Forgotten barrel brings accidental vodka success

OYO’s barrel-rested vodka is a successful accident.
Kelli Grant | CNBC
OYO’s barrel-rested vodka is a successful accident.

Experiments gone awry can have tasty results: Consider the first barrel-rested infused vodka.

When the folks at Ohio's Middle West Spirits were filtering a batch of their OYO honey vanilla bean vodka, they put some of the concentrated spirit in a bourbon barrel to see what might result. Then they forgot about it. "It sat in our sales manager's garage for two years," said Brady Konya, general manager and owner.

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The result, introduced this spring as OYO Barrel-Finished Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka, has been so popular they're selling the limited-run online only, for $36. (The rest of the line is sold online and in 15 states.)

Its unaged version is slightly sweet and strong on the honey and vanilla—probably because the company uses an infusion of real macerated vanilla pods and wildflower honey. Aged, wood balances out those flavors and adds more spice.

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Expect to see more distillers going back to those kinds of creative natural combinations, with spirits that "taste like real things," said Jerald O'Kennard, director of the Beverage Testing Institute. Consumers are pushing back more against artificial flavors and bartenders are more interested in working with natural ingredients.

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"The challenge of vodka infusions is, how do you bring enthusiasts back to the category?" said Konya. "It's not about gummi bears and chocolate cupcakes anymore."

By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant