logo. The name for the line of Vodka comes from Kochmit's wife. Describing their distillation process is so scientific that they said she just boiled down their tagline to: "It's magic." From that came the name "Voudoux."
Whiskey is next, with Rum, Tequila and Gin to follow. The Vodka is in 11 stores, about 10 bars and a couple of restaurants in addition to accounts in Florida, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.
"We feel it can grow into a brand to compete with any Vodka brand," Obloy said.
Their goal is to grow the brand - keeping true to their local roots and staying handmade - but they would love to become big.
"We don't want this to be a local-ish (only) thing. I want to be a brand like Coca-Cola," Kochmit said.
Obloy has even bigger aspirations.
"I want to buy the Indians so we can stop losing all our good players," he said.
BKO Distillery (website, Facebook) is scheduled to open Saturday, Feb. 22. It's located at 1486 Medina Road, Suite 215, Medina, 216-309-2194. Hours to start: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. It's in an office park with plenty of parking. The owners can sell as many as two bottles per person per day per state law. Tours will be offered, but a schedule is not in place.
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