They may have appeared at Sydney Whisky Fair years ago, but Chicago’s Koval Distillery are back with a whole new look in 2016 when they arrive at The Oak Barrel.

From The Heart Of The Windy City

Based in Chicago, Koval is one of America’s most progressive distilleries. Founded by Dr. Robert Birnecker and Dr. Sonat Birnecker-Hart in 2008 – a husband and wife duo who gave up academic careers – it was the first legal distillery in the city since the mid-1800s. That in itself presented problems.

Completely organic and kosher, the Birneckers – who juggled children and distilling in the early days – have always chased a clean spirit and place a big emphasis on the ‘heart’ of their spirit cut. In some ways it’s a surprise that they’re making spirit at all.

koval-bottlesJust as they decided to set up a distillery with their young family and leave careers behind them, the American economy was about to collapse. Locally, prohibitive city laws prevented them from running tours or having any retail presence on their site. They were only changed by lobbying from the duo, an effort which has paved the way for other Illinois craft distilleries.

A mixture of smarts and sheer-bloody-mindedness has led to the Koval we see today, which in its current state is launching into Australia August 2016 – an event we’ll be marking with an intimate masterclass late July.

Part of their range of expressions, Koval lay claim to what is believed to be the world’s only millet whiskey.

Millet refers to a group of small grass varieties which carry seeds. A prominent crop throughout Africa and Asia, it is often used for cereal.

While it is used as a base grain for spirits in Nepal, Koval’s millet whiskey – the grain sourced in this case from an organic farmer in the Midwest – is the only expression of its type.

The expression is distilled from 100% millet grain, and the distillery has had to be a bit creative to manage to process.

A specific Alpha enzyme is used in the mashing period to prevent the millet going ‘gummy’ – a trick they also use for their 100% rye grain whiskey.

The fact that their using single grain mash bills is also a rarity these days.

They’re enjoying millet so much that event their bourbon is distilled from a mash bill of 51% corn (the required minimum) and 49% millet.

Other expressions include the 4 Grain – a mash of oat, malted barley, wheat and rye.

All of these expressions are bottled as single barrels, having matured in 30 gallon (approximately 113 litre) casks.

The Birneckers have used Kothe stills since the beginning. Kothe were so happy with the whiskeys Koval made the Birneckers became their North American representatives. Along with their consultation duties, Robert and Sonat have had an input into the establishment of 90 distilleries across America.

Koval will showcase their whiskey expressions at this year’s sold out Whisky Fair, while their award-winning gin will feature at the official round-table tasting to launch the brand’s arrival into Australia in our upcoming Masterclass.





– Scott Fitzsimons