Ravenswood, Chicago

When they opened back in 2008, Koval was this city’s first craft distillery since basically the mid 1800s.

Founders, Robert and Sonat Birnecker would head down to Springfield and lobby antiquated production laws to lift the ban and make distilling legal within city limits again. After a year of battling these prohibition era rules, they were granted the first craft distillers license in Chicago history. Robert is a third generation Master Distiller from Austria. The family still owns a small distillery outside of Vienna.

These days the original Malt Row location is more of a storefront and interactive museum, much of the production has moved up the road on Ravenswood between Berteau and Montrose. There are barrels filled with aging whiskey here. But the vast majority of barrels for production are stored in a Southwest Michigan warehouse about 15 mins from the state border.

The path here is 100% organic and kosher, no artificial flavors or coloring ever. Distillers Beer is produced after eight days, then run through a series of plates on the Austrian still that allow flavor vapors to pass through it, as you pump hot liquid in.

Austrian Stills at the original location
most production has been moved to Ravenswood between Berteau + Montrose

Raw Distillate Cuts
Parts of the distillate coming off the still are called cuts, each are chemically different.

The Head Cut
This is first 10% of alcohol to flow off the still. It is toxic and will make you go blind. Loaded with methanol and acetone, for all intents and purposes this is organic, kosher, nail polish remover. It is however a very effective solvent, but not good to drink. At Koval it is used to clean the sludge from inside the still pot. A spray bottle of head cut is kept next to the white board in the office; it’s also used to clean the floors.

The Heart Cut
After the first 10%, the next 60% is very pure, super flavorful and very high in alcohol. This is the best expression of whatever grain was distilled. This is also the only cut Koval will use in any of their products. They only work with that optimal 60% of the distillate.

The Tail Cut
What Koval chooses not to include is this last 30% It’s tails because it comes at the end, also because it smells like a wet dog. This is the bitter face-puckering cut. It’s difficult for distillers looking to maximize their profit to say no to this cut. But if you exclude it you actually get to taste what’s amazing about your grain bill.

2 of the 7 Koval liqueurs

Most places do use the tail; in fact this is how gin was born. The original juniper infusion to gin was made to hide the flavor of the tail cut. There was no time to age it, so it was covered in juniper berries instead.

Brandys and Liqueurs kept the lights on in the early days of Koval. Schnapps in Austria is what Americans consider Brandy. 100% fermented fruit, which loses a lot of its natural sugars during fermentation. Varietals include prune, barrel aged peach.

Oak barrels are sourced from The Barrel Mill in Minnesota. When ordering barrels, the wood and size matter, but what’s most important is the char level on the inside. After barrels are constructed you have the option to heat the inside or burn it.

Koval never takes the results of two barrels to mix them all the releases are single barrel. All the liquid in one bottle comes from one barrel.

raw ingredients
5121 N Ravenswood Ave, Chicago
the single barrel, single grain bourbon series

Koval Whiskys
Millet. Oat. Wheat. comprise the single ingredient series.

Four Grain Whisky – oat, wheat, rye, malted barley. adding the extra grains started as a complete accident now it’s a best seller.

Koval Bourbon – nothing but a conspiracy that bourbon can only be produced in Kentucky. 51% corn, 49% millet instead of the traditional rather than fill it out with rye wheat or malted barley they like the pepper note that balances the sweet corn.

Koval Rye Whiskey
Think Fall – autumnal molasses and maple sugar candy. What’s excellent about a spicy grain are the notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and even coriander because of it.

The Cranberry Gin Liqueur is stellar. It’s a step beyond gin, starting as a dry gin then botanicals and fresh organic cranberries are used in the maceration. This stuff is amazing on its own. For simple cocktails, a portion of cranberry gin topped with prosecco is one of the best things you can do with your life.


Susan For President Prune Brandy (left)
since 2008

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *